schizophrenia

Schizophrenia: a type of psychosis characterized by loss of contact with the environment and disintegration of the personnality. (Webster's Third Intl.)

The name was introduced at the beginning of the twentieth century, by the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Beuler. It is Greek for "split brain." The idea behind schizophrenia was that a person's thoughts, emotions, and physical reactions are split off from each other, so that the emotional reaction to a thought, or the physical response to an emotion, is completely inappropriate or bizarre. (Ian Hacking, Rewriting the Soul.) One model of schizophrenic experience is that of a perceiving subject with a reduced or damaged capacity for selective attentiveness. That is, the schizophrenic is attentive to an overwhelming field of perceptual data, in a sense incarnating in extreme form the modern paradigm of sensory overload. (Jonathan Crary, Suspensions of Perception, p.38) According to Beuler, "The selectivity which normal attention exercises among the sensory impressions can be reduced to zero, so that almost anything is recorded that reaches the senses." One reason for the admiration which Deleuze and Guattari professed for the schizophrenic must lie in this complete lack of inhibition. (see desiring machines) "The schizo is not a revolutionary, but the schizophrenic process...is the potential for revolution." (Anti-Oedipus p.341) While definition of the term is based on splitting, for Deleuze and Guattari it comes to mean adualistic. To read: Jacques Lacan, "D'Une question préliminaire à tout traitement possible de la psychose," in Ecrits.

According to Gregory Bateson's analysis of communication in Notes to an Ecology of Mind, repeated experiences of "double binds" from immediate family members, especially the mother, can lead to the development of schizophrenic symptoms. The person caught in the "double bind," is in a situation where he or she "can't win." Drawing on Bertrand Russell's theory of logical types, Bateson focusses on the different "levels of abstraction" of communication: the denotative language, the metalanguage, and the metacommunicative, where the subject of discourse is the relationship between the speakers. (as in, "this is play) For Bateson, human communication uses various "modes," (such as play, non-play, fantasy, humor, sacrament, and metaphor) which are usually established by nonverbal signs. These mode-identifying signs can be falsified (eg. the manipulative simulation of friendliness) and they can be falsified unconsiously, either in relation to the self or to others. Thus the subject can conceal his own hostility in the guise of metaphoric play, mistake shyness in others for contempt, etc.

Bateson describes the " ego function" as " the process of discriminating communicational modes either within the self or between the self and others. " (p.205) This ability is weakened in the schizophrenic. For example, when the schizophrenic says "Men die...Grass dies...Men are grass," (also described as "predicate thinking") this, for Bateson is an unlabeled metaphor.

For Bateson, the schizophrenic lives in a world of double-binds, where primary negative injunctions ("Don't do so and so, or I will punish you) are contradicted by secondary, more abstract injunctions, ("Do not see this as punishment," or "do not submit to my prohibitions") and some tertiary injunctions prohibit the victime from escaping from the field.

One example Bateson gives is a mother who feels endangered when she begins to feel affectionate and close to her child, and who responds to her anxiety by becoming hostile and withdrawing, but who cannot accept this hostile act, and denies it by simulating affection and closeness with the child. The child is placed in the situation where he must not accurately interpret her communication if he is to maintain his relationship with her. But he is in a double-bind, punished for discriminating accurately what she is expressing, and punished for discriminating inaccurately. The result is that the mother is withdrawing from him and defining this withdrawal as the way a loving relationship should be. Thus the child's dilemma becomes "If I am to keep my tie to my mother, I must not show her that I love her, but if I do not show her that I love her, then I will lose her."

In order to produce schizophrenia, these double-binds must occur repeatedly within an intense relationship, where it is vitally important for the individual to discriminate message types, and where the other person is expressing two orders of message, with one of these denying the other, and where the individual is unable to correct his discrimination or make a metacommunicative statement, such as pointing out the contradictory messages.

One form of defensive response is to confuse literal and metaphorical, which becomes pathological when the schizophrenic either does not know his responses are metaphorical or cannot say so. With the breakdown of his metacommunicative system, the schizophrenic does not know what kind of message a message is. He can start looking for hidden meanings everywhere (assuming everything is metaphorical) or tend to accept every message as literal. (The door says "Doctor's office, please knock." The Schizo knocks every time he goes by.) For Bateson, "the human being is like any self-correcting system which has lost its governor; it spirals into never-ending, but always systematic, distortion." (pp 211-212) (see cybernetics)

Jacques Lacan describes schizophrenia as a breakdown in the signifying chain of language, in the interlocking syntagmatic series of signifiers which constitute an utterance. He adopts the Saussurian point of view that meaning is generated by the movement from signifier to signified through the relationship among signifiers themselves. When the relationships of signifying chains breaks down, we are left with a rubble of unrelated signifiers. For Lacan the link between this linguistic malfunction and the psyche of the shizophrenic derives from a twofold proposition: that personal identity is the effect of the temporal unification of past and future with one's present, and that such an active temporal unification is itself a function of language. With the breakdown of the signifying change, the schizophrenic is reduced to an experience of pure material signifiers, or, in other words, a series of pure and unrelated presents in time. (Jameson, pp 26-27)