Taken by the seamless vision
If Rodrigo de Souza Leão’s (1965-2008) autobiographical novel All Dogs are Blue teaches us anything, it’s that there’s a thin fucking line between that which defines a person as being sane and that which earns them the persistent label of bat-shit crazy.
This slim piece, which takes place primarily in a Brazilian mental asylum, finds the nameless narrator lost in a stream of consciousness that includes key moments from his past, wild hallucinations in the present, and a dreamed up a pair of classic literary best friends to help guide him through the foggy haze of each state mandated drug induced mind-alteration that comes his way. Mixed in with the madness that surrounds him on all sides and at times envelops him so completely however are crystal clear fragments of poetically beautiful yet tragically comic insightfulness like:
“What good is hospitalization then? To gather together human debris.”
“I want to be promoted to someone’s hallucination, please!”
“I want a bicycle, a bicycle without training wheels, so I can learn how to fall. Happiness.”
It’s these sobering and touching moments of lucidity that remind the reader that they are in the presence of a masterful artist of language, a flesh and blood human being who is not only ravaged by an illness of the mind, but also has to bear the weight of being all too painfully cognizant of his condition. As the novel progresses towards its surprisingly enlightening conclusion, de Souza Leão draws sharp, clever comparisons between insanity and poverty, pokes fun at the need for unwavering religious belief, wages an attack the mental health system, and questions why all lunatics suffer from what essentially amounts to the same paranoid delusion. He presents an amazingly inspired, gut-wrenching journey that never strays from delivering heartfelt honesty and never ceases to surprise the reader with its vibrant, lyrical prose.
By all accounts All Dogs are Blue should be a bleak, depressing affair, but thanks to the fine work of translators Zoe Perry and Stefan Tobler, no matter how bad things seem to get, it’s nameless narrator maintains a sense of humorous innocence throughout the proceedings. It’s almost as if his troubled mind sees and accepts the things around him for exactly what they are, not what he expects them to be, or wishes that they were.
In the end he does manage to be discharged from the asylum, but the life that’s waiting for him outside its doors is almost, if not more, crazy than that which he led within its confines. Certainly each person’s definition of normal is different, but if that’s really the case then the opposite must be true as well. We must each be at least a little kooky in our special way, no?
Moving and honest, yet also fractured and tragic, All Dogs are Blue is a fierce accomplishment. It reminds us how delicate our mental stability truly is as it presents us with the world as seen through the eyes of a subject deemed to be too aberrant to be allowed to walk freely amongst us. What we find within is not flat out insanity, but instead the thoughtful, tender, and playful voice of a man that’s teetering on the edge of both greatness and darkness with every breath he takes.
All Dogs are Blue
By Rodrigo de Souza Leao
Translated from the Portuguese by Zoë Perry and Stefan Tobler
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