Paddy Chayefsky Roberta Rubenstein - Essay

Roberta Rubenstein

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Eddie Jessup, the ambitious, monomaniacal scientist of Chayefsky's [Altered States, seeks] … consciousness of the "original self," but in the form of "a real, mensurate, quantifiable thing, tangible and incarnate."

During his postgraduate research in physiology, Jessup accidentally stumbles upon the convergent phenomena of mind-altering experiences, as manifested through hallucinogenic drugs, sensory deprivation, Zen meditation, and schizophrenia. Readers conversant with … authorities in the vanguard of consciousness research, will recognize the territory and will acknowledge Chayefsky's impressive synthesis of information from depth psychology, quantum mechanics, neuroanatomy, molecular biology, archaeology, and several other disciplines. (The scientific terminology occasionally intrudes.)…

It would spoil the story to divulge the particulars of Jessup's ultimate trip other than to say that, Faust-like, he launches a quest for total knowledge of being which generates a dramatic consummation as it circles back upon itself. Despite the some-what trite figure of the "mad" scientist who shuns emotional involvement in his passion for the truth. Altered States is riveting, sophisticated science fiction, convincingly extrapolated from known facts.

In the interests of plot, tautness, and surprise, Chayefsky skimps on the subtler nuances of character and feeling…. [The novel poses] imaginative paths into the maze of consciousness: the diverse shape-shifting experiences that define our humanness. (pp. 56-7)

Roberta Rubenstein, "Adventures in Self-Discovery," in The Progressive (reprinted by permission from The Progressive, 409 East Main Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53703; copyright © 1978 by The Progressive, Inc.), Vol. 42, No. 10, October, 1978, pp. 56-7.∗