Ordinary Psychosis and Universal Madness

Ordinary Psychosis

There is a wise joke: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” 

Those who are psychically vulnerable can be most triggered or used by the symbolic effects of social reality. 

In fact it was in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, a novel about war at the end of history, that this joke appeared.

And so if history is over and thus classical war then we need to find another war: cold war, spies, terrorist liberation armies, cointelpro (a portmanteau word worthy of the “psychotic”), and finally pure war.

As a case of psychoanalysis in extension I suggest a reading of Paul Virilio:

Pure War, Speed and Politics, Bunker Archeology, Insecurity of Territory, Popular Defense and Ecological Struggles, Information Bomb….

And then perhaps we can return to Lacan’s “On a Question Prior to Any Possible Treatment of Psychosis:”

“What I am asserting here is that, in relation to the drama of madness, reason is doing what it likes best, sua res agitur, because it is in man’s relation to the signifier that this drama is situated. The danger people mention of becoming as mad as the patient no more intimidates me than it did Freud. Like Freud, I hold that we must listen to the speaker, when what is at stake is a message that does not come from a subject beyond language, but from a speech beyond the subject.”

What is this question prior: to listen seriously to the message before or without diagnosing or naming the subject. Not only for the sake of actually helping a patient but for the sake of one’s own existence in the world to come, I suggest seriously listening to the messages of these “murderers, activists, racists, terrorists, ordinary psychotics, targeted individuals….”

Perhaps we are seeing here something like the emergence of Clerambault’s research: A subject foreclosed from “normal” social symbolic reality falls back on bio-cultural phylogenetic “automatisms” which then become secondarily interpreted as “delusions” of sense by the subject in relation to the Other.

Universal Madness

Jacques-Alain Miller states that “ordinary psychosis” is a malleable category that he invents and/or borrows from Lacan for others to make something out of: a kind of Rorschach. Thus one meaning that has been taken over by the Millerians is this desire to map the psychiatric categories onto psychoanalysis and make sense of the disappearance of good old fashioned neurosis – a desperate attempt by these fellows to somehow create a new diagnostic schema and treatment method that does any better than the psychiatric one. Lacan would have rolled over. 

In contradistinction to this I would say that it is in Lacan’s infinitely important “Preliminary Question on any Possible Treatment of Psychosis” that ordinary psychosis appears in its true state:

“The danger people mention of becoming as mad as the patient no more intimidates me than it did Freud. 

Like Freud, I hold that we must listen to the speaker, when what is at stake is a message that does not come from a subject beyond language, but from speech beyond the subject. For it is then that we will hear this speech, which Schreber picked up in the Other, when from Ahriman to Ormuzd, from the evil God to the absent God, it carries the summons in which the very law of signifiers is articulated: All nonsense cancels itself out!

Here we encounter anew (leaving to those who will concern themselves with me later the task of figuring out why I have left it in abeyance for ten years) what I said in my dialogue with Henri Ey: ‘not only can man’s being not be understood without madness, but it would not be man’s being if it did not bear madness within itself as the limit of this freedom.’”

This idea of listening to the beyond of madness which in itself validates the “psychotic subject” beyond any other methodology is echoed in Bataille’s work to which Lacan refers at the end of the essay, comparing it to Schreber’s message. This is a project of Lacan’s. An investigation. This is the preliminary question Lacan refers to.

To be fair Miller himself offers this reading too of Lacan’s project of ordinary psychosis as the truth of being human, but I would say that he slightly misunderstands the message of Lacan’s final work, which regards the writing of the Sinthome. In other words, is there a science of madness or just a cult? 

“It’s a perspective in accordance with ‘everyone is mad’, with ‘everyone is delusional in his own way’, and Lacan wrote this in 1978 – I commented this sentence in the last lessons of my Cours this year, ‘tout le monde est fou, c’est-à-dire, délirant’, ‘everyone is mad, that is to say, delusional’. It’s not the only point of view, but some level of the clinic is like this. You may not function as a psychoanalyst if you are not aware that what you know, your own world, is delusional – phantasmal we say, but phantasmal means delusional. To be an analyst is to know that your own world, your own phantasm, your own way of making sense, is delusional. That’s why you try to abandon it, just to perceive the proper delusion of your patient, the way he makes sense.”

To add to this I would say – partially for comical purposes – that we have three groups of Lacanians at present. The neurotics who emerged from Lacan’s first circle of psychiatrists and psychologists in his 50s teaching. The psychotics who took up Lacan’s militant cause in the 60s teaching as political philosophers. And those who followed his final teaching from the 70s: the topologists who see where poetics and mathematics converge in a general semiotics of the void. Ordinary Madness.