Tuesday, 10 April 2012

What is Madness? 10
Leader on the localisation of the libido

In pages 87-92 of What is Madness? Leader provides his account of the 'problem of localising the libido' in the psychoses. My first problem is working out what this is supposed to mean. In keeping with earlier posts I'll try a hermeneutic method (not facilitated by the book's lack of index...).

'For the neurotic, the libido is always linked to a sense of loss. Enjoyment is never enough: it is fleeting, out of reach. This is an effect of the symbolic separation from the mother: she is always inaccessible, and we may be drawn to details that remind us of the mythic, lost enjoyment we associate with her.' (p. 87)

That doesn't help me yet with localisation, but does help me with libido: it has something, at least sometimes, to do with enjoyment. Looking back through the book though I recall that libido also has to do with the order of the 'real' - the 'libidinal life of the body' (p. 45). Freud (p. 51) 'called the sexual energy of the body 'libido', and part of growing up involves the draining and restructuring of bodily excitation.' I didn't understand what is meant by describing the adult's constant limit-setting on the child as a form of 'draining' their libido. This doesn't help much, but the equation of libido with sexual excitement and enjoyment gives us a bit of a clue.

I turn for a bit of help to Jonathan Lear's book on Love and its Place in Nature. Lear writes (132-3) that
Jonathan Lear
The fantasy of world destruction is, Freud hypothesizes, a psychotic representation of a real process: a person's withdrawal of interest from the external world. For Freud, a person's interest in the world is a manifestation of his investing it with sexual energy, which he called libido. The world's ceasing to exist for a person and his withdrawal of libido from the world are, for Freud, two aspects of the same process. What it is like for the person is that the world ceases to exist: this is his psychological representation. The withdrawal of libido is what is really happening.
That helps a bit, assuming that Lear is speaking the same language as Leader. But what does it mean to talk of investing the world with sexual energy?

More from Leader: 'in psychosis ... the libido is not linked to a minus sign [as in neurosis] but to a plus sign. It is too present' (p. 87). Leader is presumably writing metaphorically: libido isn't really linked to mathematical signs. This is something I just don't understand about his style: how is it supposed to help explain anything to say that libido is linked to a plus or minus sign. If all he means is that it is 'too present' then why not just say that? If the business about signs is supposed to add something, then: what is it supposed to add.

And: 'in paranoia [libido] is localised outside in the Other (the persecutor or the fault in the world), in schizophrenia it invades the person's body.' (p. 87). I can't make sense of this whilst using a notion of 'libido' which preserves the only clues I have yet got from Leader's book as to what it is supposed to mean (excitement, sexual pleasure). The reason is that many paranoid delusions don't seem to involve the patient in having beliefs about the sexual excitation or enjoyment of their persecutor. I know I'm being literally minded about all of this - but my problem is that I haven't got a clue how to read it metaphorically: I just don't yet have a clue of how to use the word 'libido' and what it means to talk of investing it somewhere. Also I don't yet know where libido is located in a normal or neurotic (if those are different) person.

What about Laplanche and Pontalis; might they help? In their dictionary they cite Freud writing 'Libido is... the energy... of those instincts which have to do with all that may be comprised under the word "love"'. Other than that they're not much help either.

So here's my best guess: we have within us either a hypothetical or a metaphorical force or energy (called libido) which is directed at, or directs us to, this or that object outside of us. This direction is the 'basis' of our interest in, and excitement by, those details of the world around us which fascinate us. Positing something like such an energy (over and above merely talking about our loving behaviours) becomes significant when we notice how people will so often move their interest, involvement, fascination, with one person or hobby directly onto another when they fall out of love with the first. It is as if their interest with X or Y is not simply a brute fact, to be explained by properties of the object, but is rather something which is to be explained by a particular energy in the subject finding an outlet here or there. Libidinal 'cathexes' may be withdrawn but then they spring out elsewhere; the investment in the new object carries the 'same charge', we could say, as the investment in the old. The depressed person, however, fails to invest the world with their libido - 'hence' it no longer calls to them. (I've put key terms which presuppose that we don't have to do here simply with non-merely-redescriptive pseudo-explanation in inverted commas; I haven't yet made up my mind about the explanatory prowess of the concept...). The Freudian/Lacanian developmental supplement is presumably: our first libidinal objects are perhaps our own body and our mother's body, and then what with the whole business of our instinctual behaviour being parentally chivvied this way and that, and the troubling bother of the Oedipus complex, we come to invest a world outside of other people and things with libido.

My question now is what it means to say that a paranoid person localises the libido in their persecutor. I can see how this persecutor is their supreme interest; I don't get the connection with sexual desire. And I don't yet understand either how it is that the libido invades the person's own body in schizophrenia. The person (e.g. Schreber or Leader's patient) feels a kind of sexual excitation all over their body. Fine. But what is the common sense of 'location of the libido' that unifies such phenomena as feeling that one's brain is a giant vagina and feeling that one is being persecuted by the CIA?

Consider the schizophrenic person who, as we know, often suffers from a disturbance of bodily selfhood such that they lack a sense of their body's boundedness, integrity, coherence, vitality etc. (Scharfetter and Parnas are our main sources here; Leader himself documents many examples especially on pages 88-9.) Leader traces this to a too-present libido that invades the schizophrenic subject's body. But why wouldn't we instead think of the disturbance of corporeal subjectivity as primary? (As, say, a neurodevelopmental difficulty? Although the two hypotheses need not compete: perhaps the neurodevelopmental difficulty is of a piece with invasive libido...)

'The inclusion of libido in the body means that the schizophrenic person is often preoccupied with health issues, and explains why so often the psychosis first manifest itself in the form of hypochondria' (p. 89). Right, yes, this frequent hypochondria is something to explain - just as is, say, genital auto-mutilation when it less frequently occurs. I applaud Leader for attempting an explanation. But what does it mean to say that libido in the body causes the health concerns? Why does the libido give rise to the strange bodily sensations?

My bafflement gets worse still: 'The influx of libido to the body makes it too present, too material, yet in some cases we see exactly the reverse. The body is experienced as a two-dimensional image rather than as an unbearable, torturous mass' (p. 89). Now I'm even more confused - if this happens in schizophrenia, then in what sense is schizophrenia (as opposed to paranoia) to be explicated in terms of a libidinal influx?

Leader provides something of an answer on the following page. The problem, he says, is a failure in the unification of the mirror phase: the imaginary and real dimensions have not been connected securely to the symbolic order. Without a symbolic order nothing can 'pin down' the body image. 'Where the mirror phase solders our image to us and designates it as our own, in schizophrenia this is problematic' (p. 90). I don't know what to make of this though. The symbolic order, to recall, had to do with tacit mind-structuring rules ; the real had to do with the libidinal life of the body; the imaginary has to do with the body image. When Leader says that the disturbances of bodily being, invasion, lack of body ego demarcation, etc., that he discusses are due to a failure in connection of the three orders, is this an explanation or a redescription? It looks for the moment like a non-explanatory redescription - but I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise!

On the question of what is libido, I've just looked further back in the book and found this: 'the real is the libidinal life of the body, the states of morbid excitation and arousal that assail us' (p. 45). This is interesting: why is libidinal excitation described as (sometimes) morbid? It fits better with the clinical phenomena of paranoia in which Leader theorises in terms of libido located in the other, but I am still unclear as to the proper meaning and extension of the term. If we take 'libido' more in the direction of a driven interest rather than sexual excitement then we can make some sense of this idea of morbidity. Just as someone may rightly be said to not just 'find' someone sexually attractive, but to 'invest' them with sexual interestingness (witness the way, uncorrelated with the length of their acquaintance, that someone may 'start fancying' and then 'go off' someone), so too someone may develop an animus (in the everyday, non-Jungian sense!) against someone for a while with a curious self-driven intensity. So, the idea seems to be that when it comes to the bodily aspect of all of this we have to do with 'the real'. A confusing use of 'real', given the reality of our non-bodily desire.

Toward the end of chapter 3 we are given a nice explanation of the non-egotistical defensive narcissism of delusions of having a special place or role in the world: 'Doesn't the place of an exception give the person a solution to the childhood question of what they are for the Other, a way of situating their existence as involved in yet also outside the world they inhabit? Too much inclusion will be felt as unbearable, and so a safe place must be built elsewhere, in the place of the third term that was never there for them' (p. 93). Now this makes a kind of sense; all we need to be able to agree or disagree with it is the developmental data linking the early Oedipal identity concerns with the later psychopathology of the self.


Ok, so sometimes if you're really puzzled by what someone means then the best thing to do is to ask them. And so I've now emailed to ask Leader what he means by libido, and he has very graciously replied, telling me that for him it means excessive excitation, in mind or body, which can be felt as pleasure or pain or both, but always with a character of 'too much'. And this really does help a great deal - more to follow.