Mad by Jonathan Bowden

Whether you will enjoy Mad is contingent on how old you are and what you seek to get out of it.

If you’re a teenage Nietzschean, you’ll worship this book. If you masturbate to pictures of Ayn Rand, blare Burzum from your iPod speakers, and constantly whine about you’re being oppressed by the untermenschen (despite the fact that you still get an allowance from your parents), Jonathan Bowden’s word salad will be like catnip to you. Just don’t shoot up any schools after you’re done.

If you’re older, however, you might find Bowden’s book a little… wanting.

Mad is essentially a book-length monograph on philosophy, government and sex, a book that screams at you from beginning to end, like a gibbering schizophrenic bum. If you take it for what it is—the half-lucid ramblings of a dejected teenage punk—it’s rather entertaining. As a work of ideas, Mad falls way, way short: as a bizarre piece of performance art, it succeeds beyond Bowden’s wildest dreams.

And when I say that Mad screams at the reader, I’m not exaggerating. The book begins as a long series of paragraphs spanning multiple pages, Bowden ranting about why he hates everyone and everything. I wish I were kidding:

But all is not lost. It cannot be. A man may be destroyed but he cannot be defeated. Life’s too tenacious to die. Existence is too tame to realize it. We need to find a middle-way, a centrism of the heart, open to noon and twilight, adolescence and the cracking of the flesh, life and ague, death and renewal. Not too dire you understand but not anaemic enough to avoid all pain. Something that links us to the past and makes the future familiar. What better than our shared humanity. The limitless panoply of flesh, teased and stretched between historical dates, magnificent climaxes, Michelangelo and supersonic travel, Christ and Hitler, all things to all men at all times, moving onwards borne by the heavings of inarticulate muscle that vouchsafe its future…

On and on Bowden screeches, his words having no more consequence than the aforementioned bum running around Grand Central screeching about the Illuminati. If you’re expecting this verbal vomit to come to some kind of point, do yourself a favor and give up. If you expect published authors to respect the Queen’s English, you might as well forget about that too; like a British Céline, Bowden’s prose gradually devolves into sentence fragments and halfwit neologisms like “inorder” and “latterday.”

So why keep reading? Why not just toss this wannabe Stirner in the trash and be done with it?

Answer: Mad gets better, way better. In the second half of the book, not only does Bowden start developing more coherent thoughts, he learns how to use the “Enter” key on his typewriter! This section of the book deals with sex, which Bowden repeatedly describes as “the mark of the beast married to the spirit of the divine,” with Bowden vacillating between sounding like a teenage Andy Nowicki and a teenage Roosh:

Latterday sexuality resembles garage mechanics: the pouring of liquids into empty vessels. Sex vies with religion inorder to exhume a tortured humanity. Human beings are afraid of carnal abandonment; yet tortured by its loss. Sodom and Gomorrah reveal forbidden fruits which turn putrid at its touch. Society condones Eros in private but suppresses it in public. Even so, what it condemns has a way of haunting the imagination. Eroticism always dissatisfies itself. It prevents what it wants through its insistence on what it cannot have…

As ridiculous as it sounds, Bowden’s prose has a weird sort of musicality to it… the musicality of a sludge metal band. As I said already, only a zit-faced Trenchcoat Mafioso would dare claim the book is profound philosophically; Bowden’s dirges on the inherent cruelty of man, if taken at face value, sound incredibly puerile and whiny. But as a work of art, Mad flows like water from a burst pipe, a weird sort of enjoyment all its own.

Does this justify the book’s existence? I’m not entirely sure.

All I can tell you is to read Mad for yourself. It’s very much a love-it-or-hate-it book; my description of it here can hardly do it justice.

Click here to buy Mad.

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