‘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constitution… Psychic interest is nothing other than an alternating spotlight, which can come and go, be projected, be withdrawn from reality, at the whim of the pulsation of the psyche of the subject.”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

“It’s not Freudian”

Filed under:Brief arguments — posted by Schizostroller on March 15, 2018 @ 2:46 pm

“Desire is an infinite metonymy. It slides from one object to another. In so far as desire’s ‘natural’ state is thus that of melancholy – the awareness that no positive object is ‘it’, its proper object, that no positive, that no positive object can ever fill its constitutive lack – the ultimate enigma of desire is: how can it be ‘set in motion’ after all? How can the subject – whose ontological status is that of a void, of a pure gap sustained by endless sliding from one signifier to another – nonetheless get hooked on a particular object which thereby starts to function as the object-cause of desire? How can infinite desire focus on a finite object? – Zizek – The Plague of Fantasies.

Take the statement often used to discount certain perspectives, but one that comes across as a voice and nothing more, that we shall isolate as a statement in and of itself: “It is not Freudian”. It comes in as demand, a command, a censorious claim, an attempt at a Master discursive reality from an Othered perspective attempting a knowledge-based Master-Slave dialectic, as an alien acousmatic experience. “It is not Freudian”. It is repeated yet the emotions that were present upon hearing it are complex and as an assemblage different each time it is heard, the thoughts that one is preoccupied with each time vary, although there may be affinities were one to analyse them. We can free associate in a line of flight from this obstructive knowledge claim, elude it, and analyse what is ‘thought’ in the process of fleeing afterwards, and this would be a viable method. But we have options. Gregory Bateson describes a Zen double bind where the Master holds a stick over the students head and says ‘Move and I will hit you, stay still and I will hit you’. It seems the answer is to grasp the stick and stand up and peaceably remove it from over one’s head. So let’s grasp this stick, the mettle of this phrase and analyse the statement itself.

There are different truth claims one can make about Freudian theory. Slightly differing statements might be ‘not everything is Freudian’, this may well be true, what comes immediately to mind for me are Mathematics and Physics. But other things still might be Freudian. So the next sentence is ‘nothing is Freudian’, which is untrue because although tautological and quite possible ensconced in its own hermeneutic circle, Freudian theory is Freudian, so something Freudian exists, this is different from whether the truth claim that Freudian theory accurately describes its object of knowledge, (but even Freudian theory would recognise its own limits there) however outside mathematics and physics this may be a problem of knowledge in general, that it does not fully describe its knowledge object, and may well also be true for many other discursive knowledge bases, but such a claim needs to be challenged at the level of knowledge base, not with a censorious denial, so what we can say here is the statement in itself, ‘nothing is Freudian’, is untrue. There is something that is Freudian and that is Freudian theory. In the article “What is Enlightenment?”Foucault describes ‘founders of discursivity’. Such founders “are unique in that they are not just the authors of their own works. They have produced something else: the possibilities and rules for the formation of other texts” (p.114). For Foucault, Freud was one of these founders.

So we are left with the statement ‘it is not Freudian’. If we return to the Zizek quote above we note that ‘there is no positive object that is ‘it’’. Is this is declaration that Freudian theory has no positive object? As a statement it signifies something, ‘that there is something that is not Freudian’ but the word used is ‘it’. Zizek claims in the introductory quote, ‘it’ has not positive object to point to, to signify, because the word ‘it’ in this context has no reference, other than a claim to what it is not, and therefore it signifies a ‘lack’. Perhaps it is saying “nothing, not even Freudian theory, can fill this lack?” However such a statement would be a Freudian statement, there would be little that is more Freudian than the attempt to castrate any attempt to build a Freudian knowledge base, even if ostensibly the statement is true (that there is something not Freudian). It is still possible to say ‘we may need Freudian theory plus one (or ‘n’) to fill this lack”. In this sense this acousmatic statement is a an undead partial death wish as Zizek calls them in the Pervert’s Guide to the Cinema.

R D Laing described ‘elusion’ thus: imagine the room one is sitting in a room, one imagines or pretends the room is not a real room, having pretended that the room is an imaginary room, one starts pretending the imaginary room is a real room and not imaginary at all. One ends up pretending that the real room is real, rather than perceiving it as real. One entertains the idea of the realty of the room rather than believing it. With a knowledge of physics one can do this by imagining the room as atoms and then returning to our sense perception as reality. So we return to the ‘real’ room and carry on. Before we reach enlightenment we must chop wood and fetch water, after enlightenment we must still chop wood and fetch water. Yet even here we are just attempting to remove a stick, which although we treat as a real statement, means we only attain a partial enlightenment from a partial death wish. We are not trying to ‘prove it’. Here ‘it’ also has no reference. We are acknowledging the lack embodied in ‘it’ and moving on.

It is here we can acknowledge that whilst one may not have read enough psychoanalytical theory yet (if ever), the attempt to deny ‘it’ is a block to progress, and therefore the attempt acknowledges that progress is being made. One thinks of the Knights of Nee in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the absurdity required to pass them. An absurdity that Camus, in the Myth of Sisyphus, describes as ‘to sin without there being a God’. And thus we remove the stick. One is set in motion again. One continues one’s journey.

The sixth sex

Filed under:Random notes — posted by Schizostroller on March 7, 2018 @ 8:32 pm

Grandma Carrington took the hearing trumpet from her ear and said “I’ve heard of Simone de Beauvoir and I’ve heard of Judith Butler, but what on earth is the sixth sex?”
“Sixth sense grandma” her granddaughter moaned.
“And who on earth is this Bruce Willis?” Grandma continued “A spiritualist? Really takes the biscuit. Pass the bourbon, dear.”
Her granddaughter went and got the biscuit tin.
“The whiskey, dear, the whiskey.” bristled Grandma “Can’t you hear?”