On Jan 19, 2006, at 8:07 PM, Marisa Olson wrote:
> I have long been appalled by the way that theorists supposedly steeped
> psychoanalytic readings could misdefine schizophrenia and then
> consistently glamorize this very serious, very misdefined condition as
> some sexy alternative to 'reality.' There is a long list of scholars
> who've become quite famous in the course of building and upholding this
> Now I'm all for creativity, metaphor, and wordplay, but I feel that
> any of
> us with a ligitimate interest in these discourses or in contributing to
> any kind of meaningful conversation have a personal responsibility not
> entrench this kind of grossly irresponsible scholarship.
Good thing Rhizome doesn't try to have an official stance on psychiatry
I'm not familiar with D&G's writings on psychiatry, but it's quite
possible to be critical of mainline psychiatry without necessarily
glamorizing the condition of schizophrenia. A lot of the good
"anti-psychiatry" theory moves to put such conditions out of the
individual context, and into the social context, which was part of
psychiatry's brief in the beginning but has been slowly leached out of
the practice as it became more closely lashed to modern technocratic
I agree with much of what Eric wrote here:
> In Mircea Eliade's research, the role of the schizophrenic is enabled
> by some tribes and excluded by others. In complex social networks,
> which we are a part of, the schizophrenic is excluded and sent to the
> As well capitalism has no room, or need for the schizophrenic. They
> don't contribute to the nations wealth in an open market system.
> Witness the homeless today and the Bedlams of the past. Providing a
> social space doesn't cure the chemical imbalances, but it can give
> them a nurturing environment and a sense of belonging.
> It isn't a cure, but it does provide needed dignity.
Though I'd go a little further and say that ultimately it may not be
correct to describe schizophrenia as a condition requiring a "cure" ...
You could also remove the normative aspect from psychiatry altogether
and simply that schizophrenia is a condition, a statistical outlier,
but not necessarily more or less healthy, just different.
I don't want to trivialize or glamorize the problems faced by those
with mental illnesses. In fact, my dad works in the industry, so I grew
up with all sorts of terrible stories about mental illnesses.
But if you're not normal, and that makes it difficult to live in
society, who's to blame for that, exactly? Homosexuality was only
removed from the DSM within the last 50 years. If you grew up gay in a
Christian fundamentalist household in a homophobic small town, and
revealing your desires to anybody might get you condemned or beaten or
killed, and then you grow up with serious intimacy issues, whose fault
Or, to take a much more harrowing example from the cutting edge of
psychiatric pathology: Some psychiatrists are beginning to look into
what is currently called Body Integrity Identity Disorder, which is the
overwhelming desire of a person to voluntarily amputate a very specific
part of their body. These patients (who are almost always men) feel
that a certain part of their body (almost always below the waist)
simply doesn't belong to them, and that they would be more whole
without it. Like pre-op transsexuals, they often dress the part, for
example by tying their leg back and wearing loose fitting pants that
are clipped up where the missing part would be.
And, although research on this is extremely preliminary, at this point
it would appear that the only known treatment is actually amputation.
Some of these patients are able to pursue this in a proper medical
setting, but as you might imagine some are forced to do it themselves,
using whatever tools you might imagine a person might use if they were
forced to self-amputate without the benefit of a medical staff, an
operating theatre, or anesthesia.
The New York Underground had a pretty amazing documentary on the
subject (I think two years ago), and a few of the interviewees were
people who had taken this step. They all looked astoundingly happy.
Their condition was cured. They were just without one leg or foot or
Now, this is pretty horrifying stuff, and it's clearly not normal in
the statistical sense, but why is it unhealthy? We know, for example,
that plenty of people who lose their limbs in accidents are capable of
living rich, fulfilling lives. So why can't the same be true for
somebody who loses his limb on purpose? And what should society's
response be to this? Should we make it easier for people to get, to
twist a Christian fundamentalist phrase, "amputation-on-demand"? Or
should we force them to pursue years of experimental treatments--shock
therapies, medication, aversion therapy, etc., etc.--in lieu of just
getting an amputation, which is on its own a very established, safe
Anyway, back to schizophrenia ... It's quite possible that the world is
going to become increasingly hostile to its schizophrenics, largely as
a result of the spread of global capitalism. Cities are worse for
schizophrenics than the countryside, so a future in which more than
half the world's population is urban doesn't bode well for them. The
complex web of invisible power relations--whether technical, financial,
social, or legal--required to get along in the 21st century probably
don't do any good for the schizophrenic's propensity for paranoia.
Maybe the trade-offs are worth it, maybe they're not. I personally
can't claim to be pure in this respect, anyway: I live in a big city
and I work with the internet and I even find the Economist to be
interesting reading. But maybe it's a shame that we're implicitly
deciding that from now on, society has no place for the schizophrenic.
And maybe it's a copout to say that it's because of biology that they
don't fit in, when it's just as much because of culture.
Or maybe the decision isn't so final. Maybe the fragmentation of
culture that comes with the spread of information technology actually
works against the idea of reality as consensus--and thus in favor of
the schizophrenic. Any world that has a place for furries and centaur
porn and Everquest economies and transgenderism and people who dress up
like Uruk-Hai on the weekends might actually have a place for
schizophrenics, right? Who's to say.
Director of TechnologyRhizome.org
+ + +