What follows is actually a re-post of excerpts (and limited commentary) from the journals of my mother’s first husband, during the approximately one and a half year period following his first psychotic break and ending, as I’ve described before, in commitment and life-long institutionalization.
In re-reading my own, admittedly minor, attempts at thematization and contextualization, I am struck by the often intense difficulties of engaging with a text like this. Sense and madness, that is, are so narrowly juxtaposed, the difference between them virtually always undecidable, and the risks of both over- and under-”reading” seemingly inescapable. These difficulties are just as much present in every attempt I make to “read” myself; explicit in every conversation I have with my mother.
I thus lead with Derrida’s provocation, from his reading of Artaud in The Secret Art:
“It would certainly be disingenuous to close our eyes, either because of some literary feeling or some absentminded politeness, to what Artaud himself describes as a neuropathological persecution. Moreover, that kind of disingenuousness would be insulting. The man is sick. But precisely, how much more naive would it be not to acknowledge this truth: Artaud is telling the truth.”
Psychotic Embodiment: The Case of E
Over the past week I’ve been re-reading through the journals of the only other schizophrenic philosophy PhD student I have any personal knowledge of—E—and, a few days ago, decided to type out some fragments (there are hundreds of pages, all penned in a torturously unclear cursive script) and post them here. I’m not entirely sure why I’m doing so…certainly I honestly can’t imagine that even most phenomenological psychopathologists would find his writings half as poignant and provocative as I do… And yet it just doesn’t seem quite ‘right’ to me to leave his writings on my shelf, inaccessible and unread. Further, they speak to something, to a possible trajectory of schizophrenic experience, that is, I think, often neglected in the literature.
The overwhelming majority of these fragments are taken from his 1970 and 1971 journals. Prior to April of ‘70 it is difficult to detect any trace of even attenuated psychosis (although E’s “schizoptypal” tendencies are very clear). During the period of both these journals he was a full-time PhD student and teaching assistant.
A quick overview: In April of ’70 E has a revelatory experience of what he thenceforth terms “erotic reality” (eventually used interchangeably with ‘love’). He then begins to develop an embodied “practice” of erotic “being-exposed” (detailed below), which eventually leads to, or comes to involve, various forms of telepathy (broadly defined). From the very beginning E’s experiences of being-exposed seem to alternate with periods of social alienation and derealization/depersonalization, and with time it becomes more and more apparent that he sees the former as his only way to overcome the latter and reconnect with social reality.
Erotic Reality and Being-Exposed
[N.B. E typically associates “spirit” with language, logos, breath and thought and “soul” with physical reality, passion, affect, sensuality and sensation.]
3/29/70: “I will never expose myself totally to anyone.” Such a person should be allowed no marriage commitment. Whoever wants reality will settle for nothing rather than a luke-warm phantasy.”
4/5/70 “Naked exposure…. from where does it come? … If I listen to two who show intimacy and recognition in their speech, then if I do not close my eyes and withdraw but assert my being and follow up the necessities I confront—that brings it into existence. Instead of blushing and shy (in an erotic encounter), I stand up to that exposure.”
4/6/70 “With the form of this strength that meets exposure I fill it with erotic appearance. In appearance I hold my own. One touch and the whole world of appearance disappears as a shadow [and] a burning blade of excitement slits the surface of my breast between my breath and my least [?]. I make the infinite withdrawal into spirit and do not know where I am or how to understand myself.”
6/1/70 “A black woman purposefully sits beside me. She speaks to another, her talk is so airy light and naïve, but hidden is her strength and control as forms encompassing this lightness. I grasp the unity of the two…and she restores to me my soul. … I try not to involve myself in thought and let this reality affect my being for a couple of hours. … I am existing in the contradiction between soul and spirit: I believe I can rise up to gentle appearance…provided I remain in the contradiction and don’t leap into spirit…or grab onto a valid solid everyday reality.
Stating this ‘truth’—pulls my being out of where I am and want to be—and into truth and spirit—now not as the vision of ‘spirit’ [described] above as a being who is and acts spirit—but only ‘spirit’ as the question of ‘truth’ [“a being through thought”].
In soul: Do not listen to thoughts or contents (except mechanically as meaning is use!). Listen to emotions and tone of voice, the way he speaks, how he moves, appearance, with the end of seeing where he is in within himself, whether he speaks naturally as origin, or self-consciously as intention. Then the content and syntax of his thought determinations lead into spirit…but to do this I have to [first] be soul. The usual circle. A circle for soul. A circle for spirit.”
6/9/70 “Noon: I am making an effort. To get into soul appears a helpless almost hopeless task. I let myself rise away from that effort. Now I have risen above emotional and soul realities, every time-bound and finite reality. They have all sunk into non-existence…. I think of trying to get back into these realities, of my not being able to. Then I look up (?) and I see I have risen into that spiritual space where I look to when in my soul and surrounded by imagination and on which I project my imagination. From this place I glance back and let enter touches of emotional and erotic feelings, and as I confront them, I squeeze them away from myself (kind of the opposite of gulping down) and through this act I become collected and concentrated in spirit, it pulses into being, or I draw myself pulsingly out into it, pure and clear—ready to think into individuality or to survey finite reality and enter more authentically into it. Writing this, I immediately fall away, or blank out this reality…”
[From this point onward there are literally tens of dozens, possibly hundreds, of descriptions of further attempts at experiencing embodied erotic reality. Over time this “practice” becomes more and more “psychotic” as E comes to believe that he can access others’ thoughts, project images into their minds, and so on. ]
[It is never entirely clear what E means (or doesn’t mean) by “projection”—though he seems to associate it with imagination and vision/envisioning. Early on, beginning in the early summer of 1970, he often uses “projecting” and “imagining” interchangeably, most often in the context of projecting images of women (in his own mind) toward or with whom he can “expose” himself.]
6/12/70 “I can get to the possibility of love as without speech by conceiving love as possible through speech as in Shakespeare—filling myself with this reality while behind it I conceive myself in dialogues between Shakespeare who is urging me on and myself—and then with my whole being saying ‘no’ and opposing this reality, backing away from it into the truth which love itself compels me to utter—that it cannot and for its own sake must not be said. Thus I can find one reality by entering the tendency of projection in me towards its opposite and opposing i.e. I enter what cannot be got through speech and imagination so as to oppose it to what isn’t able to be reached initially through imagination because it is a different existential reality, upon which, when entered, one projects one’s imagination.”
7/9/70 “In each vision of image the important thing is how close or intimate or how far in distance it is projected. This is mutually determined by or through exposure.”
7/21/70 “If I want to create erotic realities in myself, I can do it through external realities by rising to meet what shows itself—or I can recreate it within myself by projecting a vision of head and body—wrapping both in forces and drawing the origin of contents with them. A circular process. And I must first find them in reality.”
8/3/70 “Projection of will as vision of people in relation to wanting something as political activity in the here and now—raised up into action and projected into future—as that concentration which gains space for thought and possibility as directed. [Erotic indirect] I need to establish permanent projection into future detached from particular concrete possibility or necessity.”
8/5/70 “Out of the hating revolt, against having bought math books, I am, without knowing, involved and rising to spirit—the negation of objects in the world as knowledge of any kind. I seem lost. Then out of car and to store entrance. I prepare to meet people by falling back to presences behind me. In store, all objects are meaningless and as if nonexistent. The store is empty, as if only I were there in an empty store with no people. But my mind projects at a distance the image of active goals into the heads of the people I pass (like the awareness of physical objects with pure will), that image concentrated so as to be almost without signs, (but not yet separate from me). So I have risen above and am other than that image, but [remain] in visual, therefore real, contact with it.”
9/25/70 “I try to project images of soul activity into others—while preserving my inner sensitivity. If I unthinkingly let it sink, I lose relation to soul, but retain the strength of spirit needed to project that image into others at a distance. (I think only the distance requires spirit; the projection takes exposure.) Then, if I am not careful, I will lose where I am….”
11/20/70 Another beautiful girl. I project some qualities with touch of love—then I try to increase the independence and the erotic reality in my conception–strength into my body—but I immediately lose what I started to project into her, I feel my strength and lose sight of what gave rise to it, i.e. the projection into her of an independent bodily existence.”
[After this point E very often mentions “projecting others,” “projecting other’s independent existence” and/or “projecting images.” In real life, I’m told, E began to engage in such behaviors as, at symphony concerts, standing up and waving his hands, convinced that, in so doing, he was directly projecting the correct movements into the head of the conductor. What is interesting is the extent to which this relatively extreme form of projection developed out of a much more pedestrian sense of purely subjective imagining. I can’t help but feel that it is simply another instance of the gradual concretization or reification of the between of inter-subjectivity, but I’m not sure…]
Self (social alienation, “derealization” and “depersonalization”)
7/16/64 [E was 20] “For years I have lived in darkness, all my life, escaping from reality through aesthetic pleasure….at exactly 19 and a half I became first interested in philosophy…. I realized the only way I could begin to live a true life was to have my existenz, my individual[ity] absolutely destroyed, crushed under the weight of the complexity. … I want to break my self. But I can’t. … I continuously slip away into the meaningless now of people who don’t see the way. I understand that that man who has truly broken himself is only destroyed for the moment. Then under the light of truth he will rise above those who walk in darkness. … I know I’m lost but I don’t know. I don’t know what to do.”
4/21/70: “Now my imagination roams on the basis of vague yearnings for myself—a mixture of self-want-desire and warmth. Where am I, to rescue myself? … Instead of being strong and real enough to maintain myself in the reality of…the given and encountered…I withdraw and get bound up with urges and desires which I want and which I start to conjure up…so losing myself and reality. I invert the natural relationship which is to imagine for the purpose of doing….”
4/25/70: “I visit the International Fair, music, gaiety, I smile, I can’t let my emotions out, so I rise up, eyes widen, energy comes—but no social erotic grace, I show strength with no “natural” relation to people, I hate this. I want to be free in appearance. I leave. … The social-sphere: the more my being is focused on the erotic and the appearance as the gentleness which smoothes, does not cut, excite…(even children can learn this as I have seen) the more I am at home in it—provided I keep my eye on the world….”
6/27/70: “I must conceive of the world as real only through erotic love—this is its reality.”
10.17/70: “After finding out about comprehensives—I am hopelessly lost in the infinite nothing of imagination. I try to think of something that involves responsibility—thought of the geographical globe as site of responsibility and of this visual space here and now as what is seen and not imagined—Pull back into appearances.”
10/26/70 “I see myself as lost between spirit and soul (the world)—I think back to those who anchor themselves to the world—they hold me responsible for my desertion of the world, that I allow myself to float in nothing—that through my appearance can see that I am not real. I want to be with them, I never sacrifice that reality….”
11/30/70 “Last night loss of self such that I can’t even despair. This morning I am lost in thought. I conceive myself as lost in a pit.” …. In C [place]—thoughts of despair over no self—over and over.”
12/22/70: “Evening: the pitch of excitement in mind without content as I despair about why I’m reading anything. I think I am losing all content—that I must find my way back to content….”
12/29/70 “In morning: I cannot find myself. I imagine many things. Then I think of emotions of love through body as irreplaceable and in conflict with spirit. I find myself here.”
1/18/71 “Inner upheaval but inability to concentrate anything. Why? Because I conceive of no inward or external content—I have nothing with which to work. So I conceive nothing as being within me.”
1/25/71 “If I don’t give space and time and physical bodies real existence then I am lost in imagination and I cannot love with a heart.”
1/26/71 “…now I don’t identify my self with any inner thoughts, imaginings or likes…so a kind of nausea like Sartre when he cries out that all these physical objects have a kind of foreboding imposing presence as if they really are there and must be confronted—there is nothing I can do to get rid of them.”
2/13/71 “Morning: but as what to do. Sunk into heavy meaningless feelings. Instead of despairing at loss of self, I move out of this sunken-sullen state to that vision outside of content in the pain of thought which cannot reach meaning. A form of consciousness in which all feelings and emotions have no mind acceptance—there is no emotional world which the mind accepts and in which it thinks, forms visions, and makes judgments.. This has of late been my only way out of obscurity; before I lost myself in the matter I inhabited; now I have lost the matter in the differentiation possibility (substitute for self) devoid of content.”
3/9/71 “Precisely I through my imagination bring reality into existence. The imagination envisions love as embodied and space as inhabited noble energy. The imagination makes its contents real through the placement of that envisioned content within the body and the self and the bodying forth as external existence.”
3/21/71 “Morning: no self. Out of bath—we have worked ourselves into the belief that we must visualize the world of space and time, and [because] its being is too big to survey from where we are, we take a bird’s eye view—and lose ourselves who are here first and visualize out of here. I can imagine the other side of the world and my immediate space with equal intensity only if my immediate space is only imagined. The vision pulls me back into myself and makes love possible.”
3/23/71 “I am without self. I want to bring it into existence. I visualize it as behind and it comes forward to me……without love or any content relation—just the qualitative-essence-self. It comes only through recognizing visualization by another—by myself I gain no vision of self through which concepts can be developed…”
6/6/71: “Listening to Beethoven’s 4th Concerto, I reconstitute my self being by visualizing my self in the space in which the music is produced, confronting the instruments, following their free expression, drawing them up close into imagination, always looking for the self in relation to tone, volume, movement, space, making this my whole world, that I might through this regain the world I have lost.”
7/18/71: “I wake up in the same condition. An atmospheric contriction in which I refuse trust in any movement. Myself absent, I passively am affected. I get [the] thought: I hate everything physical—this puts the atmospheric condition into the self and makes me close to appearance. But I forget and fall back to the atmosphere. This is like despair in that it is my own lack of self-activity which permits it to continue. Horrible afternoon in spiritish whiteness with complete lack of love and feeling for the world, what used to be my natural state.”
7/28/71: “I wake up in a tightness without any inner contents, a kind of presence where all is factual and I don’t know anything else.”
8/8/71 “Woke up with dead-to-the-world thinking intellect distrustful of the world, not knowing what to expect—without any independent origin or physiognomic whole, no inner vision of self in appearance. No past or future in which I live—I am here as this fact of body, all else is out there toward which I have no emotional relation.”
8/16/71 “Morning: inner abortion with distance from any love or openness after [a] dream in which I sank past a self-understanding into identity with fluids which control and dissipate me…a kind of pool of fluif feeling without connection with anything into which I am sucked. The same loss of any form and self-being as with those fluid emotions of hate or love in which I cannot act…”
Social Embodiment/Relations with Real Others
[Beginning on in Mid-April of 1970, E begins to devote more and more journal entries to descriptions of anonymous strangers (men and women) whom he observes—sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for hours (often in the library, on the bus, in class, on park benches). During this time he becomes particularly fascinated with “black people,” reads Malcolm X and Angela Davis, and eventually (late ’71) decides his mission in life is to aid in the “liberation” of oppressed black women. Although from early 1970 onward E seems to have no graduate student/philosopher friends, he manages to befriend a number of young black men and women and seems to very regularly engage in activities with them—playing cards, sharing meals, taking trips and so on. If anything, then, he becomes more socially involved as his psychosis progresses.]
6/4/70: “Noon: a back girl with a certainty of possessing love in her glancing eyes and the movements of head and arms. She sends to me inward love contents such as only myself had I seen them in before. I return everything but without consciousness of self or freedom. Afternoon: plain looking girl in library shows her wonderful vision of what it is to be serious about the self in appearance, love shapes her eyes, tears at the surface. Break: German girl gives me a wonderful penetrating glance of love, then steps to the side.
11/20/70 “Back at library: Girl with capricious coolness—I draw the inward distance toward will in opposition to her. Pain of mind infuses my head—it can only be relieved by giving independent existence. I have a very weak relation to body…
“Beautiful white girl. Desire to give spatial independence. Desire to love into presence. Sense of possibility gives rise to possibility of independence. Now I have an emotional possibility for external world. But I am floating above this emotion—losing sight and corresponding strength of origin…”
1/26/71 Lunch… Waiting with inner orientation. After black women allow me to subtly develop my openness to love by projecting feelings and at the same time glimpsing their source and concentrating my being through it—out to her independent being, establishing my own. A touch of this independent existence brings clarity into my eyes—focus.
[From this point on E begins summer work (tutoring at risk youth) at Upward Bound.]
6/18/71 “C age 6. C sees my love for his gentle being moving toward spirit. Then, having felt the touch of self, he tries to hide and seek to follow through the emotions and thought movements of his being to see if I will follow. In a corner, suddenly he reveals the strength contents of his brother with these slight contortions. He watches me and feels himself.”
6/24/71 “D pours into me that power now with an ethical elevation and fine control, a great help for beginning the day.”
… Late evening: C, V, D and I play whist. The most wonderful exchange of emotional understanding takes places, the realities that lead to love. They speak with the length of conscious passion. Then a great vision of cool trust elevated to spirit appears above us.”
6/27/71 “Baby looks at my eyes, waits for effect, blinks, turns away, waits for emotional opening and looks back with eagerness. When by herself she is always ready to lose contact with mental wholeness. Whole handline, hugs, and full body holding brings the full emotional stability, keeps equilibrium and is the complement of spontaneity. The love in her eyes reflects into depth, gives warmth, reaches the stomach and brings that body power into pulsing warmth forces of fullness. Here love guides the power…”
7/25/71 “Black woman at lunch with the same intellectual claims on her emotions as the woman of a week ago. I start to try to enter her being through love and almost get caught by her clamping superior to ‘just any love’ attitude. But I back away, do not make any visions of the self for projection—then comes an image of her self identity with intellect as superior to weak emotions, I see her there in an intellectual ring looking over all her emotions and feeling actions, I watch her from the outside, ready to move toward her self within that vision. She sees me settle on her being. Then I leave.”
8/7/71 “Friendly’s: two young college girls. The first gets touch of passionate dislike in her lips below which I look, forming the smallness of self which supports passion out of her possibility detached from total physiognomic being. Her friend shows nothing. Then she brings consciousness of breasts and body as exposed nakedness. Self moves into the masses of her face, I follow. Out of her sunken being she laughs into sentiment and gleaming eyes—“
8/9/71 “Tutoring A, at first my mind is tight and filled with the tension of no visions. She is close to [the] same state. I listen close as I can to where she is. Suddenly, or rather subtly, an inner transition out of possibility into actual body presence and substance perceptible as before me, but without the flexibility of projection or the sustained world of vital activity….”
8/16/71 “Tutoring A. Despair fills my head… My sensitivity is divorced from my body and I don’t want to have to do any action. I visualize the inwardness toward spirit as the possibility of intensification of the tangible sensible realities of love and reach for them. That helps. Then I touch my eyes and feel impulses in body as possibility of self being there. That helps. … A feels her way to my despair and sensitivity. A gentle love in movement comes from her—the kind of trust encircled by thought….”
Reification of Mental Qualities as Colors
[Over time E begins to fixate more on more on specific colors—black, purple, and yellow (or yellow-white). It is not clear exactly how E understands these colors (e.g. as metaphors?) but, at least in places, his descriptions of them seem to suggest some kind of visual or physical reification of abstract properties. I include only a few examples (but references to these colors become more and more frequent toward the end of 1970).]
9/16/70 “Home—late in the evening, in this balance I in the midst of my body feel the rising of purple colored love—rich and wanting…”
9/27/70 “I began as conceiving the blackness at the back of myself as I saw in a black man last May…. dark blackness at my back as background for erotic confrontation. I project it behind and away from me—at the level of and connected with my vital nerve core—this is brought in connection with nakedness—for exposure of self as known. My thinking has a tendency to carry its image of blackness to the place where it most easily projects its thoughts—to dissolve resolve that image into color and space and then dissolve it.”
10/2/70 “Yellow-white impulses move through my body as I concentrate my body in will and spirit—like the purple impulses but from spirit-source.”
11/22/70: “The tenderness and meaning of a woman’s breasts awakes through conscience the hurt of purple-colored love in [the] stomach…. Same as the purple-colored pain in the soul when love fills [it].”
Geometrization, Spatialization and Objectivization of Mental Phenomena
[Again, I am including just a couple of more pointed examples of E’s geometrization, spatialization and objectivization of physical and mental phenomena.]
4/13 “I am in the nothingness above appearance as emptiness, this gives me the scope to go into spirit, if I absorb myself into the content I visualize as spirit—or to retain a slight degree of strength by being unaware of my subjectiv[ity] (behind myself, as opposed to spirit being in front; if I absorb myself in spirit it transposes itself from in front to the spatiality before me and finally to being behind with the strength of thought occupying the mid position).”
7/19/70 “Back at dorm in bed: I have directed [a] vision of what is before me in appearance. I see only inside the room. I bring back the vision [of a dark woman, described previously]… in vision I push one side of her away by wrapping a band of strength (at this angle \) before her, across her breast and between us so that this portion of her retreats into the distance while taking on physical form and substance—as she retreats she becomes smaller and grows concentrated and collected… I feel the strength as with Shakespeare come into my body. I create another band of strength (so /) across her left breast and go through the same events. (In form this is exactly identical to the closing of imagination space.) Then finally the band (so : I) which drives her back completely—this touches great forces within me as she displays her body at that distance…. [N]ow many things possible.”