Friday, 6 April 2012

What is Madness? 7
Leader on Psychosis 1

In this seventh post on Leader's book What is Madness? I start to look at chapter 3 in which he himself starts to apply Lacan's understanding of the centrality of the Oedipus complex to the question of how to understand psychotic experience. (I ought to say that it should be obvious that I am only writing these posts for my own benefit, making sure I understand the best I can as I go along; others should just go and read Leader's book!) Leader summarises the basic plot very nicely in his first paragraph (p. 67):

the Oedipus complex has three basic results.... [i] it establishes a new meaning; ... [ii] it localizes the body's libido ... and ... [iii] it establishes a distance, moving the child away from being the exclusive object of the mother. Once we recognise these processes, many of the clinical phenomena of psychosis suddenly come into perspective. Rather than seeing them as indications of disorder, chaos or collapse, they can be understood as attempts to solve these three fundamental problems: [i] how can a meaning be given to one's reality, [ii] how can the body's libido be anchored, and [iii] how can a safe distance from the Other be created?

Now I am still rather groping in the dark with these Lacanian formulations, so here I try to summarise these three processes normally effected by the resolution of the Oedipus complex.

[i] What does Leader mean by 'establishing a meaning'? I think he means the following: The child is at first, we are to suppose, in a somewhat fused relationship with the mother, whose absences in mind and body may however be painful. But some of this pain can be reduced, managed, metabolised, by understanding why she is sometimes absent. The idea of the limits to her love (and also, in the Lacanian but not, if I understand correctly, the Kleinian version of the Oedipus complex, the idea of a law which reassuringly guarantees her love) is, to be sure, not at all pleasurable, but it is at least an idea - a thought, something which gives us a handle on a difficult situation, makes some sense of it, orientates us, makes her absence bearable. And the thought is: well, my mother has another lover, and he is my father.

[ii] What is meant by the localisation of libido? I'm not sure, but I think the idea is that we seek for the prohibited mother outside of ourselves - perhaps our searching for love is an unconscious attempt to complete the lost unity with the mother? Maybe the idea is that originally we are self-satisfying in our libido, but then when we acknowledge the sometime unavailability to us of our love object the mother, we come to locate what is desired outside us. Admittedly this isn't clear yet to me.

[iii] On creating a safe distance from the other: here the idea seems to be rather like [i] - that we can get some kind of handle on the parameters of the relationship with the mother, locate her person on a broader landscape. We get less lost in others, and exist more in relationship with them.

Daniel Paul Schreber
Leader next turns his attention to the well known psychotic experiences of the famous 19th century German schizophrenic judge Daniel Schreber. The 'repair effort' function of delusions as suggested by Freud is insisted on. [i] Schreber's bewildering internal sexual experiences are given a meaning by the delusion (he is turning into a woman who would create a new race). [ii] His diffuse libidinal experiences are organised by the delusion into a new order: he is the person chosen to beget a new race (p. 68). [iii] A healthier relationship with God is made for, not too close or too far away.

My difficulty with this scheme, so far, is its super-flexibility. What I imagined was that Schreber's difficulties were going to be traced back to his Oedipal disturbances. Instead what we have is a super-broad use of the three functions of the Oedipal development to characterise three functions of the delusional development. The rationale for the parallel is not provided. It comes out a bit better when considering the delusions of a young girl who had a very invasive mother. Her delusions of being the subject of a complicated experiment  'allowed her to survive. It made sense of her world, explained the bizarre behaviour of her mother, and gave her a position in the scheme of things.' (p. 69). It gets clearer still when Leader writes 'In both cases, through giving a place to the subject, the delusion distanced them from being simply something to which brutal things were done, as now these had a purpose and a meaning.' What we need still, though, is an account which ties the pre-delusional experience to a failure to negotiate the Oedipus complex; without this we seem as yet to have mere analogy.