Hurly-Burly – Commentary of Selected Papers (V)

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“In this respect, I would like to iterate just what an instrument
of public service the journal of the New Lacanian School is”

Éric Laurent

Guy Briole on Kraepelin – The Fragility of a Colossal Oeuvre

The era of the Other that does not exist and the rise of the ordinary psychoses has marked for us a clinical and epistemological threshold.  It is this perspective that underlies the interest of the collection of texts to be found in the latest issue of Hurly-Burly under the title of ‘The Malicious Other”- an Other, we could say, that has managed to evade or to shake off its bar.  For it now becomes possible to read what we could call the era of the Other as the product of a grand and systematic, even if somewhat outdated, delusion.

In the first of these papers taken from a 2008-9 lecture series at the ECF, Guy Briole demonstrates the interest of returning to the work of Emile Kraepelin, the founding father of classical psychiatry whose name is associated above all with the clinical concept of Dementia Praecox.  This association has perhaps served somewhat to mask Kraepelin’s influence in isolating and formalising the clinical concept of paranoia.
Briole’s reading of Kraepelin’s work is stimulating and instructive on many counts. The title of his paper – The Fragility of a Colossal Oeuvre – refers to the articulation he traces between Kraepelin’s life and work, based on a reading of Kraepelin’s autobiography, only released in 1976 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of his death.  Picking up on indications of Kraepelin’s own structure, Briole helps us to locate the subjective stake in constructing an ever more elaborate psychiatric taxonomy in an attempt to complete what he encountered as lacking in his initial entry into this field.
The various editions of Kraepelin’s Textbook on Psychiatry came to dominate the field of psychiatry much as the DSM does today.  Briole demonstrates the interest of following out the changing formulations and classifications of mental illness in the successive editions.  Perhaps even more intriguing, as Briole’s careful reading brings out, is the articulation between evolution and classification internal to the clinical concept of Dementia Praecox itself.
Following the successive editions, Briole shows how evolutionary criteria came to the fore in Kraepelin’s work, hence modifying the conceptual organisation of the diagnostic signs that made up the clinical picture of the illness.  It is now the question of the evolution of the illness, its conditions of onset and above all of outcome, that become the distinguishing characteristic.  Here Briole demonstrates clearly the ‘entirely original place’ assigned to paranoia in this conception, precisely as a kind of exception to the degenerative conception of schizophrenia.
Kraepelin’s extraction of the concept of paranoia from the field of the schizophrenias constitutes one of the fundamental roots of the construction of the Other at the heart of the classificatory endeavour of modern psychiatry.  It is here that we find his classical formulation of the concept of paranoia, foregrounding the purely psychogenetic origin of the illness around an initial delusional interpretation.  It is this definition of paranoia that Lacan will take as his point of reference at the beginning of his Seminar III on the psychoses.
Need I say anything more to indicate something of the interest of this text?  I urge you to follow Briole’s meticulous and informed tracing out of some of the questions at stake around this point.  I recommend above all the engaging discussion at the end of the paper by Jacques-Alain Miller and other members of the ECF that provides the link with the other texts brought together in careful translation under the title of The Malicious Other in yet another vital issue of Hurly-Burly.
Roger Litten
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