Interstices of the Sublime – Chapter 2 – We Are All Mad


Varieties of Schizophrenic Language: The Case of Schreber

In this chapter, Crockett endeavors to analyze the relationship between schizophrenia and language, which he believes is ultimately a theological question. He begins analyzing Freud’s famous case of Daniel Schreber. He was a successful judge who developed delusions that his doctor was persecuting him. Eventually, his sickness led him to think of himself as a woman, and he came to understand these persecutions as coming from God himself. The relationship he had to God was ambivalent as God is both tormenting him but not omnipotent. Crockett criticizes Freud for reducing this complex case into the usual Oedipal interpretation in which God can be traced back to Schreber’s father. Lacan understood psychosis as being the foreclosure of the Name-of-the-Father, which is a signifier of the Law and the Symbolic order. The psychotic refuses to situate himself in language and hence the social order in such a way as to be able to relate to the Symbolic order. By offering a re-reading of the case, Crockett concludes that “[s]chizophrenia has to do with not learning a language in a creative way, but schizophrenia is also marked by its own phantasmagoric language” (39).

Varieties of Schizophrenic Language: Black-Head Boy

Freud offered an interpretation of the adolescent male who pops his black-heads. According to Freud, the pressing out of the black-head is a substitute for masturbation, and the black hole should be thought of as a vagina. Crockett appreciates that Freud does not literally equate the two: vagina and black hole. Following Freud Crockett wants us recognize that schizophrenia is a difficulty dissociating the relationship between words and things. Freud once made an interesting observation that schizophrenics often abstract the concrete. But aren’t philosophers guilty of doing the exact reverse, namely, concertizing the abstract? Kristeva defined psychosis as “the crisis of truth in language” (41). One of Kristeva’s project is to re-conceive of a new understanding of language beyond that is both neurotic and psychot, one she claims is a revolutionary poetic discourse that co-constitutes both truth and reality. This language would be a “constructive or productive way to avoid disavowing the complexities of experience, life, and subjectivity” (42).

Varieties of Schizophrenic Language: The Other Julie

In R. D. Laing’s the Divide Self, he recounts the case of a young psychotic named Julie. Through therapy, Laing concludes that Julie internalized her mother’s severe criticism and torture, which ultimately led her to flee into the abyss of psychosis. In general, Laing believes schizophrenics do not properly individuate from their mother, and thus he blames the mother for the child’s disorder. Laing understood Julie as living “a death-in-life experience in a state approaching chaotic non-entity” (43). While Laing wrote that Julie occasionally had momentary insights into the difficulties of her situation, Crockett argues that perhaps our moments of clarity are the exact opposite: recognition of just how much our world and self remains foreign to us. Julie confessed to Laing “[s]he was born under a black sun. She’s the occidental sun”. Although Laing understood this to be Julie’s attempt to articulate the oppression of her mother, what if she is offering a prophetic voice to the political situation of her times in the mid-twentieth century in England?

Black Sun of Theology

Crockett begins this section with brief remarks about Deleuze and Guatarri’s Anti-Oedipus and the relationship between language, desire, and schizophrenia. In that work, Deleuze and Guatarri’s schizoanalysis concerns itself with a “creation of language that is theological in essence” (46). They understand language to be schizophrenic because it implies an ambiguous split between the word and thing. He goes on to argue that theology is best defined by its rigorous investigation of language and signification, not merely content. The black sun of schizophrenia poses a challenge to theological language in general. Crockett then borrows Freudian terminology to discuss the manifest and latent content of theology. While most theologians remain fixated on the manifest content of theology (God, Christ, salvation), Crockett challenges us to attend to the latent content of theology, namely the difficult epistemological and linguistic questions that psychoanalysis raises to any mode of discourse. I’ll end with this quote, “The black sun of theology institutes a destabilizing catachresis [metaphorization] that affects and infects all of our concepts, setting up a disorienting oscillation – between proper and figural, word and thing, latent and manifest, finite and infinite, etc. – that can best be described schizophrenic” (50).


8 Responses to “Interstices of the Sublime – Chapter 2 – We Are All Mad”

  1. dbarber Says:

    Just wanted to say that i really appreciate your doing this series, it’s good to get this book and this sort of theology some attention. And also to second the claim about the importance of latent content of theology, which is so often missed — or, when emergent, is rejected in virtue of its inconsistency with the manifest content.

  2. Jeremy Says:

    His emphasis on formal theology is something I found really interesting as well. I think Crockett would agree that so often theologians are obsessed with drawing hard and fast lines between orthodoxy vs non-orthodoxy. I think the epistemological questions he raises in this work are seriously unsettling for anyone wanting to continue promote orthodoxy without first grappling with the many questions he raises here.

  3. Stephen Keating Says:

    Jeremy – I’m working through this book with some friends and these summaries are very helpful! Quick question: having only properly studied theology and tangentially enountering psychoanalysis in my studies, I’m having a little trouble with some of the terms. Any suggestions on an introductory book and/or blog series that introduces psychoanalysis?

  4. Jeremy Says:

    What kind of psychoanalysis are you interested in?

    Freud’s Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis is a safe bet. If you’re interested in learning about Lacan I’d suggest Fink’s the Lacanian Subject or you might consider Evans’s An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis.

    Check out Mitchell’s Freud and Beyond for a broader introduction to the different psychoanalytic schools.

  5. Stephen Keating Says:

    Thanks, those suggestions look helpful. Our group has been struggling to make sense of it all, so I’m going to try to run through that Lacan intro. I hope we can get some blogging going on Crockett soon.

  6. Jeremy Says:

    Where are you guys getting stuck? Winquist’s Ephiphanies of Darkness is a good background book that combines deconstruction, psychoanalysis, and radical theology. Let me know if I can help out.

  7. Clayton Crockett Says:

    Hi Stephen,

    Jeremy told me you’re reading my book–thanks! I’d be happy to answer any specific questions you have, although you’re right, there’s a lot of difficult technical terms, especially with Lacan. Bruce Fink is probably the best person to read to get a handle on Lacan, he’s very clear and precise. Another good book is Joel Dor, The Unconscious Structured Like a Language, which is a nice intro. These are for Lacan in general, though, not in terms of theological engagement, of where there has not been a great deal, and most of that is by way of Zizek. You could take a look at Adam Kotsko’s book on Zizek and Theology that came out with Continuum a couple years ago, and Kotsko also briefly discusses my book.

  8. Stephen Keating Says:

    Thanks to both of you for the book suggestions. Fink is proving helpful. I do have a couple of questions. Would email correspondence be better? I’m stephen.keating at gmail dot com

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