‘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


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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace