‘Sin your way to heaven and get slaughtered: A byzantine general problem of the self’ (part seven)

Filed under:Sin your Way to Heaven and get Slaughtered — posted by Schizostroller on May 1, 2018 @ 8:27 pm

Whilst Miller and Rose’s concept of ‘technologies of government’ was introduced by Michel Foucault in his seminars on biopolitics and neoliberalism in the 1970s, one of the most well-known portraits of this society was Foucault’s friend Gilles Deleuze’s discussion of the Control Society, whilst much of the work published by Foucault in his lifetime focused on disciplinary societies of early Capitalism in the early 19th century, these followed on from the sovereign societies, that took tithes and a portion of production, the feudal system, but did not organise labour as the disciplinary society did. The disciplinary society had two main precepts, the individual and the mass, but, (Foucault argues in Birth of Biopolitics) from the 1950’s (Miller and Rose examine the Tavistock clinic as an example, mentioned earlier) and attempt was made to work on that organisation one that moulded differently. One of these methods was in changes in communication and work organisation. This relates in several ways to Bruno Latour’s ‘Action at a distance, But Deleuze lists them thus:
“In the prison system: the attempt to find “alternatives” to custody, at least for minor offences, and the use of electronic tagging to force offenders to stay at home between certain hours. In the school system: forms of continuous assessment, the impact of continuing education on schools, and the related move away from research in universities, “business” being brought into education at every level. In the hospital system: the new medicine “without doctors or patients” that identifies potential cases and subjects at risk and is nothing to do with any progress toward individualising treatment, which is how it’s presented, but is the substitution for individual or numbered bodies of coded ‘dividual’ matter to be controlled. In the business system: new ways of manipulating money, products, and men, no longer channelled through the old factory system.” (p.182).
The history of mental health care can be translated partially here, with the decarceration from the asylums, triggered by the Water Tower Speech of Enoch Powell in 1961, argued to be for cost cutting reasons by people like Andrew Scull. Pete Sedgwick saw this coming in his book PsychoPolitics, however he seemed to accuse anti-psychiatry of giving the language needed to the New Right, who then argued for the need for costs, whilst using both the language of anti-psychiatry, and the new forms of psychiatric medication such as Chlorpromazine as cover for the new market ideology that need not believe in paying for infrastructure, which the asylums maintenance was (one can only wonder whether this would have happened if modern forms of state financing such as Private Finance Initiatives were around, although the recent collapse of Carillion signifies the limits of that – one can wonder how where Lehman Brothers was an immediate result of the collapse, the Carillion collapse might be seen in a few years as a consequence of austerity). Bartlett and Wright’s Outside the Walls of the Asylum documents how poor the infrastructure required (according to the arguments of the anti-psychiatry movement and those aspects of the humanist (and sometimes religious – although often secular) social hygiene movement (that would burgeon into the Recovery movement) was due to the cost cutting after decarceration that led to the ‘crisis’ in Care in the Community, that happened very quickly, with CTOs for the ‘dangerous, single, mad male’ being the equivalent of ‘tagging’, and Philip Thomas and Pat Bracken’s Community Home Treatment teams being an equivalence of individualised and community treatment.
This is a historical change, it is caught up in the economic move after WWII of pseudo-Keynesianism (as catalogued by Rodney Lowe), and the organisation of the state, the power grab by neoliberals at the end of the seventies, followed by the collapse of the Soviet system in 1989-1991, that gave us first the Washington Consensus and then the Post-Washington consensus, the debate about structural adjustment that this debate on international development involved, and then post the 2008 economic crisis, in the UK, this structural adjustment was internalised in the form of austerity, until 2012 in most of the West, continued only in peripheral southern European states such as Greece and Spain (applied by external forces in the form of more powerful EU members), and the UK (applied internally with no compulsion from other nation states – followed in 2016 by Brexit).
It is in this milieu we get the combination of personalisation, ‘recovery models’, community treatment, CBT, DBT, Mindfulness, continued medication on the one hand and CTOs and benefit sanctions on the other, both applied to all service users who come in to contact with services.
But, what of this subject in receipt of services? This mental health patient or service user, this mad subject; the depressive, the psychotic? How do they carve themselves space? Although Deleuze was critical of Jacques Lacan I want to return to his work momentarily, to consider his (and Freud’s) understanding of the ego-ideal and the ideal ego. Freud argues that in a sense psychosis is related to a libidinous disinvestment, a withdrawal into his ego, only to ‘free it once more when he is cured’. Lacan argues that “Freud’s essential point is that it is almost of no importance whether a working over of the libido… is produced with real objects or with imaginary objects.” (p.130). Lacan mentions the German word Verarbeitung and the French word elaboration with reference to ‘working over’. We can think here of ‘talking with voices’ therapy, with regards the distinction between the working over of real objects (Hegel’s Master-Slave dialectic springs to mind here – where in the battle between the two in the struggle ‘to the death’ that leads to the Master-slave distinction both realise at a certain level they will not get recognition if the other dies, so in the unequal compromise the ‘moral of the story’ is that the Master gets no recognition, but does get ownership, and the Slave must seek recognition in his alienated labour producing ‘real objects’ for the Master) and imaginary objects, the work towards recovery that the therapy attempts to kick start by ‘working over’ imaginary objects. However Lacan notes that the issue with illness appears when the ‘libido becomes oriented towards unreal objects’ (as opposed to imaginary ones) here he also refers to Stauung, or damming up, O. Mannoni likens it to a Dutch dike where the level of water behind raises due to the damming. One can refer back to the cybernetics of Bateson and Laing here where double binds or some other linguistic entrapment causes an impossibility of movement, a blockage and consequently a damming up. Of course this requires a ‘vital’ element, else the subject can just leave, or move out (e-motion) from the scenario. A question I shall keep returning to is whether the more punitive aspects of the austerity regime since 2010 can, if not ‘cause’, at least intensify situations where such vital questions, or anxieties, are already there. In healthy subjects perhaps such a disciplinary regime, and let us be reminded that there is latent sovereign society in disciplinary societies, and latent sovereign AND disciplinary societies in control societies, and an economic crisis does lead to an intensification of punitive control measures, shock doctrine, on the part of Capital as historical economic necessity, just as the exploited look to protect theirs. With regards this working over Lacan refers to Freud quoting Heine invoking the word of God, “Illness is no doubt the final cause of the whole of the whole urge to create. By creating, I could recover. By creating, I became healthy.” (131). It’s almost a call for a work-cure! Some cruel contraption created by Schreber’s father combined with the labour of a Tuke retreat to ‘kill or cure’ the sick and needy, in a tory workfare warehouse. But I think not. As mentioned above alienation is the major obstacle, the difference Hannah Arendt invokes between a ‘work’ that has a finished product, and the ‘labour’ that The Master Tuke asks of the Slave that is monotonous and unfinished. And that is before we meet Marx’s theory, but there is a glimmer of hope. In his acknowledgment of Immanuel Kant, ‘What is Enlightenment? (Was Ist Aufklarung?)’, Michel Foucault invokes the Art of Life. After looking at some of the positives and negatives of Kant’s Enlightenment, Foucault questions modernity, and in the figure of Baudelaire, he finds the ‘heroic’ modern man (in the introduction to Hegel’s Reason In History, Hartman notes that there are four figures of history in Hegel’s World Spirit, the Citizen (who is moral when the State nears its ideal, immoral the more corrupt the state is), the Person (the legal subject of the state, the private individual), the Hero (he who embraces world spirit, Hegel’s bourgeois hero) and the Victim of history (as much an banal Eichmann as anyone who is, say, given current prejudices, disabled, ‘rotting on benefits’). In fact with regards the refusal of work of the Italian autonomists and the work of Kathi Weeks mentioned earlier one can envisage a ‘mad’ or ‘benefit’ (or the eponymous ‘working class hero’) that has nothing to do with ‘getting a job’. But, no matter, Foucault’s bourgeois hero of modernity was Baudelaire.
“Modernity for Baudelaire is not simply a form of relationship to the present; it is also a mode of relationship that has to be established with oneself. The deliberate attitude of modernity is tied to an indispensable asceticism. To be modern is not to accept oneself as one is in the flux of the passing moments; it is to take oneself as object of a complex and difficult elaboration: what Baudelaire, in the vocabulary of the day, calls dandysme. Here I shall not recall in detail the well-known passages on ‘vulgar, earthy, vile nature’; on man’s indispensable revolt against himself; on the ‘doctrine of elegance’ which imposes ‘upon its ambitious and humble disciples’ a discipline more despotic than the most terrible religions; the pages, finally on the asceticism of the dandy who makes of his body, his behaviour, his feelings and passions, his very existence, a work of art. Modern man, for Baudelaire, is not the man who goes off to discover himself, his secrets and his hidden truth; he is a man who tries to invent himself. This modernity does not ‘liberate man in his own being’; it compels him to face the task of producing himself.” (p.41-42).
This is a different subjectivity from that of the technologies of governmentality, a different type of biopolitics BUT as Deleuze points out with regards postmodern, neoliberal subjectivities, this is still a hangover of disciplinary societies, what would an art of life under contemporary conditions be?

Bartlett, Peter and Wright, David – Outside the Walls of the Asylum (1999) Continuum
Deleuze, Gilles – Negotiations (1995) Columbia
Foucault, Michel, and Rabinow, Paul – The Foucault Reader (1991) Penguin
Lacan, Jacques – Freud’s Papers on Technique 1953-1954: The seminar of Jacques Lacan Book 1 (1991) Norton
Lowe, Rodney – The Welfare State in Britain since 1945 (1998) Palgrave
Miller, Peter and Rose, Nikolas – Governing The Present (2008) Polity
Sedgwick, Peter – Psychopolitics (1982) Routledge
Scull, Andrew – Decarceration (1984) Polity

‘Sin your way to heaven and get slaughtered: A byzantine general problem of the self’ (part six)

Filed under:Sin your Way to Heaven and get Slaughtered — posted by Schizostroller on April 30, 2018 @ 11:13 pm

In the last article we ended with ‘active ignoring’. I now want to introduce ‘priming’. Referring back to the first article on E.H. Gombrich and pareidolia, Reisberg notes the theoretical proposal on ‘priming’: “We perceive most easily, and most effectively, when we are prepared for the upcoming stimulus” (p.85) – to select an input we prepare for it. “Obviously we don’t prepare for distractors as we don’t want to perceive these, so we have a mechanism that is the inverse of ignoring: to ignore, our action focuses on the distractor stimuli – we block them, while we don’t block the desired input. Preparation, in contrast, does the reverse: The action is focused on the desired inputs, not the distractors. We take steps to facilitate the perception of the former, while we don’t take those steps for the distractors”.
This covers a certain amount of issues of focus and concentrated perception, including ‘leakage’. One does not perceive the contents of the unattended channel , but, what if the unattended channel contains your name? Your detectors are well primed for this. The same goes for fire alarm training and rehearsals. And inverse the same structure goes for stage rehearsals for a play. But what of other priming, for example its relation to anxiety, exploited by the famous underworld ‘game’, the Jesus Con (as mentioned in the TV series Sneaky Pete, sung about (the process, although not mentioned by name) by the band NoMeansNo on the album Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed, where someone is gas lighted into breakdown, and then another member of the con-team comes in to ‘save’ them). And does this behaviour ideologically relate to the Shock Doctrine and austerity? And what effect does that have on mental health. Is it really all just subjective paranoia? To be saved by the more individualistic and self-disciplinary recovery methods, the contemporary ‘Kill or Cure’ of EP Thompson’s 18th century Methodist.
We are minded here of the first article’s reference to Freud’s theory of anxiety. I wrote that: “Freud argues that anxiety is an affective state “that is to say, a combination of certain feelings in the pleasure-unpleasure series with the corresponding innervations of discharge and a perception of them” (p.113). He distinguishes realistic anxiety from neurotic anxiety. In realistic anxiety we have an increase in sensory attention and motor tension and a sense of preparedness for flight or flight that will can be limited to a signal (triggered by repetitions of old traumas) allowing the remainder to adapt itself to the situation. There are three types of neurotic anxiety, the first a free floating general apprehensiveness; secondly ‘phobias’; the third that can emerge independently as an attack or more persistent state, “but always without any visible basis in an external danger” (p.114).” What kind of climate do sanctions, ‘brown envelope syndrome’, the recent rulings on PIP and ‘agoraphobia’ due to the unbalanced prejudice towards mental health that the PIP is seen as embodying, the UN council’s ruling on the treatment of disability, the Bedroom Tax, create with regards ‘external danger’, yet in a world saturated with media imagery of the ‘underserving benefit claimant’, DBT for Personality Disorder, the Layard report that has led to recommendations of CBT for even psychosis? A world where complaining of such threats is seen as ‘unrealistic’ by mental health professionals who for the increasingly strictured work environment and their long term careers would rather not (at least amongst some/ enough) acknowledge. Where homeless death is on the increase such dynamics are closer to a ‘vital’ relationship with finitude and threat for people already suffering severe mental health issues than under other economic and social policy environments, where those sanctioned include large numbers of people struggling with mental health issues, and a large number of those homeless also having mental health issues. The issue is not one solely based on self-neglect. During the rest of the next couple of articles I shall relate government technologies to the actions of the Superego. In his book the Introductory lectures on Psychoanalysis Freud describes the Superego as follows: “The superego applies the strictest moral standard to the helpless ego which is at its mercy; in general it represents the claims of morality, and we realise all at once that our moral sense of guilt is the expression of the tension between the ego and the super-ego” (p.92). He comes to the idea of the Superego through encountering mental patients who struggle with the phantasy of being observed, “they complain to us that perpetually, and down to their most intimate actions, they are being molested by the observation of unknown powers – presumably persons – and that in hallucinations they hear these persons reporting the outcome of their observations… Observation of this sort is not yet the same thing as persecution, but it is not yet far from it; it presupposes that people distrust them, and expect to catch them carrying out forbidden actions for which they would be punished. How would it be if these insane persons were right, if in each of us there is present in his ego an agency like this which observes and threatens to punish, and which in them has merely become sharply divided from their ego and mistakenly displaced into external reality?” (p.90). The onus is on me in the next few articles to make solid the connection with ideology, but let me first point out Peter Miller and Nikolas Rose’s theory of technologies of government and action at a distance.
“’Government’, of course, is not only a matter of representation. It is also a matter of intervention. The specificity of governmentality, as it has taken shape in ‘the West’ over the last two centuries, lies in this complex interweaving of procedures for representing and intervening. We suggest that these attempts to instrumentalise government and make it operable also have a kind of ‘technological’ form. If political rationalities render reality into the domain of thought, these ‘technologies of government’ seek to translate thought into the domain of reality, and to establish ‘in the world of persons and things’ spaces and devices for acting upon these entities of which they dream and scheme.” (p.32).
Freud, after noting the experience of the paranoid mental patients formed the idea that ‘the separation of the observing agency from the rest of the ego might be a regular feature of the ego’s structure’ (p.91). “The content of the delusions of being observed already suggests that the observing is only a preparation for judging and punishing, and we accordingly guess that another function of this agency must be what we call our conscience. There is scarcely anything else in us that we so regularly separate from our ego and so easily set over against it as precisely our conscience. I feel the inclination to do something that will give me pleasure, but I abandon it on the ground that my conscience does not allow it. Or I have let myself be persuaded by too great an expectation of pleasure into doing something to which the voice of conscience has objected and after the deed my conscience punishes me with distressing reproaches and causes me to feel remorse for the deed. I might simply say that the special agency which I am beginning to distinguish in the ego is conscience. But it is more prudent to keep the agency as something independent and to suppose that conscience is one of its functions and that self-observation, which is an essential preliminary to the judging activity of conscience, is another of them. And since when we recognise that something has a separate existence we give it a name of its own, from this time forward I will describe this agency in the ego as the ‘super-ego’.” (p.91).
Miller and Rose suggest that with regard ‘technologies of government’, “we use the term ‘technologies’ to suggest a particular approach to the analysis of the activity of ruling, one which pays great attention to the actual mechanisms through which authorities of various sorts have sought to shape, normalise and instrumentalise the conduct, thought, decisions and aspirations of others in order to achieve the objectives they consider desirable.” (p.32)
Freud looks to the origins of the ‘super-ego’ he says, “even if conscience is something ‘within us’, yet it is not so from the first. In this it is a real contrast to sexual life, which is in fact there from the beginning of life and not only a later addition. But, as is well known, young children are amoral and possess no internal inhibitions against their impulses striving for pleasure. The part which is later on taken by the super-ego is played to begin with by an external power, by parental authority. Parental influence governs the child by offering proofs of love and by threatening punishment which are signs to the child of loss of love and are bound to be feared on their own account. This realistic anxiety is the precursor of later moral anxiety. So long as it is dominant there is no need to talk of a super-ego and of a conscience. It is only subsequently that the secondary situation develops (which we are all too ready to regard as the normal one), where the external restraint is internalised and the super-ego takes the place of the parental agency and observes, directs and threatens the ego in exactly the same way as earlier the parents did with the child. The super-ego, which thus takes over the power, function and even the methods of the parental agency, is however not merely its successor but actually the legitimate heir of its body” (p.92-93)[italics my own]. Freud goes on to note though that the severity of the super-ego does not stem solely from the disciplinary parenting, although it does seem to take the disciplinary, punitive aspects, even when ostensibly and for the most part the home circumstances were a loving, caring one.
Miller and Rose try to point out that in their discussion of ‘technologies of government’, they are not talking solely of ‘totally administered societies’. But in fact from the nineteenth century, the problem for liberal democracies became one of ‘governing a territory and population that were independent realities with inherent processes and forces’. “With the emergence of such an idea of ‘society’, the question became ‘How is government possible? That is, what is the principle of limitation that applies to governmental actions such that things will occur for the best, in conformity with the rationality of government and without intervention’ (Foucault in Miller and Rose)” (p.33).
for this reason Miller and Rose look to the ‘indirect’ mechanisms of rule in liberal democracies, that is ‘those that have enabled, or have sought to enable government at a distance’. In order to conceptualise this, Miller and Rose look to the theories of ‘action at a distance’ of Bruno Latour. This concept relates to “the complex mechanisms through which it becomes possible to link calculations in one place with action at another, not through the direct imposition of a form of conduct by force, but through a delicate affiliation of a loose assemblage of agents into a functioning network. This involves alliances formed not only because one agent is dependent on another for funds, legitimacy or some other resource which can be used for persuasion or compulsion. It is also because one actor comes to convince another that their problems or goals are intrinsically linked, that their interests are consonant, that each can solve their difficulties or achieve their ends by joining forces or working along the same lines. This is not so much appealing to mutual interests as… the construction of allied interests through persuasion, intrigue, calculation or rhetoric… one actor or force is able to require or count upon a particular way of thinking and acting from another… Hence persons, organisations, entities and locales which remain differentiated by space, time and formal boundaries can be brought into loose, approximate and always mobile and indeterminate alignment. Language, again, plays a key role in establishing these loosely aligned networks, and in enabling rule to be nrought about in an indirect manner.” (p.34).

Freud, Sigmund – 2: New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1975) Pelican
Miller, Peter and Rose, Nikolas – Governing The Present (2008) Polity
Reisberg, Daniel – Cognition (1997) Norton
Thompson, E. P. – The Making of the English Working Class (1984) Pelican

‘Sin your way to heaven and get slaughtered: A byzantine general problem of the self’ (part five)

Filed under:Sin your Way to Heaven and get Slaughtered — posted by Schizostroller on March 29, 2018 @ 1:51 pm

In the seminar of Jacques Lacan known as Freud’s Papers on Techniques, Lacan discusses schizophrenia and the libido. For Freud, Lacan argues “The register of desire is… an extension of the concrete manifestations of the sexuality, an essential relation maintained by the animal being with the Umwelt, its world”. However he also suggests that “if one generalises excessively the notion of libido, because, in so doing, one neutralises it”. The idea of the libido is meaningless if it functions in the same way as the Real, “on the contrary, the libido takes on its meaning by being distinguished from the real, or realisable relations, from all the functions which have nothing to do with the function of desire, from everything touching on the relations of the ego and of the external world.” (p113-114). Lacan then argues that in schizophrenia “something happens which completely disturbs the relations of the subject to the real, swamping the foundation with form.” Lacan charges that Jung’s understanding of psychosis that culminates in the observation that for the psychotic to find a cure, “what the subject must do is realise himself as an individual in possession of genital functions,” (p.114) leaves psychoanalytic theory vulnerable to a neutralisation of the libido. Thus Freud distinguishes between sexual libido and egoistical libido. Lacan’s argument is that the Urbild ‘which is a unity comparable to the ego, is constituted at a specific moment in the history of the subject, at which point the ego begins to take on its functions.” This means that the human ego is founded on the basis of the imaginary relation.” (p. 115).
According to Lacan, for Jung, “psychic interest comes and goes, goes out, comes back, colours etc. It drowns the libido in the universal magma which will be the basis of the world’s constitution… Psychic interest is nothing other than an alternating spotlight, which can come and go, be projected, be withdrawn from reality, at the whim of the pulsation of the psyche of the subject.” (p.115). there are limits to this metaphor though, “it does not allow one to grasp the differences that there might be between a directed, sublimated retreat of interest in the world which the anchorite may achieve, and that of the schizophrenic, whose result however structurally quite distinct, since the subject discovers he is completely stuck.” (p.115-116). Lacan suggests that here Freud moves on from Jung’s distinction between religious ascetism and schizophrenia, to a distinction between neurosis and psychosis, a distinction that Lacan argues lies “in the refusal to recognise, in the refusal, in the barrier opposed to a reality by the neurotic, we note a recourse to fancy.” This is a function that in Freud’s terminology refers to the imaginary. However Freud argues that when “it comes to the psychotic subject, if he loses the realisation of the real, he doesn’t find any imaginary substitute.” This is the distinction from the neurotic.
Lacan talks of the idea of the psychotic being caught up in waking dreams, but he argues the imaginary cannot be the function of unreal, it must be more than this. If the argument is that the psychotic is denied access to the imaginary (the neurotic’s ‘fancy’, the foundation of the ego), when the psychotic reconstructs his world the function involved must therefore be the category of the symbolic. Lacan wonders whether it may be that the specific structure of the psychosis may be a symbolic unreal “or in a symbolic umarked by the unreal” (p. 117). There is a relation here to the sieged fortress of the psychotic, that he/she is ‘stuck’ in, has withdrawn to, may have elective affinities with the iron cage of instrumental rationality that Max Weber spoke of, much criticised on Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment. But the question remains where, then, is the imaginary?
In her book Caliban and the Witch, Silvia Federici describes the two differing projects of Descartes and Hobbes with regards the burgeoning focus on the mechanisms of the body in 17th century Western thought, “in Descartes, the reduction of the body to mechanical matter allows for the development of mechanisms of self-management that make the body the subject of the will. In Hobbes, by contrast, the mechanization of the body justifies the total submission of the individual to the power of the State. In both, however, the outcome is a redefinition of bodily attributes that makes the body, ideally, at least, suited for the regularity and automatism demanded by capitalist work-discipline” (p.140). Federici argues that what died with this type of project “was the body as receptacle of magical powers that had prevailed in the mediaeval world. In reality it was destroyed.” The irrational became a crime. “This state intervention was the necessary ‘subtext’ of Mechanical Philosophy. ‘Knowledge’ can only become ‘Power’ if it cannot enforce its prescriptions… This is why, at the peak of the ‘Age of Reason’ – the age of scepticism and methodical doubt – we have a ferocious attack on the body.” (p.141).
“Eradicating magical practices was a necessary condition for the capitalist rationalization of work, since magic appeared as an illicit form of power and an instrument to obtain what one wanted without work, that is a refusal of work in action. ‘Magic kills industry,’ lamented Francis Bacon, admitting that nothing repelled him so much as the assumption that one could obtain results with a few idle expedients, rather than with the sweat of one’s brow… Magic, moreover, rested upon a qualitative conception of space and time that precluded a regularization of the labour process.” (p.142). Federici notes that the ‘revival of magical beliefs is possible today because it no longer constitutes a social threat. The mechanization of the body is so constitutive of the individual that, at least in industrialized countries, giving space to the belief in occult forces does not jeopardize the regularity of social behaviour… however this was not an option for the 17th century ruling class which, in this initial phase of capitalist development, had not yet achieved the social control necessary to neutralise magic, nor could they functionally integrate magic into the organisation of social life. From their viewpoint it hardly whether the powers that people claimed to have, or aspired to have, were real or not, for the very existence of magical beliefs was a source of social insubordination.” (p.143).
Federici notes that with regards the refusal of work implied by magical beliefs “particularly important… was the attack on the ‘imagination’ (‘vis imaginativa’) which in the 16th which in 16th and 17th century Natural Magic was considered a powerful force… Hobbes devoted a chapter of the Leviathan to demonstrating that the imagination is only a ‘decaying sense’, no different from memory, only gradually weakened by the removal of the objects of our perception.” (n.16, p.157).
We have looked at the libido’s relation to ego formation, and looked at the historical relation of the body to magical thinking and the suppression of the imaginary, and the importance of this to the work-ethic, especially that of the exploited subject. So to understand the contemporary condition, rather than using psychoanalysis I want to look at modern cognitive psychology, especially the idea of purposive thought (or selective attention) and divided attention, then I will return to the earlier points I made about anxiety and voice hearing. One of the experiments on selective attention utilises ‘shadowing’, this is where subjects echo back the speech of another (say radio or TV) whilst listening to it. However, in the experiment, the listener wears stereo headphones, with one channel containing the ‘to be followed’ speech (attended channel) whilst the other channel (the unattended channel) plays a different message. This is known as dichotic listening. Certain observations are made from this; the first is that it is relatively easy to follow the attended channel; another is that very little is noticed from the unattended channel. This does not mean however that the subject is deaf to it, in fact whilst testing on semantic content (even when limited to seven words) the scores are little more than random, on attributes (whether human speech, high or low voice, male or female) the subjects scored highly. However, sometimes, the inputs from the unattended channel do leak into the subjects’ awareness, for example if a series of names are embedded into the semantic content of the unattended channel, including the subject’s own name, then whilst the subjects are still for the most part oblivious, a third heard their own name. Other content can also be noticed for example the last movie seen, the name of the subject’s most frequently attended and favourite restaurant. The same is the case for words with personal importance.
William Burroughs famously devised a thought experiment designed to ruin a café he had had bad business with. Conversations occurring in the cafe would be recorded and played back at a delayed interval, thus causing discordant, anxious and uncomfortable feelings amongst the clientele, driving them away. This is also the uncomfortable feelings low-level voice hearing can cause (where high-level voice hearing includes descriptions of the subject’s behaviour when alone – leading to paranoid beliefs about being bugged or hacked etc. Think of Philip K Dick’s Through a Glass Darkly).
So whilst for the most part there is a general insensitivity to the unattended channel, it is clear that some content ‘leaks through’. There are several explanations for the general insensitivity, but one of them is the ability to ignore, to ‘tune out’ the unattended channel. It seems that given sufficient practice subjects can teach themselves to tune out even severe distractors (an issue for Burroughs’ experiment). Such techniques are called ‘active ignoring’. However there seems to be a two-part theory of attention: not only do we block the processing of distractors, we are able to promote the processing of desired stimuli.

Federici, Silvia – Caliban and the Witch (2009) Autonomedia
Lacan, Jacques – Freud’s Papers on Technique 1953-1954: The seminar of Jacques Lacan Book 1 (1991) Norton
Reisberg, Daniel – Cognition (1997) Norton.

‘Sin your way to heaven and get slaughtered: A byzantine general problem of the self’ (part four)

Filed under:Sin your Way to Heaven and get Slaughtered — posted by Schizostroller on March 26, 2018 @ 12:56 pm

For Sigmund Freud and later Jacques Lacan, transference was a highly important part of therapy. The projection on to the therapist of all our issues. According to both this came out in the language the client speaks, as if the ego is incapable of getting to the point (we would have no Adam Curtis documentaries if there was not some pleasure in this!) The role of the therapist is to play a secure, safe reflection of those anxieties that prevent more direct communication. That said Freud argued that such indirectness was a product of civilisation. With regards this indirectness I will return later with regards signifying and hostile prejudiced environments, but in the meantime I will not that modern CBT prefers the term ‘therapeutic relationship’, and work by the CBT psychologist Professor Richard Bentall has shown this is a valid indicator of the efficacy of therapy beyond the actual method used. But still the relation remains the same as Lacan quoting Freud says “the sick ego promises us the most complete candour – promises, that is, to put at our disposal all the material which its self-perception yields; we assure the patient of the strictest discretion and place at his service our experience in interpreting material that has been influenced by the unconscious. Our knowledge is to make up for his ignorance and to give his ego back its mastery over lost provinces of his mental life. This pact constitutes the analytic situation” (p.65) The power relationship is the same whether Freudian psychoanalysis, Integrative psychotherapy, CBT or the Talking with Voices therapy. In view of this I want to return to transference and counter transference, as in the last few articles we have looked at the idea of projection as not only something humans do, without it we would have no art, but also something that may be involved in voice hearing, and other psychoses. Is there transference going on in the psychotic’s relation with the Other that leads to these phantasms? Is this pathological as the idea that these phantasms are hostile is the failure to resolve trauma and histories of distorted communication, given that they may be reflected feelings of distress, and all is needed is some compassionate, guided normative techniques? Or are there understandable feelings of threat, to take a contemporary example ‘brown envelope syndrome’, the fear of the DWP envelope that lands on the doorstep during a period of austerity, that has involved cuts to essential services and punitive sanction regimes aimed at those in receipt of state support? Are such people ‘loony lefties’? Their failure to get with the program their own fault, their symptom, for not ‘doing the homework’ and recovering, after all there is ‘nothing wrong with capitalism’, is there? Or is the expectation of ‘working to recovery’ under such conditions a ‘doubling up’ of responsibility expecting people who are feeling iller than they were before due to an attack on their safety net (a vital relationship) to work harder than before at their recovery? I will look at both Freud and Lacan’s idea of transference and then Silvia Federici and Kathi Weeks’ ideas of ‘non-work’ as work and how such a conception includes ‘recovery’. As Maurizio Lazzarato argues in Signs and Machines, ‘we all work’.
Lacan points out that “[the] stake is full speech… but the remarkable fact that the analytic method, if it aims at attaining full speech, starts off on a path leading in the diametrically opposed direction, in so far as it instructs the subject to delineate a speech as devoid as possible of any assumption of responsibility and that it even frees him from any expectation of authenticity. It calls on him to say everything that comes into his head. It is through these very means that it facilitates, that at least once can say, his return on to the path which, in speech, is below the level of recognition and concerns the third party, the object.” (p.108). One would think, that alone, in one’s room, going mad one could say, or shout, what one likes at the ‘voices’… and yet we pay. In echoes, in returning light beams, in counter-commands, often for at least 24 hours… sometimes weeks later, although when that occurs the construct’s mask is hiding another mask.
Lacan argues that the effectiveness of an analyst’s intervention lies in transference, but what is transference, he argues it quite simply les in ‘the speech act’: “each time a man speaks to another in an authentic and full manner, there is, in the true sense, transference, symbolic transference – something takes place which changes the nature of the two beings present… The function of transference should be located on the imaginary plane. So it is to specify it that the notions… the repetition of prehistoric situations, unconscious repetition, the putting into effect of a reintegration of history – history in the opposite sense to the one I once put forward , since it is a question of an imaginary reintegration, the past situation only being experienced in the present, without the knowledge of the subject, in so far as its historical dimension is misrecognised by him- you’ll note I didn’t say unconscious.” what they don’t uncover though is “the reason, the function, the signification of what we observe in the real.” (p.109).
In her book Caliban and the Witch, Silvia Federici uses the character Caliban from King Lear as a metaphor for the ‘body’ of the dispossessed in the 17th century, who from the 18th century onwards would be ‘disciplined’ into a working class ‘body’ as observed by many from Michel Foucault to E.P. Thompson. But it is in Prospero that she finds a metaphor for the new burgeoning bourgeoisie “who combines the celestial spirituality of Ariel and the brutish materiality of Caliban. Yet he betrays an anxiety over the equilibrium achieved that rules out any pride for “Man’s” unique position in the Great Chain of Being. In defeating Calban, Prospero must admit that “this thing of darkness is mine,” thus reminding his audience that our human partaking of the angel and the beast is problematic indeed.” (p.134).
Kathi Weeks describes work as “productive co-operation organised around but not necessarily confined to, the privileged model of waged labour” (p.14). She invokes Moishe Postone when she remarks that “the normative explanation of waged work as an individual responsibility has more to do with the socially mediating role of work than its strictly productive function. Work is the primary means by which individuals are integrated not only into the economic system, but also into social, political, and familial modes of cooperation.” (p.8). Weeks goes on to say that “the category of the wok society refers not just to the socially mediating and subjectively constitutive roles of work but to the dominance of its values” (p.11). If we take Federici’s invocation of Shakespeare’s Prospero as the mark of a new burgeoning bourgeois ethic, then Max Weber’s book the ‘Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’ described the ascetic belief’s relation with Capitalism and the creation of not just the working classes but a ‘work ethic’. Weeks notes that “On the one hand, the Protestant work wthis is, as Weber emphasizes, a fundamentally ascetic morality, one that ‘turned with all its force against one thing: the spontaneous enjoyment of life and all it had to offer’ (Weber). ‘Life’ with its wealth of possibilities is subordinated to the disciplinary demands of work… ‘Of all the pillars of the work ethic.’ Daniel Rodgers observes, ‘the predilection to see the moral life as a mustering of the will against the temptations within and the trials without remained the strongest, the least affected by the industrial transformation’ (Rodgers). The ‘sanitising effects of constant labour’ and the focus on work as the arena in which the individual can, with the proper self-discipline, will his or her self-development and transformation continue to be affirmed today under the conditions of Post-Fordist production. Nonetheless, as a worldly asceticism – rather than an Otherworldly one – the prescription was and remains rife with difficulties. The worldliness of, for example, unruly bodies, seductive pleasures, and spontaneous enjoyment poses as constant challenge to the mandate for such focused attention and diligent effort in properly productive pursuits.” (p.48). One thinks here both of the ‘mental hygiene’ movement, and as a counter-discourse Albert Camus’ argument in the Myth of Sisyphus that sin without God leads to the Absurd. However those who have an association with ‘recovery work’ have to deal with another aspect of Kathi Weeks’ theory, and that is what constitutes ‘non’work’. Weeks argues that “the work wthic is not only a racialized but genered construction… This was enabled by the historical process through which work… became equated with waged work, waged work was linked to masculinity, and unwaged domestic work was reconceived as non-productive women’s work. This lack of recognition of feminized domestic labour emerged with early industrialisation, as unwaged household work came to stand as the (naturalised and feminised) model of nonwork that served to contrast and thereby sustain a (now masculinised) concept of work… Unwaged women (and those waged women who found themselves judged in relation to this normative model), not subject to the morally purifying and invigorating effects of work discipline, were a justifiably dependent class. The work ethic could then be embraced as a masculine ethic while nonwork – a rather more expansive category including everything from leisure practices and consumption work to unwaged agriculture, household and caring labour – was devalued with its association with a degraded femininity.” (p.63). I want to argue that ‘recovery work’ fits into this category of ‘nonwork’. However under late capitalism it is more divisive than this, as Maurizio Lazzarato argues in his criticism of the relation of language and the increasing technologisation that leads to automation in late Post-fordist capitalism, Signs and Machines, he notes that when we use a self-service machine we are doing the work that would have been done by a cashier for free whilst paying to increase the supermarket’s profits. The same goes when we use comparison websites to buy plane tickets or shop for insurance, jobs that travel agents or insurance brokers used to do. This not only affects unemployment but also is work we do in our everyday life for free, in the name of efficiency and expediency. It is in this sense he argues that we ‘all work’. In the final two articles I will be looking at the biopolitics of recovery and strategies of survival, and hopefully resistance in such a modern society.

Camus, Albert – Myth of Sisyphus (2005) Penguin
Federici, Silvia – Caliban and the Witch (2009) Autonomedia
Lacan, Jacques – Freud’s Papers on Technique 1953-1954: The seminar of Jacques Lacan Book 1 (1991) Norton
Lazzarato, Maurizio – Signs and Machines (2014) Semiotext(e)
Thompson, E. P. – The Making of the English Working Class (1984) Pelican
Weeks, Kathi – The Problem with Work (2011) Duke

‘Sin your way to heaven and get slaughtered: A byzantine general problem of the self’ (part three)

Filed under:Sin your Way to Heaven and get Slaughtered — posted by Schizostroller on March 23, 2018 @ 9:57 pm

In the synopsis to the article ‘Talking with Voices’, Corstens, Longden and May point out that “Although people who hear voices may dialogue with them, they are regularly caught in destructive communication patterns that disturb social functioning.” But who are these people talking to? In Laing he uses the term ‘phantasm’, Deleuze and Guattari (Guattari was a psychiatrist at La Borde clinic, with a practice looking at institutional domination (his solution was transversal dynamics) similar to the issues encountered by Goffman, Laing and Basaglia so sitting nicely within 60’s and 70’s anti-psychiatry) use the term ‘assemblage’ (in plain terms an assemblage is an internally moving phantasm – Laing’s use of ‘elusion’ and ‘elision’ implies this but the term ‘assemblage’ is more explicit about it). The French structuralist psychoanalyst uses the term ‘Other’, but this is what the voice hearer projects on to that causes the phantasms, this is a phenomenological argument about the limits of consciousness and from this perspective, including neuroscientifically, all other explanations of voice hearing come under this rubric, any that posit an experience beyond the limit require some rupture of this boundary (Lacan uses the term ‘intrusion of the Real – there I some sense where this is aleatory). This of course is a materialist argument, I am sure there are spiritual arguments that claim otherwise, of course there are also plenty that are fine with this phenomenological limit. But from there we can ask a valid corollary question, ‘what type of nexus would violate such a limit, or at least lead to the experience of such boundaries being violated’. One technical term for the experience of such an apparent violation would be thought intrusion. The usual techniques and strategies used to address this issue focus on the individual as the locus of strategies and techniques, even if arguments of authoritarian nexi are valid, although as mentioned above in theories of transversality, psychiatrists such as Guatarri have tried to deal with such group dynamics at an institutional level, in Anglo-Saxon political theoretical history (since 1700s) individual liberty has been very much associated with economic laissez faire and a minimal state and as such, despite being an organ of the state, the NHS has to walk a line honouring such traditions lest it come under attack from more hegemonic capitalist forces (although of course one could argue ‘what the hell, it’s being dismantled anyway’. Still I am no accelerationist, and although I accept the validity of at least venturing such an argument, I have no idea to do so here) and so most British psychological techniques and strategies stay within this liberal individualist vein and as such more social strategies are at best tolerated, most often scorned. However from a political mental health activists’ point of view the terrain upon which to explore social and hegemonic realties that exist from people who come under the rubric of various self-descriptions, from mental health patients, service users, survivors, mad to experts by lived experience of mental distress, in their relation with the state and the means of production, is fertile and open. The history of the German group the SPK is worth mentioning here, as well as the legacy of the Mental Patients union (MPU) (both from the 1970’s), the various splinter factions that came out of it, the later Survivors Speak Out, UK Advocacy Network, after them Mad Pride, Asylum, Hearing Voices Network, even, to an extent, the National Service User Network today. And it is precisely here that we have a relation to the Other.
according to Corstens, May and Longden “VH [voice hearing] is understood as having a “protective” function: a manifestation of a vital defensive manoeuvre whereby transforming internal conflict into voices is psychologically advantageous. In lieu of this position, many people hearing disturbing voices have found that a turning point for recovery is changing the relationship through finding different ways of understanding and communicating with their voices” they go on to argue that “Organised in opposites, so-called primary and disowned selves, these parts help us adapt to the demands of our daily interactions. Dominant selves want us to succeed in life by meeting the demands of social situation, yet in doing so they push away our more vulnerable parts. These (disowned) selves become repressed and unable to play a significant role, thereby restricting the repertoire of selves.” And they continue “An important principle is that we are not necessarily trying to change the voices, nor banish them from the person’s life: instead, we are trying to explore the relationship; help the voice-hearer reclaim control and ownership of their experiences; and understand the voices’ motives for appearing in a negative way. Indeed, both the voice and voice-hearer are generally unhappy in their mutual conflict, so improving understanding between both parties is an important aspect of the process. Further outcomes include discovering more positive ways of negotiating and relating to voices, altering power dynamics, enhancing coping, and heightening awareness and understanding of voice characteristics.” As a therapy I want to argue that this is a form of self-creation strategy, a form of subjectivisation that comes under the rubric of biopolitics. As such it can play either hegemonic or counter-hegemonic roles. According to Paul Rabinow and Nicholas rose, biopolitics entails one or more truth discourses about the vital character of living human beings; an array of authorities considered competent to speak that truth; strategies for intervention upon collective existence in the name of life and health; and modes of subjectification, in which individuals work on themselves in the name of individual or collective life or health.” They argue “that while exceptional paroxysmal forms of biopower, linked to the formation of absolutist dictatorship and mobilization of technical resources, can lead and have led to a murderous thanatopolitics, biopower in contemporary states takes a different form. It characteristically entails a relation between letting die (laissez mourir) and making live (faire vivre) that is to say strategies for the governing of life.” In short they are techniques of modifying ways of living, with the treat of the extinction of life held over us (although rarely in liberal societies overtly – and most often merely a relation to finitude, the realisation that we ultimately die, and the possibility of exploiting that anxiety through networks of power for purposes of governmentality). The ‘duty’ here is both one of subject rule, and the vital instinct of survival, our subjectivity (our continuous, constantly changing, sense of self and identity in a power relation with the ‘world’ and it’s representations including the economy and state, as well as families and friends) being borne of this contest.
As such, I want to explore the idea of governmentality (an idea of governance that is more than just police and laws – Max Weber’s famous ‘the state has the monopoly on legitimate coercion’) and the activist practices of people like Michel De Certeau, Henri Lefebvre and the Italian autonomist tradition, that take such aspects of subjectivity and turn it back against the hegemonic forces that shape our very lives, and as a consequent can affect our mental health not just at the individual and corporeal level, but by psychological strategies, techniques (including marketing), language and government policy of a form that Bruno Latour calls ‘action at a distance’. And from there outline democratic strategies for regaining control of our lives and narratives.

Corstens, Dirk; Longden, Eleanor; May, Rufus – Talking with voices: Exploring what it is expressed by the voices people hear (2011) Psychosis 1-10 iFirst Article
Crossley, Nick – Contesting Psychiatry (xxxx)
Rabinow, Paul; Rose Nikolas – Thoughts on the Concept of Biopower today (2003) Article available on Research Gate
SPK – SPK Turn Illness Into a Weapon (1993) KRRIM

‘Sin your way to heaven and get slaughtered: A byzantine general problem of the self’ (part two)

Filed under:Sin your Way to Heaven and get Slaughtered — posted by Schizostroller on March 21, 2018 @ 1:43 pm

In the book Haunted Media, Jeffrey Sconce describes an incident where in the fifties in the early days of television, a man becomes disturbed by voices coming from the set his wife and daughter are watching downstairs, he descends the staircase and blasts the TV with his shotgun. He kills his TV. Today such ideas are known as ideas of reference, but let us explore the experience further, the artist Joe Banks in the book Rorschach Audio talks of the Latvian author Konstantin Raudive who believed that it was possible to record the voices of the dead in magnetic tape. Jeffrey Sconce, who also explores the weirdness of media, tells the story of the Fox sisters and their early table knocking spiritual séances. They started the spiritualist church, and the Victorian fashion of talking to the dead took off. The Fox sisters later admitted they had been faking it, but by the end the Spiritualist church had reached a critical mass and such shock announcements were hardly going to stop a good thing. Both Sconce and Banks take such haunted media back to early telegraph systems that required the dots and dashes of Morse code. They note that such ‘haunting’ changed with changes in media technology over the years. A similar media portrayal of haunted media was in Jean Cocteau’s Orphee, where the hero thinks a radio station is playing encoded messages just for him. This scenario Joe Banks relates back to Gombrich’s discussion of projection. In his book Art and Illusion, Gombrich follows the path of art and changes of technique throughout art history and the complicit path of the art viewing public. Like many books on cognition today, he looks at optical illusions and the way the mind perceives the illusion. He then reverts to a story of his days in the Second World War where he was seconded to military intelligence at the British Broadcasting Service’s ‘Monitoring Services’ to interpret radio signals. He discusses the methods used to do so: “It was in this context that the guided projection of our understanding of symbolic interpretation was brought home to me. Some of the transmissions which interested us most were barely audible, and it became quite an art, or even a sport, to interpret the few whiffs of speech sound that were all we really had on the wax cylinders on which these broadcasts had been recorded. It was then that we learned to what extent our knowledge and expectations influence our hearing. You had to know what might be said in order to hear what was said. More exactly, you selected from your knowledge of possibilities certain word combinations and tried projecting them into the noises heard. The problem was a twofold one – to think of possibilities and to retain one’s critical faculty. Anyone whose imagination ran away with him, who could hear any words – as Leonardo could in the sound of bells – could not play that game.” (p.171)
As Gombrich quotes William James “When we listen to a person speaking of read a page of print, much of what we think we see or hear is supplied from our memory. We overlook misprints, imagining the right letters, though we see the wrong ones; and how little we actually hear, when we listen to speech, we realise when we go to a foreign theatre; for there what troubles us is not so much that we cannot understand what the actors say as we cannot hear their words. The fact is that we hear quite as little under similar conditions back home, only our mind, being fuller of English verbal associations, supplies the requisite material for comprehension upon a much slighter auditory hint.” (p.170)
This is backed up by modern cognition theory, in his textbook on cognition, Daniel Reisberg describes how implicit memory works, cognition works better on background associations. With regards learning primed and elaborated learning, especially when familiarity is involved, recall is superior just mechanical learning. However with regards this implicit memory, we also have the problem of the ‘illusion of truth’, that is with memory, a primed piece of knowledge, even one that is explicitly framed as false on first hearing, when triggered again at a later date when combined with a hint that such knowledge is true, will give rise to the ‘familiar sense’ that it is true. As Joseph Goebbels argued, tell a lie often enough and it will become the truth.
If we return to Gombrich’s experience of interpreting signal from noise during the second world war, we also have the problem of familiarity. With regards the relation to background noise, just as Gombrich argues in Art and Illusion, Reisberg refers to experiments by the psychologist Jacoby where sentences were played over noise, those sentences that had been primed earlier were heard more clearly than unfamiliar phrases, what’s more the noise was considered to be less harsh and quieter even when it was played at the same volume (p.192).
In his book on consciousness the philosopher Daniel Dennett describes blindsight. Blindsight occurs where there is damage to the eye (usually part of the retina) and whilst the person retains some vision, there is a part of the breadth of vision that is shut off. However due to its learning capability the mind fills in this part of the line of sight and objects can be ‘seen’ in the area of damaged vision.
So, is there a sense where hearing voices is a form of emotional pareidolia? Well… possibly. However this explanation alone is insufficient. Why do others not have such experiences? So far there have been two lines of enquiry, the trauma work associated with Intervoice (especially) amongst others; and the work on pathological communication that goes back to people like Bateson and Laing. With the Hearing Voices Network this has often been supported by group work, which before their adoption goes back to the work of Tavistock clinic, and Wilfrid Bion and work with traumatised war veterans (Laing also worked at the Tavistock clinic before leaving to found Kingsley Hall and the Philadelphia Association). The Tavistock clinic’s department involved at that time was their human relations unit and also worked extensively with advertisers and multinational companies.
Within clinical psychology, one of the most advanced therapies used with voice hearers outside CBT (and historically previously the path stemming from object relations psychoanalysis, the work of Melanie Klein and in France, Jacques Lacan. Wilfrid Bion was a student of Melanie Klein) is the work of people like Dirk Corstens, Eleanor Longden and Rufus May – their Talking With voices therapy, which draws off of the Gestalt work of Hal and Sidra Stone. The Stones saw the personality as consisting of sub-personalities, the most well-known of theirs is the Inner Critic, but there are also the Pleaser, and the Pusher (one can, and perhaps should come up with one’s own depending on what ‘voices’ talk to us the most). These are ways of explaining the different conflicting drives that we all have, the therapy was originally developed with non-voice hearers, where these were aspects of the inner personality. But Corstens, Longden and May have been able to adapt it to voice hearing with a modicum of success. One of their arguments is that when voice hearing is distressing then these alienated parts of the self are seen as hostile, the point of the dialogue is to mediate to normalise the experience and hopefully work through the trauma and iron out any pathological communication. As such this is a valid psychological technique. But in the next few articles I want to look at how this relates to broader problems of governmentality and where we can find our own strategies as mad activists for survival when austerity brings in cuts and sanctions and the relationship between us and the state and the means of production becomes more vital in the face of often contradictory and often impossibly conflicting demands that take little account for class and circumstance. Strategies of the self as mad practices of everyday life.


Banks, Joe – Rorschach Audio: Art and Illusion for Sound (2012) Disinformation
Corstens, Dirk; Longden, Eleanor; May, Rufus – Talking with voices: Exploring what it is expressed by the voices people hear (2011) Psychosis 1-10 iFirst Article
Gombrich, E.H. – Art and Illusion (1986) Phaidon Press
Resiberg, Daniel – Cognition (1997) Norton
Sconce, Jeffrey – Haunted Media (2000) Duke University Press

‘Sin your way to heaven and get slaughtered: A byzantine general problem of the self’ (part one)

Filed under:Sin your Way to Heaven and get Slaughtered — posted by Schizostroller on March 18, 2018 @ 9:55 pm

“sometimes we see a cloud that is dragonish;
A vapour sometime like a bear or lion,
A tower’d citadel, a pendent rock,
A forked mountain, or blue promontory
With trees upon’t, that nod unto the world,
And mock our eyes with air…” Shakespeare (Anthony and Cleopatra)

In the book ‘Art and Illusion’ the art historian E.H Gombrich refers to the Pythagorean sage Appollonius of Tyana who travelled to India with his disciple, Damis, and found himself gazing on some reliefs left from the time of Alexander the Great. Waiting for audience with whatever aristocrat he was visiting he had the time to pontificate Socratically with his disciple on the nature of art, asking him questions on the nature of painting. He asked ‘is there such a thing as painting’ to which Damis replied in the affirmative. Apollonius then asked what it then consisted of to which Damis responded that it was the mixing of colours. ‘why do that?’ asked Apollonious, to which Damis replied, ‘For the sake of imitation. To get a likeness of a dog or a horse or a man, a ship or anything else under the sun.’ To which Apollonius responded, ‘So then painting is imitation, mimesis?’ To which, again, Damis replied in the affirmative. So asked Apollonius, what about the images we see in the clouds, the faces, the giants, gods and monsters, the mountains and ships? Are they works of imitation Does God make them for his amusement? Both Apollonius and Damis agree this can’t be the case, they shapes arise by chance. Does this then mean, asks Apollonius, ‘that the art of imitation is two-fold? One aspect of it is the use of hands and mind in producing imitations, another aspect the producing of likeness with the mind alone?’ As Gombrich states “The mind of the beholder also has its share in the imitation.” In this series of articles I want to argue that with voice hearing, not only do we have such a share in the ‘imitation’, that is an ‘imitation’ of the ‘world’ in the form of the Other’ that speaks back to us, but that as Gombrich intimates that share requires a historical knowledge or ‘lebensweld’ (lifeworld), that has an ideological relation to the economy, one that has consequences for the chances of recovery but also relates to a problem of governmentality for ‘techniques’ such as CBT. This is particularly relevant for voice hearing as the experience is closely related to language (it being voices that are ‘heard’.

First, though, I want to look at emotions and consciousness. I want to start from an embodied perspective and so that requires starting with the body (as a disclaimer I want to say this is not a medical model argument, so for those who immediately balk at ‘science’ or ‘medicine’, please bear with me. For those more open, I hope this is a balanced view and therefore a successful challenge to the essentialism of the medical model).

Now I am writing from the standpoint of a voice hearer myself, but if (as I shall argue) our experience as voice hearers is based on our directly lived experience then although the experience ‘of’ hearing voices is not unique, there is still a solitude to the particular individual mental health experience. So for this to be yet another voice hearing experience that argues a relation of embodied phenomenology to social structures would fail as it would be an anecdotal fallacy. I will say that I am strongly supportive of narrative not only from the psychology perspective of sufficient case studies to create falsifiable hypotheses, but also from a mad studies perspective they are stories that speak our experience into the world. I also respect the importance of voice hearing groups and their help with dealing with this isolation in that no matter how personal the experience there will always be similarities with others, one’s that get us to click and get that there is something more social to this experience than a lonely descent into madness, and from there a way back. So it is in this sense, where the theory of embodiment respects that we share similar physiologies, we live on the same planet, and we can communicate, so there is a sense where we can contemplate the validity of this shared experience that is also so, so personal. To this end I will start with the work of the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio whose work on consciousness and emotions has been elucidating for me. I stated that I was a voice hearer, and an experience I have is of telepathy. For my part I am an atheist, philosophically speaking I am a materialist (that is I am neither dualist (mind/body split), nor idealist (just mind/ideas)), for me the basis of most knowledge is the body, the senses and the material world. However I experience other voices, phantasms if you will, speaking to me (I will be exploring this in later articles, including with regards the famous phrase that Ron Coleman made popular ‘the voices are real’, but that has roots back to 1961 and RD Laing’s book Self and Others where he quotes the psychiatrist Isaacs who states ‘the phantasms are real’). For me they cannot be spirits or angels, they are not aliens (I am comfortable with the Fermi Paradox – and they are rarely ‘that’ intelligent!) so they are (memories/ representations of) other people. So with that experience, that can be very vivid and intense, it was of great interest and (due to the distress of the experience) comfort to me that in the opening chapter of his book “The Feeling of What Happens”, Damasio writes “Consciousness is an entirely private, first person phenomenon which occurs as part of the private, first person process we call mind.” (p.12). So what on earth am I feeling when I experience ‘telepathy’? Damasio argues that feelings are to help us be aware of our emotions, so evolutionarily speaking it can “be argued that emotions without feelings would be a sufficient mechanism to regulate life and promote survival” (p.284) so feelings are the stepping stone for the next development of consciousness ‘the feeling of knowing we have feelings’. They allow us to plan and strategise in advance in ways that are adaptive to different environments. Are we to suggest that these alienated phantasms are merely my own emotions? It can’t be that simple? And even were it just that simple and reductionist, alone with just that knowledge does that help? No, they are still there. So? Now what?

Tell you what, let’s go to Uncle Sigmund Freud that bête noire of serious, proper scientific behavioural psychology, I mean we are talking evolutionary neuroscience here! Freud argues that anxiety is an affective state “that is to say, a combination of certain feelings in the pleasure-unpleasure series with the corresponding innervations of discharge and a perception of them” (p.113). He distinguishes realistic anxiety from neurotic anxiety. In realistic anxiety we have an increase in sensory attention and motor tension and a sense of preparedness for flight or flight that will can be limited to a signal (triggered by repetitions of old traumas) allowing the remainder to adapt itself to the situation. There are three types of neurotic anxiety, the first a free floating general apprehensiveness; secondly ‘phobias’; the third that can emerge independently as an attack or more persistent state, “but always without any visible basis in an external danger” (p.114). In an article in the journal Psychosis, Dirk Corstens, Eleanor Longden and Rufus May discuss their therapy of ‘talking with voices’. They discuss one of the problems with voice hearing as seeing these voices as hostile. If we are to question the ‘feeling of knowing we have feelings’ what is occurring with the intrusion of hostile alienated spectres? Freud puts this question into words “From what part of [the] mind does an unconscious resistance like this arise?” (p.100). He goes on to say that we must “attribute to the repressed a strong upward drive, an impulsion to break through into consciousness. The resistance can only be a manifestation of the ego, which originally put the repression into place and wishes to maintain it… Since we have come to maintain a special agency in the ego, the super ego, which represents a demands of a restrictive and rejecting character, we may say that repression is the work of this superego and that is carried out either by itself or by the ego and that it is carried out either by itself or by the ego in obedience to its orders.” (p.100-101).

Enough, you say, what is this doing in Asylum? We have all been here before, we know this! “yeah, yeah, the voices are projections of unrealistic anxieties, possibly from past trauma that I am repeating, and need to work through, there is neuroscience to back it up, but I am supposedly repressing and refusing to acknowledge my own responsibility in my individual recovery. Whoop de do! Give me my pills and CBT! Take me to your leader.”
But what if I was to say that the problem of ‘non-compliance’ may reside, not in personal responsibility, but in the fact that ideologically there may well be a realistic underlying anxiety that us ‘sensitive snowflakes’ are just too tuned in to, and we need to explore this issue further?

So please hold on for my further articles where I would like to return to the views of Gombrich by looking at another bête noire of serious science, Raudive, and his belief that ‘voices’ could be recorded in tape, often dismissed as ‘ideas of reference’ to look at how projection works in the voice hearing experience. From there I will be looking at ‘talking with voices’ therapies, based on voice dialogue, used by Rufus May, Eleanor Longden, Dirk Corstens and others. From there I will be returning to psychoanalytic ideas of transference, I will look taking RD Laing’s criticism of Isaacs, as too individualistic, further. I will look at communication and systems theory, venturing into coding and cybernetics, I will then return toi trauma and the body where I look at the relation of language to ideology and biopolitics, then I will use this directly lived reality to look at strategies I call ‘unrecovery’ that draw not from psychological techniques but from the practice of everyday life of theorists such as Michel De Certeau and Henri Lefebvre, and from the history of signifying used in Black American literature, jazz but also punk. And look for an activist strategy, especially for those who feel left out in the cold by cuts and austerity.

Corstens, Dirk; Longden, Eleanor; May, Rufus – Talking with voices: Exploring what it is expressed by the voices people hear – (2011) Psychosis 1-10 iFirst Article
Damasio, Antonio – The Feeling of What Happens (2000) Vintage books
Freud, Sigmund – 2: New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1975) Pelican
Gombrich, E.H. – Art and Illusion (1986) Phaidon Press

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace