Madness and Democracy: The Modern Psychiatric Universe

By Marcel Gauchet; Gladys Swain et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
What the Passions Make It
Possible to Think

A New Sense of Self

INTRODUCING THE PASSIONS into discussions of insanity offers a threefold conceptual benefit. First, it confers consistency on the idea that, in a general way, what is “altered, perverted, or annihilated” in alienation at a given moment nevertheless remains potentially intact. Second, it lends support to the idea that there is a certain distance between the patient and her illness, even though the illness affects her presence to herself and her power to separate herself from herself. The distance is grounded in anatomy and physiology, but it is experienced and sublimated as “psychological” distance. The ultimate image of the insane patient as someone whose moral faculties alone are disturbed, while her intellectual faculties remain perfectly intact, has to be understood strictly in terms of the extension of the disjunction that occurs between the site of thought and the site of madness (the passions); it may be seen as the clinical projection and the full development of that disjunction. The decentering of the place where alienation was believed to originate provided a practical and metaphoric means, as it were, for thinking that, even when the intellectual faculties are completely subverted, the subject retains a virtual exteriority to whatever is assailing her, invading her and disorganizing her from within, that even beneath the most manifest and most general derangement the thinking, conscious being retains at least a quasi-presence to self. The insane person is both specifically afflicted in her ability to relate to herself and shut off in an impregnable proximity to herself. A third crucial possibility is opened up, finally, by the recourse to a way of conceiving of sites in the body inherited from an earlier era: the possibility of intuitively pinpointing the idea that human alienation involves a person's status as subject, the possibility of providing a sturdy—if awkward and unsophisticated— form of expression for that idea.

The intellectual faculties as such are not in question: their disruption comes from elsewhere, from farther away. Nor are specific material lesions

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