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written by Phil Shoenfelt for "The Alienist",# 2, March 2018

Proposition: We live, we die. In a world beset by alienation, it seems we exist in a recurring dream of disillusionment. The history of reason – history as reason – poses itself at the beginning of the 21st century as a congenital madness. And if reason is the symptom of an irrational problem, what part does the mind play in this? Bloodless revolutions have stained the pages of psychiatry, literature, art history, philosophy – if emancipation is an idea that first belongs to those who forge chains, it is not a facetious question we pose: IS SCHIZOPHRENIA A SOLUTION?

“Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.” Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right  (1843)

“All subjectivitiy is appropriation.”  Interior Ministry, Republic of Žižkov

“GABA GABA Hey!” (Mis)appropriation from “Pinhead”, The Ramones

Words, words, words, the detritus of history and all that jizz: crap, scrap, rubble, wreckage, dregs, leavings, dross, SCUM, slag, trash, mullock, dreck, junk, leavings, swill, grot…

Not sure where we’re going with this question about schizophrenia… Is it a wind-up? Is it facetious? Is it seditious or merely suspicious? Don’t think it’s pernicious, but is it judicious? The proposal’s ambitious but it could be quite specious…

But anyway, an excellent opportunity to drop a few turds at the citadel gate…

Seriously, are we talking about REAL schizophrenia (wass DAT?) or the kind of theoretical “schizophrenia” proposed by Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia? I read this book (several times) back in the early 80s, but I could never really get my head around it. What the fuck is a “body without organs” for example? I know the phrase was borrowed from schizophrenic French playwright Antonin Artaud, and according to Oxford Reference, “Deleuze adopts it for his own purposes to describe the schizophrenic subject who feels so persecuted by his or her desire that they decide to renounce desire altogether and become a body without objects (object and organ are the same thing in this context).” Oh really? The schizophrenic can’t handle his own desires, so he sits down one day and says: “Right, you capitalist bastards, I’ve had enough of working in the Renault car factory, I’m gonna become a body without organs…”

Yes, I’m being FACETIOUS. I do get the general idea: that “Deleuze and Guattari’s “schizoanalysis” is a militant social and political analysis that responds to what they see as the reactionary tendencies of psychoanalysis.” (Thank you Wikipedia.) Anti-patriarchal, anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian, anti-sublimation, anti-Oedipus (meaning anti-Freud). The BwO is connected to the idea of “desiring-machines”, which is a similarly opaque concept. Let’s use another of Mrs.Wiki’s convenient summations: “Deleuze and Guattari's concept of sexuality is not limited to the interaction of male and female gender roles, but instead posits a multiplicity of flows that a "hundred thousand" desiring-machines create within their connected universe.” So basically, the universe is one gigantic sex machine, in which everyone fucks everybody else, regardless of gender, race or religion. A nice idea, very 1960s – though maybe John Sinclair put it more succinctly in his 10 point program for the White Panther Party: “Total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock’n’roll, dope, & fucking in the streets”. It certainly sounds a lot more fun than having an argument with the ghost of Freud at the University of Paris. But like Fluxus, the Viennese Actionists, the Yippies and the Hippies, Deleuze and Guattari were basically saying “let it all hang out – if it feels good, do it, and don’t try to stop it.”

The idea of reality being a multiplicity of flows dovetails nicely with post-Einsteinian physics – the universe is composed of waves, particles and energy flows, provisional bodies that mutate and interpenetrate in unpredictable ways. And this, according to Anti-Oedipus, is how the schizophrenic perceives things: “desire is a machine, and the object of desire is another machine connected to it.” In other words, desire its own end, it has no ulterior motive. This contrasts with the traditional view that desire is a precursor to acquisition – that desire naturally seeks to acquire something that it lacks.

Herein lies the rub for those who reject or fail to see the link between desire and acquisition. As the basic building block of capitalism, the oedipal model of the family is crucial in enforcing the connection between desire and acquisition – the patriarchal family is an organization that must colonize its members, repress their true desires, and give them complexes if it is to function as an organizing principle of society. Furthermore, schizophrenia is an extreme mental state that co-exists with the capitalist system itself and capitalism keeps enforcing neurosis as a way of maintaining normality.

The Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing was another who saw the oedipal family as the cradle of psychopathology. Following on from Bateson’s theory that schizophrenia was caused by “double bind” situations – a double bind being a distressing dilemma in communication  in which an individual receives two or more conflicting messages – Laing believed that its manifest symptoms were an expression of this distress. If a child grows up in a repressive family where double binds are used as forms of control, the confusion, discomfort and inability to resolve issues will eventually result in a kind of psychic disconnect. In The Divided Self (1960), Laing contrasted the experience of the "ontologically secure" person with that of a person who "cannot take the realness, aliveness, autonomy and identity of himself and others for granted" and who consequently contrives strategies to avoid "losing his self". But in opposition to the prevailing psychiatric orthodoxy which maintained that chemical and electro shock methods were the way to go, Laing believed that the symptoms of schizophrenia should be valued. For him, mental illness could be a transformative episode whereby the process of undergoing mental distress was compared to a shamanic journey.

So having been on a whirlwind tour of changing attitudes to psychopathology, let’s return to the original question:  IS SCHIZOPHRENIA A SOLUTION? I take it for granted we’re not talking about Jekyll and Hyde here, but (as Mrs. Wiki would have it) “a mental disorder characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to understand reality. Common symptoms include false beliefs, unclear or confused thinking, hearing voices that others do not, reduced social engagement and emotional expression, and a lack of motivation. People with schizophrenia often have additional mental health problems such as anxiety, depressive, or substance-use disorders.”

Speaking of substance abuse, I should mention that I spent about a year and a half in Schizoid Land as a result of my own zealous ingestion of LSD. This was in the early 1970s, the pre-Operation Julie era, when the stuff was really strong – not the so-called “party acid” you get today. Along with reading John C. Lilly, Timothy Leary and The Tibetan Book Of The Dead, I was swallowing microdots twice a week, doing my bit to change human consciousness before the military-industrial complex blew the world to smithereens.

It all started off in a nice gentle way when a friend turned up with a hundred-tab blotter of pure Hoffman acid. A bunch of us spent the summer holidays in Wales, and I remember tripping for days on end, mesmerized by the beauty of nature. I really did see the world in a grain of sand and eternity in an hour. I remember spending an entire afternoon following a grasshopper along the beach, marvelling at the intricacy of its design and the way the tiny mirrors on its back reflected all the colours of the rainbow.

Back in Manchester, things just weren’t the same. The previous year I’d enrolled on a liberal arts degree course at Manchester Poly; but now instead of going to lectures, I spent most of my time at home, tripping on microdot LSD and trying to recapture the lost visions of summer. Manchester in 1973 was dark and post-industrial, and the stuff I was buying was incredibly strong and speedy – nothing like the mellow blotting paper tabs I’d had in Wales.

It wasn’t too long before things started to get scary – the hallucinations became more demonic, the voices in my head more threatening, the unseen evil ever more present. 1970s microdot was really powerful – 250 micrograms per trip – and once a trip had started to turn bad, there wasn’t much you could do. Just smoke some dope and take a valium and hope that the nightmare would end sooner rather than later.

The sensible thing to have done, of course, would have been to stop taking the stuff altogether. Instead I kept reading The Tibetan Book Of The Dead, convinced that if I embraced my own fear, I’d eventually break through into a higher state of consciousness. Instead, I just went mad. It all ended with one humungous bummer of a bad trip, when my information processing faculties ceased to function and I couldn’t make sense of language or time. Basically, everything was coming out backwards, the sky was upside down and space existed in several dimensions at once – which may very well be how things are, of course, following Hugh Everett and Schrödinger’s cat. But when you’re perceiving such a reality without mediation, it’s a terrifying experience.

So I’m not too sure about the emancipatory claims that Deleuze, Guattari, Laing and others make for schizophrenia. Personally, I don’t think schizophrenia is a solution to anything at all – it’s nice as a romantic, even poetic, theory, but the actuality is just too debilitating to be used as a weapon in the Age of Trump. And anyhow, most of the discussion today centres around genetics and neurotransmitters – the environmental causes of schizophrenia have taken a back seat to imbalances in dopamine, glutamate, noradrenaline and GABA. But hey, at least they’ve stopped using ECT in all but the rarest of cases…

Phil Shoenfelt, Prague, February 2018