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How to read Deleuze: neurosis, schizophrenia and autism

Paper delivered at “Deleuze Workshop in Seoul”, Seoul National University, Graduate Comparative Literature Program, Seoul National University, Shinyang Humanities Hall 302. Jan. 23, 2018 (Tuesday). 2: 30 - 3: 30

 

 

  How to read Deleuze. By the very bold title of my lecture, I do not mean to define a “right” way to read and interpret Deleuzian literature. Here, I would just like to think with you on the question of how we can read Deleuze today. I put a stress on the word “today”: Today, now, in the year 2018, in the 21st century, at the beginning of this century, how can we read Deleuze? This is the question I want to ask in this lecture.

  To begin with, I draw your attention to the fact that the name Deleuze is often associated with schizophrenia. Anti-Oedipus, his most famous book, which, however, he did not write alone but with Félix Guattari, has the subtitle “Capitalism and Schizophrenia.” In their confrontation with psychoanalysis—more precisely, the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan—Deleuze and Guattari even invented a word, “schizoanalysis.” Schizophrenia has therefore been considered a keyword that helps us to understand what Deleuzian philosophy is.

  But in what sense did this mental disorder called schizophrenia have importance to Deleuze or Deleuze–Guattari (hereafter, I use this proper name in singular form to indicate the author of Anti-Oedipus)? When we read the works of Deleuze and Deleuze–Guattari today, in this century, does schizophrenia remain the key concept for understanding them? In what sense is schizophrenia a key to accessing their philosophy?

  If I ask these questions, it is because this mental disorder cannot be separated from the time in which Deleuze–Guattari elaborated their arguments; namely, the 20th century. Let me present a very rough hypothesis without any justification for the moment: schizophrenia is the 20th century mental disorder, and the 20th century is schizophrenic.

  In order to explain this very rough hypothesis, I have to go into the theory of psychoanalysis and illustrate how it defines schizophrenia. 

 

  As you are aware, psychoanalysis was established as a discipline by Sigmund Freud in the early 1890s; namely, in the final years of the 19th century. What is important for us here is that the object of Freudian psychoanalysis was neurosis, not psychosis. Schizophrenia is one subdivision of psychosis.

   [As you know, the problem of classification of mental disorders is highly problematic. In this paper, I use Lacanian classification, according to which neurosis is clearly distinguished from psychosis, which has for its subdivisions schizophrenia, paranoia, melancholia and mania. As for neurotics and psychotics, it will be sufficient to know the following differences. Neurotics suffer from their mental pain, but they do not have a personality disorder: they can live their daily lives. Conversely, psychotics have a personality disorder and it is difficult for them to live their daily lives.]

   Freud’s discovery is very simple: a symptom of neurosis has a sense. If a patient who suffers from neurosis shows some seemingly incomprehensible behaviour, it means something. For example, his famous patient Dora, a young girl, often experienced aphonia (the inability to speak). According to Freud’s interpretation, this symptom was associated with the absence of her lover, Mr K, who was a friend of her father. When he travelled, she became unable to speak because there was no need for her to speak. Symptom is an indirect, symbolic expression of an oppression that has its origin in the person’s life history.

  Oppression is, as you know, a key concept for understanding Freudian psychoanalysis. The excellence of Freud is that he did not regard oppression as unique to neurotics. According to him, we all have oppressions in our mind. In fact, we humans become humans because of mental oppression (I use the word “human” deliberately). Neurosis occurs when the oppression works excessively. In this sense, we all are neurotic; a “normal” human is a human who has a slight neurosis.

  Freud thus unearthed the mechanism of the human mind in general through the analysis of neurosis. But it goes without saying that the Freudian view on humans is far from neutral or universal. It seems that Freud’s view of the normal, lightly neurotic man reflects the characteristics of the time in which he elaborated his theory; namely, the 19th century. The figure of the slightly neurotic normal man reminds me of what Michel Foucault calls discipline society, which normalizes the human subject by discipline and punishment. Let me present, again, another rough hypothesis without any justification for the moment: In the sense that it is closely connected to the 19th century, neurosis is the 19th century mental disorder, and the 19th century is neurotic.

  This hypothesis corresponds to the fact that Freudian psychoanalysis had an explicit limit; that is, psychosis, which has, as I have shown a short while ago, schizophrenia as its subdivision. Not only could Freudian psychoanalysis not sufficiently explain what psychosis is, it could not treat it. Not only is Freud’s method of free association ineffective for psychotics, it is also sometimes even dangerous to them.

   We have to wait until Lacan appears on the scene of psychoanalysis and develops its theory in a revolutionary manner. Again, what matters here in Lacanian psychoanalysis theory is oppression, which was the key to understanding Freudian psychoanalysis. However, this does not refer to “this and that” oppressions but to the very first oppression, which Freud called primal oppression. Freud thought that all the oppressions came from the primal oppression. But, here, we have to pay attention to his way of thinking. If there are oppressions in someone’s mind, there should be an original oppression that causes all the other oppressions—this is how he thought. He just supposed it.

  It is Lacan who made a full enquiry into the primal oppression. His theory proceeds as follows: A child is in a state of helplessness, because, as one who is not able to use language, he fails to grasp his mother’s desire (here, I use the pronoun “he” deliberately); he then acquires a desire to be the object of his mother’s desire, something that she does not have but his father does—the phallus—but the child is forced to abandon this desire by his father’s “no”/“name” (Lacan uses a very special French expression, “nom du père”). He thus gives up and experiences a modified desire: not a desire to be a phallus but a desire to have a phallus. This is what Lacan thinks is the procedure of primal oppression and is also what explains the genesis of our desires. We desire many things, but we all want them instead of the phallus: any object of our desire is the substitute for the phallus. And in this endless pursuit of the phallus, the child acquires language: the chain of signifiant in Lacanian terms.

  Let’s go back to our question: How can psychosis be explained? Now, it is not difficult to do so. According to Lacan, it is because the primal repression was not completed that people become psychotic. When the father’s “no” does not work, psychosis occurs. Neurotics suffer from excessive repression, which means that they have completed primal repression: in Lacanian terms, the father’s “no”/“name”—“nom du père”—is installed in their unconscious as its first signifiant. This is not the case with psychotics: in their unconscious, the father’s “no” is foreclosed, expelled or excluded.

  This is a well-made theory, I think, yet we can make the same remark as we did about the Freudian view of the normal man. That is, this definition of psychosis reflects the world or the social order of the 20th century. It is because the father’s “no” loses effect that psychosis occurs, which fits what we know about 20th century phenomena: diminution of father’s authority or authority itself, destruction of traditions, malfunction of discipline and liberation of individual desires. Psychosis or—if we represent it by one of its subdivisions—schizophrenia, is, in this sense, the mental disease of the 20th century, in which traditional authority is demolished and oppression in its broader sense does not work.

  Now let’s go back to Deleuze–Guattari. In fact, it is not Deleuze but Guattari who utilized schizophrenia in order to attack and reform Lacanian psychoanalysis. Guattari was a promising young Lacanian psychoanalyst but, since there were some misunderstandings between Lacan and Guattari, the latter had to leave his master. In his collaboration with Deleuze, Guattari tried to newly conceptualize schizophrenia. Because, in his view, since Lacan started his career as a specialist of paranoia (which is one of the subdivisions of psychosis), he had some hesitations regarding schizophrenia. Guattari thus brought schizophrenia to the foreground of his collaboration work with Deleuze.

  This is, however, a very easy explanation. What was essential is that Deleuze–Guattari attempted to attack the reactionary tendency inherent in Lacanian psychoanalysis. In Anti-Oedipus, they argue that psychoanalysis neurotizes (AO, p.434). That is, psychoanalysis wants to make people neurotic, which is not incomprehensible because, in this discipline, “normal” people are neurotic. Not only in this sense, but also relying on our own hypotheses, we can call it reactionary. To make people neurotic in the name of treatment is to make people living in the 20th century go back to the 19th century, in which things such as discipline and punishment, the father’s “no”, authority or social oppression worked well.  

  As I mentioned, Deleuze–Guattari coined a word: “schizoanalysis.” They attempted to propose a psychoanalysis that does not suppose “nom du père” or primal repression and just analyzes what Deleuze–Guattari called the “desiring machine”: a heterogeneous set of desires that is not dominated or controlled by any supposed single signifiant (phallus etc.). In this sense, their attempt is closely connected to the 20th century. Schizoanalysis was a counter-attack towards those who felt, in the 20th century, a longing for the good old 19th century. 

 

  Here, at last, my real question poses itself. Deleuze–Guattari’s attempt is such a 20th century one: schizoanalysis is no less inseparable from the 20th century than psychosis. This being the case, how should we read Deleuze or Deleuze–Guattari in our century; that is, the 21st century?

  I stressed that it is Guattari who brought schizophrenia to the foreground of Deleuze–Guattari’s collaborative work: Guattari was certainly aware that the newly valued concept of schizophrenia could be highly provocative in the Lacanian psychoanalytical scene. But, stressing that fact, I wonder naturally if it is the case with Deleuze, for, much inspired by Freud and Lacan, Deleuze in his major works, Difference and Repetition and Logic of Sense, talks a lot about psychoanalysis but mentions schizophrenia in only few places. For some reasons, including this one, I believe that schizophrenia is not a model for thinking in Deleuze’s own philosophy as it is in Guattari’s. Instead of schizophrenia, I want to cite “disability” as a key concept of Deleuzian philosophy. I do this by presenting, for the third time, a very rough hypothesis without any justification for the moment: autism is the 21st century “disability.” I hasten to add that here the word disability must be put in quotation marks. And this point is directly connected to the diagnosis that I am going to give of the 21st century, or our late-capitalistic, neo-liberal world.

  In his early years, Deleuze was interested in what the figure of the desert island meant philosophically. There are two of his texts that deal with this explicitly: “Desert Islands,” which was written in the 1950s and is now contained in his collection of essays Desert Islands and Other Texts, 1953–1974, and “Michel Tournier and the World without Others,” which is annexed to The Logic of Sense. These two texts, extremely rich in their philosophical arguments, delineate precisely what Deleuze thinks is the genesis of the “self.” Owing to time constraints, I cannot fully explain their arguments, but the outline is as follows.

 

  Your perception of the world presupposes what you do not perceive. For example, when walking on the street, although you see just the walls or façades of buildings, you imagine that, behind them, there are rooms, corridors, stairways, offices etc. You have an idea of depth without confirming it. How can this be possible? Deleuze states: “the part of the object that I do not see I posit as visible to Others.”[1] When seeing the buildings with the idea of depth, you suppose some others and you posit the margins that you do not see as visible to these others. There must be others before your perception of the world can be possible. So, if there are no others, if you live in a place without others such as a desert island, this perception becomes impossible: the world gets reduced to what you see and the margins of the world disappear. “My vision of the island is reduced to that of my own eyes, and what I do not see of it is to me a total unknown” (p.345).

  Deleuze extends this theory of perception to the formation of the self. This time, what is in question is not spatial depth but temporal past. Deleuze remarks: “I am nothing other than my past objects, and my self is made up of a past world” (p.349). Past is what is not present before me. So, if there are no others, you cannot perceive the past and therefore you cannot have your self. In other words, there must be others before there exists what we call self, or, if you like, subject. This theory of perception is consistent with his philosophy of event and, in my view, these texts on the desert island can be read as an introduction to his transcendental empiricism. The larval self or immature form of subject that Deleuze describes, relying on the figure of the desert island, can be interpreted as the model for thinking in Deleuze.

  What is surprising is that what Deleuze states about perception and the larval self shows a remarkable similarity to what research on autistic people has brought forth in recent years. It is known that some autistic people do not possess the idea of depth. They are often said to lack a sense of self. The thing that is most often pointed out about them—which does not mean it is correct—is that autistic people have a disability of imagination; they cannot imagine others’ minds. In this sense, some may say that they live in the world as if there are no others.

  [I hasten to add that these comments are made from the viewpoint of non-autistic people, if you like, or what we think of as “normal” people. Otherwise, how could we talk about lack? This word means what should be there is not there. So, please accept my comments on autistic people just as a working hypothesis.]

  The next paragraph will be the last part of my paper. Autism, or, precisely speaking, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is now drawing attention. One of the reasons is the rapid increase of those who are diagnosed as autistic. This number is 10 times what it was 30 years ago. This, however, does not mean that autistic people are increasing in number, for what is in question is the number of diagnoses. Specifically, what is increasing is the number of people who go to see a doctor being afraid that they themselves or their relatives, mainly their children, are autistic.

  Why? I have a hypothesis as follows. Today’s society strongly repudiates some characteristics of autism such as a lack of so-called “communication skills.” “Communication” is the word that characterizes today’s late-capitalistic neo-liberal world, which cannot make profit by the manufacturing industry. Those who are not good at communication once had their own place in society, schools or workplaces, but they do not have one today. Rather, they are excluded. I am wondering if this fear of exclusion does not make people afraid that they themselves or their children are autistic? Certainly it sounds nice to say, “Be attentive to others, when you behave” and “Imagine what others would think, when you communicate with others.” However, in our 21st century society, these maxims exert strong pressure on people. These are not neutral or universal moral codes; rather, they are demanded by today’s economy. In this sense, 21st century society has made autism a disability.

  If autism is a model for thinking in Deleuze, the 21st century still needs this philosopher.

 

[1] “Michel Tournier and the World without Others”, p.344 [p.355].