Brian Castro‘s latest novel The Bath Fugues explores, amongst other things, the connection between cycling and the dissociative state of flight known as the fugue where one is removed from ones own identity and freed to roam uninterrupted through time and place.
– Sufferers usually had two alternating personalities; a kind of double consciousness. Doctors first discovered these cases in 1885, in Bordeaux. Then in the 1880s gleaners, tramps and vagabonds discovered the ‘safety’ bicycle and an epidemic of fuguers was reported. It was a kind of pathological tourism. Economy class. They terrified pedestrians, these travellers, poor workers for the most part, who did not appear out of nowhere. They had history on their side. They were stuck to their bikes in their ‘other’ state like former knights on their horses.
While we may not wish to lay claim to the psychiatric condition, I like the connection with dissociation and flight. Anyone who has spent more than a few hours in the saddle will identify with this:
I ride over the wooden bridge. I breathe in the river, measure the approaching hill, absorbed by the idea that all motion in the world is rotary, sitting yet moving, stationary while in motion, no gap and no pause as the world flies by the still point of my circular reference, one foot down, the other up and vice versa, repetition and difference, point and counterpoint, everything reciprocated through perfect control, filtered through detachment.
But cocooned inside oneself on a bicycle, at speed, seeking the path of least resistance in the perpetual present, one could be aloof, obsessed, inaccessible and thoroughly aware.
The first part of the novel is called ‘Becketts Bicycle’, referring to the Irish writer, Samuel Beckett, who is only one of many famous and not-so-famous cyclists who pedal across Castro’s pages.
Indeed, he belonged to a secret society of bicyclists . . . Thomas Hardy, Mircea Eliade, Bohumil Hrabal, Eugene Ionesco, Eddy Merckx, Slobodan Milosevic, Gavrilo Princip, Jozef Skvorecki, Tzvetan Todorov, Samuel Beckett, Marcel Duchamp, George Dwyer and the philosopher De Selby.
Brian Castro, The Bath Fugues (2009)
My review of the book for the The Australian is here.