The Unreliable Reader

In Esmé Weijun Wang’s book of personal essays, “The Collected Schizophrenias,” it’s the reader, not the writer, who is an unreliable narrator.

“I write this while experiencing a strain of psychosis known as Cotard’s delusion, in which the patient believes that they are dead,” the novelist Esmé Weijun Wang writes at the beginning of “Perdition Days,” an essay from her new book, The Collected Schizophrenias. (Read an excerpt on Longreads.) “What the writer’s confused state means is not beside the point, because it is the point,” she continues. “I am in here, somewhere: cogito ergo sum.” The passage moves swiftly, from first person agency (“I am writing”) to distanced third person (“the patient,” “the writer”) to the famous Descartes assertion, in Latin, “I think, therefore I am.” As a reader, it’s astonishing and a little unnerving to consider the immediacy of the prose, your intimacy with a speaker searching to find the correct vantage from which to narrate the strangely drawn, difficult-to-map districts of her mind. more

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