window on Alcatraz has a view of San Francisco.
These words, from the opening chapter “Toward
a Topography of the Parallel Universe,” illustrate the “parallel
universe” inhabited by the mentally ill. Kaysen describes the ease
with which a person can slip into this other reality, tempted by
glimpses through the thin “membrane” that separates the sane from
the insane. Once inside, a new set of rules replaces the conventions
of life on the outside. The cruel irony of life in the “parallel
universe” is embodied by a person’s perfect awareness of the reality
left behind. The afflicted mind is still very much aware of the
world it has abandoned. Kaysen compares this alternate reality to
a prison, but notes that even the worst prisons occasionally allow
glimpses of something beautiful. Thus, being mentally ill can be
worse than being in prison.