Madness and Democracy: The Modern Psychiatric Universe

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

CHAPTER VI
Reducing Insanity: The Mirror of Alterity

WE HAVE MOVED from viewing the subject as abolished to making the subject responsible for his or her alienation: this sums up the break in the implicit overall understanding of madness that its causal decentering induced. Thus the manifestations of madness could be reinscribed within the space of what makes human sense; its signs and forms could be recuperated and incorporated within the general sphere of the comprehensible. This is the other aspect of the reconquest allowed by the interpretive recourse to the passions, which are now viewed as symptoms. Indeed, as long as the intervention of obliterating causes is postulated (and these causes may be physical or moral, but they are presumed in all cases to cancel out “presence of mind”), the world of madness can be defined in terms of a cleavage, a separation from the common order of the inner world, a passage outside the borders of what characterizes the human, an exit from the regular forms of humanity. In short, the insane are viewed as having entered a realm whose logical pinnacle and revealing index par excellence can only be an extreme projection onto the other-than-self and the otherthan-man: “rage or fury,” according to Hobbes (though he did not originate the expression). Whereas as soon as practitioners begin to think that the subject in person, as it were, however subverted he may be in his organization and his capacities, still remains active and alive at the heart of the feelings, thoughts, and acts through which he escapes himself, the interpretive perspective shifts. Are the marks of the subject's loss of selfpossession instances of pure disorder, simple indexes of an indefinitely convertible and rigorously repetitive absence, or are they still expressions—unmasterable expressions, to be sure, but not at all unintelligible in themselves, and not at all impossible for an observer to identify with an author—of the divided human being that the observer still senses as “himself” beneath whatever alienates him?

To the extent that practitioners begin to recognize the persistence of a personal center of gravity, an authentic reduction of insanity becomes conceivable in relation to and starting from that center. Not only is the subjective dimension uneffaced, not only does the insane person remain somewhere present to his own illness, but the very thing that leads him

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