“Clérambault, our only master in psychiatry”; wrote Lacan, and I remind you that he added, “His mental automatism… appears to us… closer to what can be derived from a structural analysis than any other clinical effort in French psychiatry ” […]
[…] Mental automatism is de Clérambault’s version of Occam’s razor; and precisely because it is an instrument, he came to reduce it to the first letter of the word “syndrome”.
The introduction of this S yields an extraordinary simplification in the clinical approach to psychoses. Attacking the old approach, de Clérambault deconstructed the well-established clinical entities like Magnan’s psychosis and wiped the slate clean. French clinical psychiatry had always excelled in the description of the nomenclature of delusional states. This S is not of the same order: de Clérambault proposed it as the initial form of all psychosis (excepting true paranoia and purely interpretative delusions, such as those isolated by Sérieux and Capgras, which are most often mixed with mental automatism). As such, S is athematic and neuter, which is to say that contents and effective coloration come to it later, according to the “depths”— paranoiac, perverse, mythomaniacal, interpretative—on which it is produced or according to whether or not it is associated with a passion. S is autonomous; it does not depend on these passional givens but refracts itself and differentiates itself, thus giving the diverse clinical pictures.
“Delusion is a superstructure” declares de Clérambault, and this “ideation is secondary” The primal S of psychosis imposes itself as an irreducible fact of thought, an absolute fact. […] Also in question […] are the phenomena of enunciation.
What is the “echo of thought” which de Clérambault makes the original positive phenomenon of mental automatism, if not a disturbance between statement and enunciation that emancipates a parasitic source? The subject finds himself continually shadowed by a double that emancipates him, accompanies him, or follows him and cannot say anything. Fading, mute, empty, this double still has the power to suspend the subject in the position of receiver. De Clérambault calls this independent enunciation a “purely psychic phenomenon,” and he names the play on words (signifiers) that it liberates “verbal phenomena”. The terms that I substitute for those of de Clérambault indicate that it is not in some obscure “deviation of influx” that we can found the syndrome of mental automatism but rather in the grasp of intersubjective communication. It follows that the sender of a message becomes its receiver and that the psychotic disturbance consists only in his experiencing himself as such.
The construction is sufficiently Lacanian for us to take the S of de Clérambault and make it the first letter of the word “structure.” The structure bared— […] but it was nevertheless no less decisive in instituting a break between psychology and the order of structure.
In a word, de Clérambault made his automatism into something mechanical, but he did this in order to hold on to its autonomy, leaving to Lacan the discovery of the symbolic order. […] Lacan made the symbolic primal and neutral, instituting it thus as signifying and structural. And when he made it athematic, sustaining the point of view that the symbolic is produced first “in the ordinary form of thought, in an undifferentiated form, and not in a definite sensory form,” he proposed an idea that is debatable from the point of view of observation but has a logical import that cannot be misconstrued. S means nothing, and this is implied in its name “echo”. In question is a purely signifying effect that becomes mad when a delusional deciphering invests it with imaginary meaning.
When the slight separation of the enunciation from itself is amplified until it engenders individualized and thematized voices that appear in the real, when the subject feels himself transpierced by bursts of messages, by a language that speaks of itself, when he feels himself spied on in his inner core and subjected to injunctions or inhibitions whose productions he cannot annex, we then have the great “xenophobia” that Lacan founded in the field of language with his matheme of the Other. Would it be too much to say that the discourse of the Other was already there, in the clinic of psychosis, before Lacan invented it and linked it to the prehistoric Other that Freud found in Fechner? Xenopathic emergences are founded on structure, if structure wants all speech to be formed in the Other. The question is no longer “What is a madman?” but “How can one not be mad?”
Why does the normal subject, who is no less affected by speech, who is no less xenopathic than the psychotic, not become aware of it? The question is more subversive than the identification proposed above. By what inversion do we misconstrue the fact that we are the puppets of a discourse whose syntax preexists all subjective inscription? What is normal is xenopathia. A subject for whom the Other is no longer veiled is certainly not going to be attained through imaginary manipulations.
in Returning to Freud: Clinical Psychoanalysis in the School of Lacan,
Ed. and Trans. Schneiderman S., Yale University Press, 1980. p. 46-49.
Extract by Yves Vanderveken
New Lacanian School
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