Anatomy of a Lost Cause
It began, innocently enough, like most things, as an inclination, a desire, or a need, perhaps, however immediate, to do what the doctors call “something.” However, it soon grew into a full-fledged commitment to “making a difference,” the unsightly scene, they said, responsible for, among other things, his sense of futility, his exasperation, his feeling, he told me, of worthlessness. And even though it could have manifested in a variety of ways, in his case it manifested as an attribute, a characteristic, a quality similar to an air of superiority, a sense of invincibility, a tendency, as defined by Dr. Jester Guffaw of the Institute for Laughs at Coleman College in Chicago, to act irrationally. It made him act, Dr. Guffaw writes in his book on laughter, The Chicken Never Actually Crossed the Road, “hilariously, depending on the audience, of course.” And although, in most cases, acting like this proves relatively innocuous—leading to feelings of embarrassment or to a fear of looking into the mirror—in David’s case, it led, sadly, to writing wildly imaginative tales about people that did not exist.
The doctors in the department of English at Coleman treated David with aversion and electroshock therapy, isolation, and volunteer work, among other things. The idea, according to the Americanist and amateur ventriloquist, Oral Aphasia, was to “replace the gaping hole that was David’s life with an emotional core whose growth could be spurred by a gargantuan normalcy, a bottomless well of career ambition, or a degree in business.” Suffice it to say, it did not work. According to Mortimer, Dr. Aphasia’s “dummy,” although Mortimer despises the term, it did not work because the treatments only treated David’s symptoms and not the cause of the condition. “David, like many believers in lost causes, turned to the ritualistic devotion to composition because,” he writes in his study of David, The Anatomy of a Lost Cause, “it makes the believer feel as if they are doing something without really doing anything at all and thus avoiding the truth that nothing can ever really be done.” In other words, Mortimer believes David’s condition was, like a snake eating its own tail, like a snake eating its own tale.
Yet, Mortimer could not offer anything to David beyond the theoretical explanation of why the treatments administered by the professors at Coleman did not work, most likely because Mortimer had a sinking feeling, deep in his hollow cavity, that there was no identifiable underlying cause for David’s symptoms. In other words, Mortimer’s theory, vaudevillians believe, grew out of on Mortimer’s attachment to what doctors called his oral aphasia, so that what he thought was an underlying cause was really just the obnoxiously irritable chasm-at-the-center-of-all-lives, the organ responsible for the influx of the inspirational waste doctors believe regulates the flow of me, myself, and, surprisingly, I. In other words, having an excess of the world-at-large, the chasm leads not only to pathetic rationalization about the nature of me, myself, and I, but also to pathetic rationalizations about he, she, and they.
However, even if Mortimer’s wooden observations are incorrect, it does little to change the importance of examining what Mortimer defined as the “literary ambition,” or what he thought was causing David’s whirlwind of misery, what weatherman Rainy Today of channel 6 believes has a fifty percent chance of causing great suffering. In other words, what remains true, despite Mortimer’s ignorance, is that David, or any believer in the lost cause, despite how they do it, will act out in a manner specific to overcoming such hurdle, be it real or imaginary.
Still, the question as to why David ended up like this remains. According to Dr. Rebel Yell of The Center for Angry Youth, David, and believers like him, became sick because of the once-over, or what Canadians call the going-over–the external influence most often manifested as a “parent,” or that which prompts the believer to continue to believe despite evidence, truth, or conjecture, whichever comes first. It is the once-over, or the one paying the bills, according to Dr. Yell, that forces the believer to insert their emotional wealth into a series of paltry fictions, all of which are about the believer’s failed romantic relationships. Although many doctors believe the I-push, or the narcissistic plush, is responsible for these fictions, they are wrong because I am right, and I am right because even though they went to better colleges I am smarter than they are. In other words, what causes the believer to become a believer is how much he or she enjoys “putting their once-overs through the ringer,” since, according to Dr. Yell, “nothing else causes the once-over to gasp, sigh, and cry his or herself to sleep as much as a child’s commitment to the humanities.”
Dr. Yell’s work on the lost cause led several doctors to take the lost cause syndrome seriously, especially since they realized it was happening in their own homes. In fact, after David, several doctors suggested there was a need to conquer the “literary ambition,” if not for “our sons and daughters, then for the unsuspecting public and their twenty-five dollars.” However, unlike Mortimer, these doctors suggested approaching the problem physically, and not psychologically, even though they realized there were “great risks” in treating the patient physically, risks that include loss of motor function or full amnesia. However, Dr. Klaus Brandauer, Chief of Psychological Services at Mefisto Hospital in Berlin, believes these risks are exaggerated. “You see,” he says in an interview with David’s parents, “damage is minimized by entering into the subconscious where we believe the motives of literary ambition exist. We essentially shame the operative motives into admitting they are doing nothing really but harming the patient by pretending that what the patient is doing is worthwhile. We assault the subconscious by assaulting the patient, calling the patient names, making the patient get undressed and walk around in public, or making them write in front of an assembled board of citizens with real jobs. It’s a very interesting process to say the least.” Hans Gruber, of the Saxony Grubers, who had been responsible for several mid-list titles before his parents brought him to see Dr. Gruber, believes Dr. Brandauer’s process, “although difficult to take at first, can eventually be absorbed.”
Gruber is an interesting case. Despite his parents’ commitment to serving the community, Gruber majored in English at Kohlmann Kollege in Berlin where he eventually received his M.A. and his PhD in literary studies, focusing on the work of the obscure Martian poet Zed Factor 12. It was in studying ZF12 that Gruber discovered what he called the inner-transference subjugation responsible for the establishment of all parallel parameters regarding the production of literary schemata. In other words, Gruber began to write poems. Gruber’s initial poems were, like the poems of almost all other poets, a response to the molestation of the literary ambition, a molestation made possible the presence of the ambition in poets under twenty-five. It was only after Gruber had been writing for a number of years did he discover the emptiness of what he called “the gut munch,” a condition only recently recognized by doctors as an actual condition. It was after the diagnosis of the “gut munch” that Gruber switched to prose, although not equally as worthless as poetry, still relatively worthless nonetheless. Doctors believe Gruber’s symptoms were the result of a “sick ego,” a condition caused by the tightening of the short hairs and resulting in the enlargement of the Epiphany, a small bulb in the brain that controls production of sentimentality. To combat this enlargement, Brandauer inserted a pin into the Epiphany to reduce its size (not that size matters, although, in this case, it did).
Interestingly enough, Gruber had controlled his Epiphanies through nicotine ingestion, binge drinking, and erratic behavior, the same ways the American poet Steiner Nudge was able to manipulate his literary ambition, although Nudge also relied on the potent combination of weed, acid, and a strict vegetarian diet that included, among other things, steak, pork, and chicken. However, even though poets like Nudge managed to control his ambition, it eventually became unwieldy, leading to the death of his girlfriend. Apparently distracted as she prepared to go out with her friends since her “boring turd” of a boyfriend “was working again,” she accidentally stabbed herself in the back with a particular sharp metaphor Nudge had left lying about. When questioned by police, Nudge said he was too busy working and to come back after he finished “this damn stanza.”
It was because of Gruber and Nudge that David first came to me since he was afraid that he was becoming like Gruber and Nudge, obsessed with a discipline, he said, that had no future. Although I told him that he was overreacting, that creating fantastically realistic tales about what he called characters was fine if it was what he wanted to do, he protested, certain that he, too, would end up like Gruber or Nudge. And Dr. Brandauer was out of the question since his methods were, like Brandauer, annoyingly European and had, like St. John’s Wort, yet to be accepted by the States. Besides, David was convinced his problem was psychological. He was convinced that the problem had started in his childhood, a childhood he described as youthful, young, and childlike, descriptions that although I agreed with, I felt were too literal, too specific, too synonymous to be of much use.
David had grown up in Chicago, between the tight reigns of the city’s Daley family dynasty, when the city, because it was simply biding its time until the younger Daley was old enough to run for mayor, was, David’s father would say, a city of big balls, and not, as Carl Sandburg had once remarked, of big shoulders. “They’re all trying to do what no one else, including Daley or even Big Bill Thompson could do,” which was, according to David’s father, act like a mayor. And even though David did not directly blame his troubles on the city’s politics, he could not help but think that the atmosphere, or lack of, that these candidates created with their back stepping, their backstabbing, and their backsliding ways had some effect, or some unalterable, invidious influence upon him. Yet, if that were true, then the hundred of thousands of girls and boys who had grown up, like David, during this time would be writing their novelistic ways, as one of David’s girlfriends, who was oddly old-fashioned, put it, to the poorhouse. No, instead, David was committed to the idea that where he was from was why he was who he was. It was, he told me, “because of what they did that I’m so dedicated to creating people I can believe in, people that should exist in the world, but don’t.”
And maybe David was right, maybe what he saw as the real world essentially shocked him into imagination. It is at least what Prof. Malicious Graft, a pioneering, according to the public relations firm Yes You, would believe. Prof. Graft, who teaches political chicanery at Coalman College in Chicago, has written several books on the subject of what he calls “post-dramatic shock genre,” a genre, he claims—most cogently in Grief Notes, an abbreviated guide to the larger work, Shock Treatment—that affects several aspiring writers, “just not me,” he writes, “thank God.” According to Graft, writers like David, grew up during “a time of momentous change that was radically different than the several million other periods of momentous change. Specifically,” he writes in his third book, Shock Treatment 3: The Revenge of the Electrodes, “where those other periods were merely momentous, the period in which the writers I am writing about grew up was simply momentous.” Even though there is little difference in the periods at the end of each of Graft’s sentence, his books have helped David greatly.
Perhaps, what is most sad is that we may never know why David does what he does, especially since no doctor, lawyer, shaman, or priest has succeeded in discovering the origin of what I believe is an illness that has and is affecting so many lives. Yet, David seems happy. He writes. He has a sandwich. He writes some more. He sends out these “stories” to other people who, like David, write stories too. And they send them to him. True, he does not make much money, and he is paler than any human being should be, but he is happy, at least for as long as it takes him to get to what he calls “the end of the story.”