Saturday, 28 April 2012

What is Madness? 12
Language and the Other

In my last post I grizzled about some less-than-compelling-to-me elements of chapter 4 of Leader's new book on madness. On pages 100-105 he considers thought disorder and the connection between thought and the Other. Schizophrenia is contrasted with paranoia: the 'frozen condensation of meaning found in paranoia is very different from the polysemy, the wealth of [attempts at, I would add] meaning, found in schizophrenias.' Why does this happen to the schizophrenic? 'Where the signification established by the Oedipus complex is absent, the person is left at the mercy of too many meanings: this can at times result in literary and poetic dexterity, but often the person feels overwhelmed and invaded by meaning. It is as if the rivets connecting signifier to signified have come part, and the person hasn't been able to pin them back together again through the construction of a delusion.' Aside from what still seems to me to be the very interesting but as-yet unestablished significance of the Oedipus complex, the rest appears to be clear and compelling; in what follows I pretty much document it as it is.

Leader goes on to consider the relation between speech and the Other (in the mind of the speaker). This in effect is what has troubled me at times in reading his book: that I don't always feel that what he writes is sufficiently tailored (disambiguated, explicated, etc.) to the needs of (me) the reader. As he writes (p. 100): 'the listener [or reader] was not encrypted in the subject's speech [or writing]'. 'Meaning would not be constructed as one spoke, relying on the Other to guide and shape it, but could arrive preformed, as it were.' (What this reminds me of is Wittgenstein's private language argument - Wittgenstein's argument against the very idea of the possibility of meaningfully deploying language the significance of which is not potentially at least intersubjectively available. The schizophrenic, accordingly, is in this respect a kind of omnipotent narcissist - which is to say that they fail to include enough by way of the Other in constraining the significance of their own thought and reference.) 'This might at times take the form of a hallucination. The speaker would either be caught up in empty, meaningless everyday chatter, with no symbolic centre, or they would perhaps be the target of divine communication.' (I don't yet grasp the latter possibility and the connection with hallucination.)

An important contrast can be noted between Leader's psychoanalytic approach and, say, the approach to thought disorder found in the cognitive literature. In the cognitive psychological literature we find the ideas that either, in schizophrenic thought, the person is experiencing abnormal or ill-formed thoughts which are then communicated accurately, or that they are having normal thoughts but then fail to tailor these to the needs of the interpersonal encounter. In neither case does the Other come into the constitution of the thoughts themselves. Thoughts are seen as private inner events, meanings as first and foremost inwardly known. Communication is construed as a merely external relation: it is in the business of the transmission of thoughts. Now it goes without saying that on any one occasion it is not the case that others do much to constitute the meaning of my thought. Failure to get across well-formed thoughts is, of course, an empirical possibility we often meet with. But this, it seems to me, is why we must think instead of the Other with a capital 'O'. What constitutes thought as such, what is an essential 'transcendental horizon' for it, is the Other - its responsiveness to standards which the thinker may feel to meet. What nullifies thought as such is, for example, when narcissistically the speaker colonises the role of the Other themselves: an illusion of self-certainty is preserved at the expense of genuine content. (Wittgenstein: as if someone were to say: 'I know how tall I am' and put his hand on top of his head to prove it. Or: as if someone were to transfer a gift from one hand to another. 'But what of it?', he rightly asks.)

As Leader notes if we have no Other in play then we also have no 'I'. 'When this is compromised, the very reference of the persona pronoun may be put in question. In a celebrated example discussed by Lacan, the patient was unsure who the 'I' referred to in her sentence 'I've just come from the pork butcher's'. ... a patient... said that she was unable to dispatch a letter as 'there wasn't anyone to send it from'. Rather than being a slip of the tongue - with 'from' replacing 'to' - this was exactly what she intended to say: there was simply no place from which she could speak. The 'I' for her was a hole' (p. 103).

On pages 105-9 Leader considers schizophrenic neologism. Such invented words too, he suggests, 'come into being at the exact point of being an object for [being 'at the mercy of'] the Other' (p. 106). 'If meaning is sliding and unanchored in schizophrenia, neologisms can function to block the drift of signifiers and to bind the libido. It is for that reason that they seem to carry such a charge. [Leader had cited one of Jung's patients talking of her neologisms as 'power words'.] As the psychiatrist Karl Kleist saw, it is the use of the word that matters, its function to seal associative pathways' (p. 107). An example is given of the chemist Ludwig Staudenmaier who (like so many hard scientists are, precisely because of their physico-chemico training in 'hard' science, radically ill equipped for and gullible regarding psych(olog)ical investigation) quite soon found himself beset by bodily hallucinations when he started investigating seance phenomena. These bodily sensations were named by him thus: 'Roundhead' would control the movements of his tongue ... 'Cloven Foot' in his colon, 'Horse Foot' in his rectum etc. 'Thanks to these acts of naming, the invasion of his body could be linked to a structure, and thereby tempered.'

What interests me about this is the sense it provides to Leader's use of the ideas of libido and symbolic function etc. Libido - which for Leader means 'excessive excitation' - needs to be pinned down; the symbolic function of the father has failed; 'the desire of the Other is not interpreted in a consistent way' (p. 108); there is a sliding of meaning; the result is a need for delusion or neologism. Freud's notion of a patch over a rent in the ego is substantially filled out by Leader's Lacanian theory which aims to tell us what caused the rent and what shape it takes.