Chaos Is the Natural State of Your Mind, Research Time, 20/02/2018

Researching Utopias, it's a book of ethics as well as politics and political theory. As it should be. Any political inquiry mixes questions of ethics and morality – Who are we? and What do we owe each other? respectively.

Any comprehensive book of ethics will need a conception of the subject underneath, an ontological one. If I’m going to explore questions of character, I’ll need to know what the limits and potentials of the human character are. Or at least, I’ll need a solid, dependable picture of those limits and potentials that will – at minimum – be a decent set of premises someone can consider for the sake of the wider argument.

This post comes from some notes I took on an old essay by Félix
Guattari called "Schizo Chaosmosis."
So where did I develop my general conception of the subject, of selfhood? Well, in my case, I’m picking up what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari threw down.* It’s a fairly complex concept, but holding it doesn’t prevent me from engaging with anything else in philosophy or broader human science.

* Not wholesale, but with a suitable grounding in the basics of medical, neurological, and psychological science, as well as some input from Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological thinking. But those converge more closely than you might think from stereotypes about the field.

If anything, it gives me a better grounding than researchers in the humanities whose knowledge is more discipline-bound. Guattari has a reputation among the more closed-minded majority of North American scholars as a freak opposed to real scientific inquiry.

But that’s a ridiculous stereotype – Guattari wrote like a freak, but he was a dedicated medical scientist.** He was a psychiatrist who worked with near-permanent in-patient schizophrenics. Severe schizophrenics.

** See, Merleau-Ponty researched The Phenomenology of Perception with detailed help from cutting-edge neuroscience research in the major research hospitals of Paris. He built his materialist phenomenology from some of the most influential studies of brain injury in the 20th century.

What did Guattari learn about the nature of human subjectivity from working with schizophrenics? He understood the chaos that’s always roiling inside each of our supposedly rational minds.

Learning the scientific knowledge and skill of so many thinkers
who too many mainstream North American philosophy departments
consider anti-scientific helped me realize something in my own
writing. I can be as experimental as I want in my own philosophical
work, and how I express myself. But not all the time. And carefully.
This isn't a matter of Freudian sub-conscious. The Freudian model of the mind is inherently rational – the talking cure is cure by understanding the origins. As soon as you figure out the root cause of your neuroses – the driving principle of your personal narrative – you’re cured.

Add to that, the whole point of Anti-Œdipus. Freud and the Freudians mistook the images that arose from Sigmund’s contingent practices – these patients from this city at this time in history – for universal organizing principles of human consciousness.

At La Borde, Guattari saw something much more obviously visceral, animal, dangerous, and fascinating than symbols and arguments. Schizophrenia – especially in the midst of a serious, intense breakdown – is the removal of all restraint on thought. It’s the closest humanity can get to pure chaos.

Guattari worked this out from studying his patients’ actions – how they thought and lived. Contemporary neuroscience has uncovered an appropriately literal cause of the condition – schizophrenics have a severe shortage of the neurotransmitter that inhibits our thoughts.

He saw the raw, unfettered force of the human personality. It was the liberation of a person from every constraint they had – everything they learned through enculturation and education was inconsequential. The schizophrenic was totally free.

Guattari also saw that the schizophrenic was a total basket case, unable to function in the world at all. His therapy – aside from stabilizing drugs – was accustoming them to social life through routine involvement in the operations of the clinic. Doing laundry, cleaning up, playing games, helping make meals.

Literally re-socializing them. That’s why it’s always a mistake to read Deleuze and Guattari as saying that to deterritorialize is freedom itself. Being totally deterritorialized is to become chaos – pure high-energy entropy with no limits. That’s no life. It’s an explosion.***

*** The cutting-edge neuroscience research at the heart of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy couldn’t have happened without so many patients with so many different brain injuries. France had plenty – war veterans who had shrapnel slicing up different parts of their brains. No need for a dubious ethics board application to study serious brain injuries – the Second World War gave them all the patients needed and then some.

Guattari's was an ethical and political medical practice. He treated schizophrenia by re-socializing people – rebuilding their characters as better versions of themselves. Versions less likely to fly apart again.

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