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« Modern Dejima | Main | Two Enduring Plots »

Enduring Insanity

As you know by now, McEwan's dreary but strangely satisfying tale turns on the diagnosis of Jed Parry's illness, on de Clérambault's syndrome. To read more about the besetting problem, please click here.

Patients with de Clérambault's are most often oddly asexual. You'll note that it's hard to claim Parry is necessarily "gay." While he says he's in love with Joe, the love remains bizarrely nonsexual. It's not squeamishness on McEwan's part. There's plenty of sex throughout the novel. Rather, it's largely in keeping with the track of the disease itself.

Some researchers have claimed that the instances of diagnosed de Clérambault's (also called "erotomania") have increased dramatically in the modern age, thanks mostly to the media-drenched world in which we live. We are encouraged from childhood to divorce our affections from real people and train them onto screens and pages. We develop deep and lasting fascinations with flickering images or photoshopped shots. Some of us then begin to interpret these bits and pieces of media as loaded with special, coded messages.

One need only think of the best-publicized case of de Clérambault's in the last half century: John Hinckley and his assassination attempt on President Reagan. If you recall, Hinckley believed he was acting on Jody Foster's telegraphed wishes, signs and symbols of which he found in her broadcast and movie images. He believed she was testing his love. Will you do this for me?

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