Incandescent Alphabets: Psychosis and the Enigma of Language

Views: 179
Ratings: (0)

Psychosis, an invasion of mind and body from without, creates an enigma about what is happening and thrusts the individual into radical isolation. What are the subjective details of such experiences? This book explores psychosis as knowledge cut off from history, truth that cannot be articulated in any other form. Delusion is a new language made of 'incandescent alphabets' that the psychotic adopts from imposed voices. The psychotic uses language in a singular way to found and explain a strange experience that he or she cannot exit. Through the exegesis of language in psychosis based on first person accounts, the book orients readers to an enigmatic Other, pervasive and inescapable, that will come to inhabit every aspect of the psychotic's being, thought and bodily experience. The book deploys a poetics as a form of inquiry to give a nuanced picture of delusion as a repair of language itself, following Freud and Lacan-in historic and contemporary forms of psychotic art, writing and speech. Drawing on the author's own experience of psychosis and psychoanalysis, as well as conversations with analyst colleagues, Dr Rogers offers ways to listen to language in delusion, and argues for the promise of a modified psychoanalytic treatment with psychosis.

List price: $25.99

Your Price: $20.79

You Save: 20%

 

8 Slices

Format Buy Remix

Chapter One: Encounters with a Ghastly, Enigmatic Other

ePub

It is a crisp, cool morning in Stockbridge, and with cup of tea on my desk, I enter another time, another space, another realm of experience: psychosis, as it has been lived through first person accounts, books, letters, art, and interviews. Intrigued by the inventive language of psychosis, I think of how alphabets were first made by humans, drawn by hand, and then subjected to new forms through printing practices. I consider the paraphernalia of printers: composing sticks, in which one inserted letters as “sorts”. “I am out of sorts” meant that I have run out of letters needed for the line I was composing. And I think of how language changes when one is “out of sorts” in psychosis; it might become difficult to follow one’s own thoughts. Of necessity, the psychotic makes new words, and his language carries the sheer inventiveness of his quest to speak, to say what is happening to him.

I am at Austen Riggs, a private psychiatric hospital in the Berkshires, in Western Massachusetts, as the Erikson Scholar. This position affords me time to write, an office at the corner of the psychoanalytic library, an apartment, and a stipend. Austen Riggs is one of the very few hospitals left where psychoanalysis is the primary means of treatment, where patients do not live on locked wards, but wander a beautiful campus with wide lawns, trees, flowers. There is a working greenhouse and a community garden. When a young man (one of the patients) gives me a tour of the buildings, I learn that he and others participate in governance structures here, and everyone has access to psychoanalytic psychotherapy four days a week. The patients choose activities they have proposed, outlined on a whiteboard in a spacious first floor hallway of the main building called “The Inn” in which they live, work, and take their meals. There is a library with comfy reading chairs, run by patients. We walk into the town and find “The Lavender Door”, a designated space for the arts that is “interpretation free”, as the young man explains. Here, one might learn ceramics, weaving, woodworking, and painting, or engage in theatre productions—all facilitated by professional artists. In short, alongside their personal anguish and struggles, for the patients there is life, a real life to be lived.

 

Chapter Two: Psychosis: What is it, this Strangeness?

ePub

First visit

Dan is an architect, a friend I have known for fifteen years, his dark hair grey at the temples. He is smart, generous, and witty. He knows of my interest in psychosis and has come to visit me to talk about his younger brother, who was recently diagnosed as schizophrenic. He is puzzled by his brother’s language and frustrated with his doctors. This is the first of four visits. We sit at the dining room table in Amherst, Massachusetts on a weekend evening in early October. Dan begins, frowning in the way he does when he is baffled.

“What is it, this strangeness? We’re losing him and no one seems to know exactly what it is that’s wrong, what he’s living through, or how to reach him. What is psychosis? How different is it from the way my own mind works?” Dan has always posed questions, so this barrage of questions seems utterly in character.

“What is psychosis?” I repeat. “It’s not easy to answer, really.” I walk around it, as if it is new and unknown.

 

Chapter Three: Hallucinated Bodies: Art and its Alphabets in Psychosis

ePub

“Who, if I cried, would hear me among the Angelic
Orders? And even if one of them suddenly
took me to its heart, I would fade in the strength of its
stronger existence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror we are just still able to bear
…Every single Angel is terrible”

(Rilke, First Elegy, Duino Elegies, 1939)

I have drawn since I was a child: my baseball mitt, the sycamore trees behind our apartment, my cat, my own hands, and maps, make-believe ideas of place. Near the end of high school, following nine months in a psychiatric hospital and a diagnosis of schizophrenia, I found that I could not draw in perspective; something was “off” in my seeing that inhabited my drawing. The St Louis Cathedral did not resemble my memory of it from outside, so I drew the architecture of its vastness as though I could see through it, into its interior workings. In my first year college drawing class, I discovered an incomprehensible gap between the nude bodies of our models and what I started to draw on paper, a body I can only call terrible. I was filled with dread, and dropped the class. Four months later I was back in a psychiatric hospital.

 

Chapter Four: Infinite Code: Clocks, Calendars, Numbers, Music, Scripts

ePub

In his novel, The Unnamable, Samuel Beckett creates a first person voice floundering with questions of identity, voice, and knowledge. Perplexity empties this character of all but “the voices and thoughts of the devils who beset me” (Beckett, 1994[1951], p. 350). Beckett’s readers cannot escape pervasive perplexity.

Is there a single word of mine in all I say? No, I have no voice, in this matter I have none. That’s one of the reasons I confused myself with Worm. But I have no reasons, either no reason, I’m like Worm, without voice or reason, I’m Worm, no, if I were Worm I wouldn’t know it, I wouldn’t say it, I wouldn’t say anything, I’d be Worm. But I don’t say anything, I don’t know anything, these voices are not mine, nor these thoughts, but the voices and thoughts of the devils who beset me. (p. 350)

Hallucination, for Lacan, is not a perception without an object; rather, the object has an effect on the subject who experiences it as external, yet intimate and deeply puzzling. What invades the mind as a voice or presence is strange and foreign, inescapable, a part of oneself and yet not oneself, ejected from meaning. The effect is perplexity. Here is a message; what is the code needed to grasp it?

 

Chapter Five: After the Disaster: Six Sketches and a Short Play

ePub

In his book, The Writing of the Disaster (1995[1980]), Maurice Blanchot defines disaster in the following way: “The disaster…is what escapes the very possibility of experience—it is the limit of writing. This must be repeated: the disaster de-scribes” (p. 7).

The disaster registers but escapes “the very possibility of experience”, and, at the limit of writing, acts to dissolve meaning, to undo writing. Ann Smock, the translator for The Writing of the Disaster (1995[1980]), comments on reading Blanchot in her translator’s remarks,

Blanchot lets thoughts suggest themselves and develop through puns, alliterations, rhymes, etymologies (both learned and fanciful), as though thought were engraved in words themselves and thinking consisted in deciphering the inscription, or as if language were speaking to us in the various sonorities of diverse terms, and we had only to listen to what it tells…(p. vii)

After the disaster of psychosis, a mental breakdown that breaks down speech and writing, how do writers find a way with words—“listening to what it tells” and making language do what it used to do, and more? The “more” I refer to here restores language, renews language for humanity. The writers in this chapter each treat language as a new object; their words carry effects that speak beyond the individuals, in the wake of the same kind of disaster that Blanchot invokes, which is, after all, human existence at the edge of a great void, and a part of being human. The disaster puts our own experience, our very existence, out of reach; all meanings or interpretations are erased.

 

Chapter Six: Beyond Psychosis: Returning, Remaining Traces

ePub

We all have the capacity to wonder about things, and, wondering, to invent new ideas about reality that become reality. That is not the mark of psychosis. Consider any enquiry and invention: poetry, art, mathematical proof, scientific discovery. We create what was not there before out of moments of rupture, inspiration, the odd passing thought, impetus, idea. Our invention lands into a social network that believes it, finds it valuable, can build from it, or at least admire it. The psychotic, however, not only invents something new, but also bears an enigmatic language concerning lived experiences outside of any social link that could recognise the terms of her language or invention. The new language, created to repair a flaw in language itself, to put order back into a world in which the perverse Other has wreaked havoc, can seal the psychotic into another reality. That new language encompasses both the disorder and the new order, and she follows that in reality. How does one return from such an experience in language? Because we do return, with and without medication, with and without psychotherapy or any form of treatment.

 

Chapter Seven: Psychosis and the Address: New Alphabets and the Enigmatic Other

ePub

What does it take for someone who is entirely caught up with his own projects and concerns, whose true interest lies elsewhere, to find a way into speaking? “For it is difficult to speak, even any old rubbish, and at the same time focus one’s attention on another point, where one’s true interest lies” (p. 27), Samuel Beckett writes in The Unnamable (1994[1951]).

How do we listen to individuals in psychosis who might yearn to speak, but cannot find the words to convey their most vital experiences? And, when someone has lost faith in speaking, what compels her to try again? How do we receive language that sometimes sounds incoherent or eccentric with respect to ordinary, unstated norms of speaking? What does it take, on the part of the listener, to receive the psychotic subject as a subject worth listening to, worth working to hear? And how can we respond to individuals in a psychotic crisis, as well as those at the edge of that experience? Finally, how might we listen to someone after a crisis in ways that open up conversations into spaces of exploration and discovery, surprise, and sometimes even laughter? These are questions I have formulated especially with clinicians in mind, but they may pertain to anyone who simply wants to listen. Yet, to enter into conversation with individuals who have traversed psychosis, one must consider a different experience of the world, and a specific position in the address of the psychotic subject. One also must become curious about the experience of psychosis in all its permutations.

 

Chapter Eight: Psychoanalysis Remade: A Way through Psychosis

ePub

“Soul / take thy risk”

(Emily Dickinson, Amherst Manuscript # 357)

Freud realised that the classic form of psychoanalysis invented for neurosis, which depended on deciphering symptoms, would not work readily with psychosis because psychotics did not present symptoms to be analysed. However, he questioned his own contraindication of psychoanalysis with psychotics: “By suitable changes to the method [of psychoanalysis] we may succeed in overcoming this contraindication [against analysis]- and so be able to initiate a psychotherapy of the psychoses” (Freud, 1904a, p. 253). Rare analysts, such as Frieda Fromm-Reichmann and Harold Searles, followed Freud's advice and did just that in the middle decades of the twentieth century, and they were remarkably successful in their treatment of psychosis. In contemporary time, however, psychoanalysis is rarely considered as a feasible way of working with psychosis. Short hospital stays and aggressive medication of symptoms have become the norm.

 

Details

Print Book
E-Books
Slices

Format name
ePub (DRM)
Encrypted
true
Sku
9781781816417
Isbn
9781781816417
File size
1 KB
Printing
Disabled
Copying
Disabled
Read aloud
No
Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Sku
In metadata
Isbn
In metadata
File size
In metadata