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Insanity Essay


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When the word insanity is spoken, it creates an air of mystery. The word appealed to me because there are so many ways you can use it, and I find I have much in common with the word itself. Insanity is a strange word, and Im a strange person--or so I like to think. I believe the author Jean Dubuffet said it best: "For me, insanity is super sanity. The normal is psychotic. Normal means lack of imagination, lack of creativity" (New Yorker 16 Jun 73). I couldnt agree more!

I had vary little trouble in my search for material on my word. In fact, things seemed to jump up at me from all over the place. Dictionaries and the like burst forth with plenty of information. I didnt have to think very hard to find literature that contained something resembling insanity. It has become a part of everyday speech and is used more often than youd originally think.

Websters Unabridged Dictionary was the first place I looked to get an honest, accurate definition of my word. The answer was fairly straightforward:

insanity: noun-pl. -ties 1a: a deranged state of the mind usu. occurring as a specific disorder b: a mental disorder 2: such unsoundness of mind or lack of understanding as prevents one from having the mental capacity required by law to enter into a particular relationship, status, or transaction or as removes one from criminal or civil responsibility 3a: extreme folly or unreasonableness b: something utterly foolish or unreasonable

Yes, that sounds right to me. Judging by the last part of the definition, I do insane things every day of my life. I suppose thats just me, though.

After finding my exact word in that particular dictionary, I decided to expand my search and include the definition of insane from Websters Unabridged Dictionary as well.

insane: adj [L insanus, fr. in + sanus sane] (ca. 1550) 1: mentally disordered: exhibiting insanity 2: used by, typical of, or intended for insane persons <an ~ asylum> 3: ABSURD <an ~ scheme for making money> -in-sane-ly adv -in-sane-ness n

Again, pretty straightforward. I discovered that, like most words, the English word insane is derived from a Latin word that looks much the same as our own version. My only question is why didnt we just decide to speak Latin, rather than change a couple of letters?

Another dictionary I decided to try was Websters New World Dictionary. I was disappointed to find that it said nearly the same thing as the other one I had used, except for one thing.

SYN. -insanity, current in popular and legal language but not used technically in medicine, implies mental derangement in one who formerly had mental health; lunacy specifically suggests periodic spells of insanity, but is now most commonly used in its extended sense of extreme folly

I had not come across anything like this before, and I was pleased to find something that I didnt know. I had always assumed insanity was a common medical term, though now that Ive thought about it I remember that it has been broken down into more specific disorders, such as schizophrenia. I had also previously thought that lunacy referred to a lunatic, which I have learned is still true, though it is also used to describe someone who goes through periods of insanity and normal life.

My final source on the description of my word was found in Websters Compact Dictionary of Synonyms. It did not contain insanity, though I did find insane and the description of its synonyms.

insane: implies that one is unable to function safely and competently in everyday life and is not responsible for ones actions <adjudged insane after a period of observation>.

mad: wildness, rabidness, raving, complete loss of self-control <drove her husband mad with jealousy>.

demented: a clear deterioration into mental unsoundness <years of solitary confinement had left him demented>.

deranged: a clear loss of control resulting in erratic behavior <assassinated by a deranged anarchist>.

lunatic: extreme folly <invested in one lunatic scheme after another>.

maniac: violence, fury, raving <once behind the wheel, she turns into a maniac driver>.

This was one of my favorite sources because it was so easy to understand and straightforward. The examples were of great help as well. I noticed a reoccurrence of certain words both in the dictionaries and the book of synonyms, such as lunatic/lunacy.

The next step on my journey was to locate literature that gave the impression of insanity. I quickly found, surprisingly, a lot of literature containing my word in one form or another as I thought my way through the year. The first one I thought of was Gullivers Travels, probably because it was one of my favorites in terms of our literature this year. When Gulliver returned from his long excursion, his wife and the people of the town all thought him to be insane because they had no idea what hed been through. He was even locked in an institution for some time. Both the book and the movie are pretty good, and they really make you think about what reality is. I personally think insanity is in the eye of the beholder.

The second book I thought of was Grendel. The more I thought of it, the more Grendel seemed insane to me. When first reading about how his mind works, how he thinks and what he thinks about, youd label him insane, and I think youd be right. He had some sick and twisted view of the world, though he was clever at the same time. I suppose if I was a monster I would have carried on much the same way. Grendel saw insanity as a gift, and used it to his advantage. Too bad it had to end when Beowulf entered the picture. You almost feel sorry for poor Grendel.

The third book I thought of was A Tale of Two Cities, where Dr. Manette is confined for many years and it ruins his mind, causing insanity. I recalled the part where they approached his door to find it locked. They had to rattle the key and open the door, or Dr. Manette would get confused and go mad. Though prison ruined his mind, his insanity was reversed when his daughter Lucy came back to find him alive. With her help, he overcame his sickness. Insanity can become a disease if not treated.

The final literature I found was O Pioneers. Ivar was an old man who lived in a makeshift house in the side of a hill, near a big pond. Most of the people living in the area thought he was insane because he often kept to himself, unless someone wanted to buy a hammock, which he was skilled in making. As time progressed, he came to live with Alexandra and slept in her barn. At one point, he came into the house to talk to her. He thought that if people complained about him enough, hed be sent off to a mental institution. Alexandra assured him that it would never happen. He had come to her in a worried state, and left in a good mood, like usual.

Now Ive come to my favorite part of this project--the interviews. I conversed with a total of six people: Adin Briggs, Devin Curly, Amber Scully, Franklin Foster, LeRoy Johnson, and Patricia Johnson. I have included material from three of the six interviews, because I think those particular views stand out. I asked each person the same questions, and while some answers were similar, each person in turn gave a different perspective.

The first interview Ill describe occurred with my father, LeRoy Johnson. When I first approached him with the questions, he seemed a bit apprehensive to answer. My mom was listening to what he had to say as well, and adding her points in. I think I may have made my questions a tad hard to answer. I asked him what he thought would make a person go insane. He replied with "You dont go insane overnight. Id say traumatic experiences." I also asked him if he thought there was a degree of normal insanity in everyones life, and after a very long silence he answered "Oh yeah, theres a degree someplace, you know." I couldnt help chuckling at the words he used. The final question on my list was the most fun for people to answer, or so I thought. I asked: "What do you think clinically insane people think about when theyre sitting in a padded room in a straight jacket?" My dad replied "How to become 'UN-insane.' He would think that everyone else is crazy except for himself."

My second interview was with my ten year old cousin, Franklin. I love his answers. They really reflect the mind of a child, even though theyre well versed for someone his age. When asked what he thought made someone insane, he replied with: "Drugs, or a loud ticking clock. If you keep thinking about something bad that happens, that could drive you insane." I told him that was a good answer. I then asked if there had ever been a time in his life where he felt such intense emotion, he thought hed go nuts. He answered: "Yes. When a friend of mine comes over to my house and keeps me up all night playing video games." We both laughed. When asked if there was a degree of normal insanity in everyones life, he replied: "It depends on what you mean by normal insanity." I told him I hadnt really thought about it. Hes a smart kid, you know. His reply to my last question was amusing as well. When asked what clinically insane people think about, he replied simply with "world domination."

The last interview Ive included gave me the best answers, and they were exactly the ones I was looking for. Adin Briggs goes to show you that at least some of my generation is well voiced and we know whats going on. His answers reflect an intelligence not seen in adults of today. We are the future, and I think we can handle it. When I asked him what qualities make a person insane, he replied: "I'm not really sure, but I would say a psychological imbalance in the brain, trauma in childhood years, or complete and utter depression of the mind. They may have had troubles through their entire life, and this is the only way they know how to express themselves emotionally." It sounds like he knows what hes talking about. When asked if there was ever a period in time where he thought hed go insane, he replied with: "Not to my recollection. However, if we are thinking as in the movie Hannibal insane, then yes, I would say so." Id have to agree with Adin on that one; Ive felt that way as well. You cant help admiring Hannibal Lector, in some sick and twisted way. He is, after all, an insane genius. In answer to my next question, Adin surprised me yet again. When asked whether or not he thought there was a degree of normal insanity in everyones life, he replied: "Oh yes, quite frankly I would say so. How could we live without an opposition to our own beings? We would need some sort of contradiction in our life to keep it eventful." I agree with him. Without a little insanity in our lives, wed be very boring people. His answer to my final question made me think. I asked what he thought the clinically insane think about, and he responded: "Diabolically taking over the world, revenge, living a "normal" life, wanting something to be true, but obviously isn't, or never could be/have been." Those are some deep thoughts. I thanked Adin for his insight.

My last reference for this wonderful project came from the World Wide Web. I thought a few quotations would round out my paper, so I searched for insanity at I came up with some good ones. Simone Schwarz-Bart said "insanity is a contagious disease" (The Bridge of Beyond, p. 169). I thought about that a while and found it to be quite true. While you can be driven insane, your insanity could drive others insane as well. It could create a never-ending chain. Charles Baudelaire said "We have psychologized like the insane, who make their insanity greater by striving to understand it" (La Fanfarlo 1847). I can see how that would be true as well. Just contemplating how your mind functions is enough to drive you mad. My last quotation is by Sam Levenson, who wrote: "Insanity is hereditaryyou get it from your children" (Diners Club Magazine Nov 63). I know many parents who would agree to that!

In conclusion, Ive found out that insanity is a word that isnt always what it appears to be. It stands alone and makes you think when you see it in text. It holds so many complex meanings, though the word itself is only eight letters long with one basic vowel. When uttered, people stop to listen. The search for the word was a long task, with such a wealth of information that most people find confusing. I know at least one thing, and that is I have a better understanding of both the English language, and what insanity really is.

So, whats going on in your head?