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A Brief Ontology of Madness: The Ghosts of Schreber's Apocalypse

Posted February 24th, 2011 at 03:32 AM by Gile na Gile
Updated February 25th, 2015 at 01:43 AM by Gile na Gile

[ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Paul_Schreber"]Daniel Paul Schreber - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]

For Lacan, the latent psychotic is; "the subject captured and tortured, trapped within the defiles of the signifier". Psychosis, in other words, is viewed primarily as a language disorder. Within the Lacanian tradition the normative ego is doubly split. This occurs both through the successive misrecognitions and false identifications characteristic of the imaginary mode of apprehension and then by a second schism, the introduction of the third term, the Name-of the-Father that marks entry into the register of the Symbolic.

We must be reminded that all three realms, (we shall leave our discussion of the Real till later) are to be conceived as interlapping and co-existent, as illustrated in the topology of the Borromean knot. In addition, the Hegelian notion of sublation (aufheben) is deployed by Lacan to denote the successive abolitions and 'raisings' of the subject's experience from the imaginary register to that of the symbolic. This is an important point because within the Lacanian tradition many of the difficulties encountered by the psychotic subject are taking place within the imaginary domain and it is the inability to transcribe these visceral experiences into symbolic form which accounts for the further entrenchment of the condition.

For Lacan this imaginary mode of interpreting the world of objects has been altered dramatically; through the sublation (lifting from the imaginary) involved by the insertion of the subject into the symbolic order and the consequent structuring role which will now be played by the signifier. There is then, most importantly, a predetermined 'lack' for all humans which is fundamental to experience in both the imaginary and the symbolic orders. This lack is moreover deemed to be constitutive of the human condition itself and not just for those who are deemed by the Lacanian tradition to have what has come to be called a "psychotic structure".

It is an acceptance of this lack, the continual frustration of desire that defines the normal (neurotic) subject. The psychotic, conversely, according to this Lacanian schema, has passed a certain threshold in relation to his desire, insofar as its expression is not capable of being circumvented by the phallus. Moreover, we are given the impression that 'the psychotic' is powerless to alter this structuring of their desire.

In Lacan's lectures on the paternal metaphor (Seminar V, The Formations of the Unconscious'), we are provided with a further examination of the processes that he regards as central in the formation of the psychoses. For Lacan, the psychic mechanism that lies at the basis of the movement towards psychosis is given by him as foreclosure or "verwerfung". This movement or tendency is expressive of a more or less life-long tendency to absorb impressions from the external environment in a very particular way. In summary fashion we may say that an impression is not given proper symbolic form, it has not been verbalised, placed into the circuit of communication but is instead retained in a ruminative manner. Unlike his treatment of foreclosure in the seminar on the psychoses and in his essay 'On a Question Preliminary to any Possible Treatment of Psychosis' where the pressing need to consider other themes often drew his attention away from the specific context of the foreclosing operation, his lectures on the paternal metaphor have provided, on the other hand, an ideal theoretical background from which a more focused inquiry can begin.

Lacan begins then by summarising the main points in the three dialectical moments of the Oedipus complex. It is at this point that he introduces the discussion of the "message" and the "code" as they relate respectively to the dialectic of desire in the maternal dyad in the register of the first symbolization and to the early attempts by the father in his real presence to shape this dialectic by the introduction of the third, prohibitive term, the Symbolic Name-of-the Father. We are reminded that the symbolic ternate seeks to superimpose itself on an imaginary schema already marked by triangulation. The infant-child, in an attempt to be situated within the ambit of the mother's desire has already formed conceptions of the Other, insofar as this is the locus that has a determining effect on her 'being'; that is to say, her presence and absence.

Lacan has designated the phallus as this primordial apprehension by the infant of this other of the mother's desire. This is in keeping with the definition provided in his 1958 lecture 'The Signification of the Phallus' (included in the Ecrits) where the phallus denotes the 'signifier of the desire of the other'. There is then, a strongly disjunctive quality pertaining to the father's attempts to introduce the law of the symbolic, mirrored in Lacan's reflection that 'the object of the mother's desire is put in question by the paternal prohibition'. The ego of the child has been formed in relation to this other of the mother since it is from there that the child has sought to capture the desire of the mother. There is then a clash, a radical asymmetry between the vertices of the symbolic and imaginary ternates located around a differential construction of the phallus. The greater this dissymmetry or disjunction, the more powerful will be the appeal of those specular captations and formative gestalts that comprise the filtering of experience in the imaginary domain.

It is this imaginary captation that Lacan, in Lecture 9, 'The Paternal Metaphor', isolated as the distinctive feature of the psychoses and perversions; in both cases, he tell us, "it is by the image that the field of reality is profoundly disturbed". In this crucial second moment of symbolisation the mother too is castrated of this imaginary phallus that has been constructed to provide a mediating discourse. In normal Oedipalisation this will have been so structured to provide in an anticipatory fashion a facilitating trajectory towards the paternal metaphor. This facilitation is mentioned by Lacan in terms of "the bonds of love and respect". There are then, two messages; a primordial signifying chain of the mother that constructs an imaginary dyadic phallus and then there is introduced an opposition that Lacan calls "a message of a message", a code that is an interjection by the father that seeks through prohibition to undo this initial and imaginary phallic construction.

Resting on this is the ongoing inquiry conducted by the child in the form of the question "to be or not to be the phallus". If the answer is in the affirmative then obviously the insertion of the secondary phallus through the paternal metaphor will yield such complications that a 'pathological' formation may be inevitable. It is this handling then of the second moment in the complex that Lacan highlights as crucial;

"The way that the father intervenes at that particular time in the dialectic of the Oedipus complex, is extremely important to reflect on.......".

This is because the mechanism implicated in what may become psychosis is to be found at this juncture. Lacan continues;

'.....in so far as the name of the father, the father qua symbolic function, the father at the level at what happens here between message and code, and between code and message, is precisely verworfen'.

In his seminar on the psychoses Lacan gives us a succinct summary of what he regards to be the nature of this fundamental mechanism;

"What is at issue when I speak of Verwerfung? At issue is the rejection of a primordial signifier into the outer shadows, a signifier that will henceforth be missing at this level..... It's a matter of a primordial process of exclusion of an original within, which is not a bodily within but that of an initial body of signifiers."

Again, at another point in the seminar he tell us;

"In the subject's relationship to the symbol there is the possibility of a primitive verwerfung, that is, that something is not symbolized and is going to appear in the real".

But what is this real that Lacan stubbornly refuses to elaborate on? For in the next sentence Lacan tell us;

"it is essential to introduce the category of the real, it is impossible to neglect it in Freud's texts. I give it this name so as to define a field different from the symbolic".

This is a fine example of a Lacanian circumnavigation of the Real, a refusal to concretely identify a basic concept that is continually defined either in terms of an unfathomable 'opposition' to the other registers or as 'the impossible' the 'unsymbolisable' or 'the unknowable'. This tendency, which displays all the cunning of a master of suspense-fiction mercifully yields in the 60's to a hesitant if incomplete delineation that sheds light on the notion of the reappearance 'in the real' of the foreclosed signifiers.

In Seminar XI, 'The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis' we realise that though we cannot define the real we can as Lacan puts it 'criss-cross the network of signifiers' to establish our gewissheit, our certainty. This gewissheit, as we have said, is an accumulative knowledge, resistant to a definitive logical proof and is based on the laws of probability and association. From this mode of reasoning we can make inferences with perhaps a greater degree of confidence than that afforded us through more empiricist methods. Here we find, through the tested method of analytical discovery illustrated in the formula a+b= ab, the real in Lacan's discussion of the unconscious closely allied to a number of phenomena; to the openings or 'gaps', and 'fissures' of the parapraxes, to the tuche, the chance encounter, to that which stretches 'from the trauma to the phantasy', and to the Freudian unterlegt and untertragen. All of these etchings, these partial epiphanies if you like, seek to approach the object of study in an asymptotic fashion, in the manner as Lacan himself said that is more resemblant of an infinitesimal calculus. It is evident then, through our criss-crossing of the network, that the particular avatar of the real that is pertinent to our understanding of the formula 'returns in the real' as applied for instance in the case of Schreber, is the unconscious as missed encounter, as pulsatile function.

However, there is a crucial difference. The gap of the unconscious in the normal subject that opens and closes in upon itself in a single pulsatile movement, is for Schreber a gaping breach that invites a current so powerful that it quickly diverts the ego's energy from it's duties vis-a-vis the external environment. There is no cut, no censorship that retains for the subject the unconscious as ineffable beyond. Instead, it becomes an unshakeable presence and manifests itself, in Schreber's case, most disconcertingly in the goading, condemnatory 'language of the rays'.

The dominant episteme, in Schreber's case, post-Enlightenment rationalism, may function as the replacement (suppleant) of the paternal metaphor that keeps the subject for a certain time anchored in the Symbolic. This is a view echoed by Janet Lucas who argues that Schreber;

"..uses science as a substitute - a barrier or a rim that maintains [him] at a distance from the term he foreclosed, i.e., religion (the symbolic legacy of his father). Science, as such, functions as the sinthome, i.e., the fourth term or ring (Lacan, Seminar XXIII, 17) that binds together the imaginary, the symbolic and the real, and simultaneously maintains a semiotic distance from the place of the foreclosed signifier."

What Lucas seems to have forgotten however is that the sinthome as the fourth ring is a post-psychotic suturing device and cannot as such be applied to a form of subjectivity that predates the psychotic rupture. For Lacan states quite clearly that in order for the sinthome to become a real dimension interlocking the Symbolic, Imaginary and Real it is first the Symbolic ring, the breach with meaning, that must be initially severed.

Going back to the lecture on the paternal metaphor we note that Lacan describes psychosis as 'a more or less endophasic invasion, composed of words that are more or less heard with a burdensome parasitic character'. It is important to emphasise then that the return 'in the real' is a return from without and that the auditory hallucinations of Schreber are only one of the many forms in which it presents itself, for the entire imaginary dialectic is announcing itself here. It is the Real, in other words, of both psychic and external reality and this fact is established quite clearly by Lacan in his discussion of the hallucinated message and code phenomena of Schreber's delusional discourse.

It is interesting to note also that the dyadic discourse that stabilised the phallus in the imaginary ternate has returned in the so-called Grundspache or Basic Language of Schreber's de(i)lusion in tandem with the prohibitive code of the father despite the fact that the latter was evidently the object of the foreclosed. There is the additional question of how, despite the obvious condensations imposed upon the original signifying material both message and code have retained their particular intonation, their distinctiveness, or, if you like, their personalities through this vast chasm of time. Perhaps, we may further conjecture, the 'bonds of love and respect' were designed to announce themselves beyond the grave.

A Brief Ontology
In summary, the Lacanian schema of non-normative psychogenesis describes an improperly mediated entry into the imaginary register of experience by way of fundamental symbolic gestures, leaving the infant-child doubly susceptible to the negative aspects of the lures, misrecognitions and captivating Gestalts that structure the relations of aggressivity and rivalry in early childhood. The failure to adapt to the formal introduction of the third term, the Name-of-the-Father, that would have normalised the quaternary structure of the Oedipal relations, instead creates a 'gap' or 'hole' in the Symbolic in the place of phallic signification. The unbarred subject whose lack of a lack in symbolic being now vacantly receives that formal inscription of signifiers that mediate desire in the normal Oedipalised subject. The surplus desire (suppleant), is now displaced to the imaginary functions of the ego for the impossible task (later assuming the form of anxiety) of filling a perceived lack whose origins lie in an initial and all too powerful specular captation. This operation also has the secondary crippling effect of creating an unconverted aggressive drive whose containment will henceforth compromise the subject in his dealings with(in) the Other.

This prefigures a reactionary stance towards early structural manifestations of the linguistic register. In the cascading exclusions that follow, the unravelling of nascent points des captions (holding points that bind the signifier to meaning) implicated in the foreclosure of primordial signifiers at the level of the preoedipal imaginary inaugurates a specific structuring of the drives that leaves the subject especially susceptible to the potential catastrophe of immersion in the Real. At the level of libidinal attachments, the infant-child is unduly suspended in the continuity of the seamless dyad, due to the absence of diverting symbolic actions. Likewise, the elongation of the anaclitic object-choices reinforces in a detrimental fashion the function of phantasy in early development.

The overall structure is then, within this schema, negatively reinforced through the continual undermining of je discourse by the moi identificatory fixations. The suppletion or suppleance, later elaborated by Lacan as the sinthome, and often derived from an imaginary identification with the Other, acts as a substitute for the excluded paternal metaphor. This suppletion momentarily sutures the hole in the Symbolic but its eventual loss, Lacan's 'fertile moment' initiates the withdrawal of libidinal cathexis. At the level of the body there occurs an 'invasion of jouissance', creating externally a hyper-erogenised cutaneous surface and internally an 'overheated' libidinal economy. The subject forestalls the opportunity for cathectic discharge and surplus jouissance, of which there is plenty, is readily absorbed by the psychic components, most notably the primary process and the ego-ideal. The emergent discourse is in fact to be regarded as a secondary suppletion that struggles to protect the embattled psyche from the ferocity of the Real.
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Total Comments 5


  1. Old Comment
    Anna James's Avatar
    Gile, can I post this article on my facebook page? It's really good
    Posted August 27th, 2012 at 10:35 AM by Anna James Anna James is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Gile na Gile's Avatar
    Fire away Anna.

    Nice to see you back btw.
    Posted August 28th, 2012 at 12:30 AM by Gile na Gile Gile na Gile is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Anna James's Avatar
    Thanks. I went to a vacation to Bulgaria and decided to stay here a while...so I've been busy with finding 1,2, hopefully 3 jobs so I can survive a bit - talk about EU prices and salaries from teh type of 300-400$ a month - teachers' salary I mean. What kind of South would you call that
    Posted August 28th, 2012 at 07:53 AM by Anna James Anna James is offline
  4. Old Comment
    Anna James's Avatar
    Btw I would like to link also some others of your great articles - do you want me to ask you about everyone of them I'd like to post?
    Posted August 28th, 2012 at 08:03 AM by Anna James Anna James is offline
  5. Old Comment
    Gile na Gile's Avatar
    Originally Posted by Anna James View Comment
    Thanks. I went to a vacation to Bulgaria and decided to stay here a while...so I've been busy with finding 1,2, hopefully 3 jobs so I can survive a bit - talk about EU prices and salaries from teh type of 300-400$ a month - teachers' salary I mean. What kind of South would you call that
    Your probably in a better position to tell me by the sounds of it Anna. Life ain't easy no matter where you are I suppose.

    Bang away with whatever ones you went to put up there, a writer always likes to be read and I'm no exception so any extra exposure is a good thing. Just glad you've taken a liking to some of them so keep the comments comin.
    Posted August 30th, 2012 at 02:31 PM by Gile na Gile Gile na Gile is offline

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