Sculpture: Huguette McCluskey. Photo and reworking: Alan McCluskey.

(…) When he looked closer, the whole surface was teeming with pulsing fragments of stories vying for a place in the light or struggling to make off with a character. Many of them were dark and sinister. The sight not only disgusted him, it filled him with deep apprehension. If he couldn’t heal the wounds, that wild underlife would continue to crawl out and burrow its way into the characters and take over the whole story. Extract from the Prologue, Storyfolk (draft written Oct 2011)

Madness has never been closer to the surface than it is now. As if the skin that contains it has worn perilously thin. And when that frail protection cracks or rips, madness bursts forth in unexpected places and splatters the front pages of  newspapers, its sinister tidings ricocheting across online  feeds: stabbings, shootings, rapings, bombings not to mention years of unreported abuse. Often inexplicable, it is sometimes justified by ideology or recuperated by groups that feed on violence and terror. But whether explicable or not, it is always unbearable.

As the outbreaks spread and multiply, we wonder if much more of the madness is crawling like maggots beneath the social veneer. Suffice it to watch a speech of Trump pointing an accusing finger at the one he calls “the devil”, his mouth twisted in hate and disgust, seen against the backdrop of his enraged supporters screaming, “Off with her head!” But madness is not just the prerogative of top-of-the-bill political loudmouths and fear mungers. It emerges unbidden in daily life when individuals rage in the face of their neighbours, when colleagues repeatedly stomp on workmates’ toes till all the victim can do is hobble disfigured through life, when people turn their backs on friends in difficulty, retreating into a world where “I” is the only God and “We” has been banished forever.

The madness evoked here is not some romantic flight into fantasy. It is not a stigmatised transgression of social norms. It is a rupture in the very fabric of society that inflicts intense pain and suffering on bystanders and targets alike and leads to death and destruction.

And the solutions? The causes are complex. Any solution, also. One possibility: reinforcing social cohesion on a local level that people feel they belong to a wider community and are linked to those who belong to it and are anchored in place by its structures. Another, cultivate openness and exploration, favour difference in which each person is a source of delight and richness. Channel imagination into creativity and artistic pursuits. Writing for me, for example, is an absolute necessity. Reinforce social values that go beyond the monetary to embrace the uncountable and the transcendent…

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