David Burchell-01

“Believe nothing you hear, and only one-half that you see.”
Our protagonist here, whilst on a venture through the southern stretch
of France, finds himself just miles away from a personally much-lauded
location: the Maison de Sante. Private madhouse. A place flown famously
throughout the airs of the medical community due to its unorthodox
treatments, rehabilitations. The system of soothing. This system, although
still strict at its parameters, acted as a better angel for the peoples
there. Punishments were eradicated. Confinement was a rarity. And although
still watched, there was a freeness which allowed said lunatics to wander
unwaveringly, donning the wears of sane and rational.
Upon his arrival, and with the presciences given to him by his
knowledges of the system, he begins wary, at the meeting of a young, and
beautiful, woman, a pianist. Subtly, he remains wary of her, fitting her
perhaps into the camp of the insane. But, such things progress as to elude
him, as certain aspects of hers find definition and detail—and as, at the
excusing of herself, his host, the formidable and stoutly Monsieur
Maillard, quite bafflingly reassures him of her sanity. His niece, the
young lady, is a most accomplished woman. After which, our protagonist is
regaled in rigorous explanation the changes to the system, that the
patients are not to be left liberty, that, due to a bulwark or two,
confinement is very much a thing in place. Sad, but exciting, news. There
becomes talk, both of the system’s successes and failures. “There is no
argument which so touches the feeble reason of the madman as the argumentum
ad absurdum,” says his host, proudly. The line here delves psychologically
into the machinations of the mind. Said patients in particular believed
themselves truly as chickens, and thus were encouraged and affirmed to be
so, fed only the foods of the diet of the chicken, the nonsense of the
conclusion effectively negating the crotchets and beliefs. More of this
I’ll touch on later.
Preceding a tour of the institute, it is suggested a dinner be in
order, so as to ease the stomach and the mind.
And so the evening begins.
At the table, our character is faced with very many a strange thing,
watching at the gathered guests dressed up wild and weird and overtly
lavish, stared at with the burgeoning towers and excess heaps of food, and
gallons of drink. There’s a consistent wariness plaguing him, and he
wonders again if these guests are actually patients, and if he’d been lied
to, as a means to some end, perhaps to ease him in, alleviate some shock.
But as the feast makes way, he is very swiftly assuaged of such suspicions.
These are intelligent beings, witty, and eclectic, personages, important
peoples. Excusing some of the lavisher and stranger ways in which they
dress and speak, he lowers his guard, giving in gracious to the night.
But therein lies the fault.
What starts as cordial and civil conversation, regaling their guest— our protagonist—with anecdotal tales of patients past, ascendantly swirls
into a competition of sorts. Each patient story professed out louder than
the last. Each move of the belief, acted out. The clamor rises and bubbles
and settles. Howls are heard, from some other chambering of the Maison, to
do the same. Guests at the table whisper each other’s ears, halting them
from rising upon the table, from the methods of the acts. A slip of
Monsieur Maillard’s lips, as he scolds a one of his beloved guests for
acting out, perturbs our character, as she is addressed with the namesake
of the woman she spoke: a patient believed of themselves to be a hen. But,
again, as is per our protagonist’s usual, he is persuaded of his fears
otherwise, due to the respectable, and formal, nature of his host. The host
who begins to speak so direly.
He begins again vaguely, as he’d earlier, to tell our hero of the
newer system in place, the system of a Dr. Tarr and a Prof. Fether. Cutting
that short, he merges into discussion of the dangers of letting the loons

that short, he merges into discussion of the dangers of letting the loons
run free, as they are unparalleled in wit and cunning when lumped together
so freely, as they can put on airs of sanity, rationality, mindfulness. He
talks of a rebellion that occurred one sometime ago, in which the patients
surmounted the doctors, swapping places, caging the sane, and charging, and
empowering, the insane. He talks of a man they welcomed in during this, a
stupid man, to poke fun and to play and to heckle with. An unassuming
fellow. And but how would he know? What, with their fancy dress and
bountiful feast and drowning drink? What, with their intelligences? Their
stories? Their committals to the method and to the act and to the system?
He tells to him that, in his honest, honest opinion, that that newer
system, enacted by the loony man in charge, the head rebel, was a better
system than whatever older one they used: “simple—neat—no trouble at all—in
fact it was delicious it was . . .”
The lunatics break free.
Pandemonium descends from the outs and ins of the Maison de Sante.
The bands plays frenetic a feverish Yankee Doodle.
The guests and partners and members all lavish and light find finally
a freedom, breaking the methods of their acts, blowing whistles of tea and
croaking throats of frogs and spinning rounds and rounds and rounds of
teetotums.
The windows, in they break.
Monsters attack.
Tarred and feathered monsters attacking backwards their captors,
captives.
And the whole of the night fades into traumatic memory.
To me, the System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether is a tale what warns of
supposition, of rumour, of gossip, of the dangers of believing conniving
parrots, trusting alone in appearance, hanging on tight the threads of
prejudice, and stereotype. Rutting the paths of beliefs passed on to you. A
dangerous, dangerous system, no matter how long it’s been in place. A story
of cat killing curiosity, lavish in its dress, but blunt in its execution,
telling our protagonist from the start exactly what this is, with an ending
perhaps more viscerally ironic than the whole of the piece.
Lamenting upon the tragedy of that night of the Maison de Sante, no
matter how far he scours, library after library, for the printed works of
Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether, he cannot seem to find them.
And so the arrow . . . Never made . . . Its mark.
Remember, Reader, if you will:
“Believe nothing you hear, and only one-half that you see.”

 

 

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David Burchell
Writer

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