Saturday, 7 April 2012

What is Madness? 8
Darian Leader on psychosis 2

Pages 71-2 of Leader's book on psychosis are concerned with the ways in which delusions crystallise out the meanings of a shattered world, giving structure and order. The convincing story belongs to phenomenological psychiatry rather than Lacan, and so I won't consider it further here. Later on page 72, however, we finally get the beginnings of the story we have been waiting for: What the connection is between psychosis and a disturbance in Oedipal complex resolution?

The Lacanian spin on the Oedipus complex is first of all recapitulated: The infant makes sense of the comings and goings of the mother by grasping the significance to the mother of the father - this sense-making or 'phallic signification' is what starts to make bearable the infant's emotional experience of her absences. This is the beginning of meaning for the child. It is also the beginning, for the child, of the two orders of signifieds and signifiers.  'But [p.72] what would happen if there were problems in connecting the two registers, if meanings were not available to help the person construct their reality?'

Now when I wrote about Leader on signifiers and signifieds before I could not get a grip on the explanatory work that these notions are supposed to be doing. My problem is that: I still can't. Leader describes a few cases for us, one in which the death of a man's father led to his being uncertain about the meaning of words and to carry a dictionary with him everywhere. In another case every object becomes seen as something to kill himself with. 'Rather than each signifier - a knife, a door, a bottle, etc. - taking on different meanings according to their context, they just meant one thing: a means to take his own life.' I'm confused again about what the signifiers are: are they the words that the person has to look up in the dictionary, or are they the knives, bottles, doors?

Leader writes that, in psychosis, words either become disconnected, or too connected, from meanings. The man with the dictionary is an example of the first. The suicide objects is presumably intended as an example of the second. I think that what is happening is that the term 'meaning' has become rather broad for Leader, so that in this case objects like knives and doors have meanings too. What it is, here, for them to have a meaning, is for them to prompt a thought ('kill yourself').

Consider: 'If in neurosis the paternal function establishes and limits meaning, in psychosis this has not happened. Hence there is a search for an alternative, something like a code of a formula or even a gadget that would bring order and meaning to the world.' (p. 73). It is certainly true that this preoccupation with a unifying scheme for the world is particularly schizophrenic. One way of putting it that I would prefer would be: the mind starts to lose its pre-reflective, bodily- and culturally-grounded, grip on the meanings of its life. A form of delusional, substitutive, simplifying, meaning is established instead.

Now my question is: does the talk of the Oedipus complex and the phallic or paternal function do anything to explain the phenomenology here? If such talk is really just another way of referring to the psychotic material, then it would appear to be non-explanatory and also rather disastrously de trop: we should just stick instead to the good old fashioned continental phenomenological psychopathology. If on the other hand Leader is offering us, say, an aetiological hypothesis: that a psychotic breakdown in later life can be seen to be a function of an Oedipal disturbance, then what we need are the 'data'. We need to see how someone can get so far with the world of language and development, and then have such a catastrophe, and we need to understand how the latent disturbance is rekindled. Hopefully these 'data' will be forthcoming later in the book.