Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tapping Philosophy: Madness

Tapping Topic: Madness

First some very important quotes:

Again, how could it be denied that these hands or this whole body are mine? Unless perhaps I were to liken myself to madmen, whose brains are so damaged by the persistent vapors of melancholia that they firmly maintain they are kings when they are paupers, or say that they are dressed in purple when they are naked, or that their heads are made of earthenware, or that they are pumpkins or made of glass. But such people are insane, and I would be thought equally mad if I took anything from them as a model for myself.

-Descartes, First Meditation: What can be called into doubt

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market-place, and cried incessantly: "I am looking for God! I am looking for God!"
As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. Have you lost him, then? said one. Did he lose his way like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus they shouted and laughed. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances.

"Where has God gone?" he cried. "I shall tell you. We have killed him - you and I. We are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God's decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us - for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto."

-Nietzsche, The Gay Science

“Madness, you are no longer the object of ambiguous praise with which the sage decorated the impregnable burrow of his fear; and if after all he finds himself tolerably at home there, it is only because the supreme agent forever at work digging its tunnels is none other than reason, the very Logos that he serves.”

-Jacques Lacan, The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason since Freud.

“The path taken by Cartesian doubt seems to indicate that by the seventeenth century the danger has been excluded and that madness is no longer a peril lurking in the domain where the thinking subject holds rights over truth: and for classical thought, that domain is the domain of reason itself. Madness has been banished. While man can still go mad, thought, as the sovereign exercise carried out by a subject, can no longer be devoid of reason.”

-Michel Foucault, History of Madness (In the classical age)

I’ve had a dearth of quotes lately, so I figured would opt for a surplus with this topic. What does it mean to be mad? For Descartes madness is problem that is rooted in the physical reality of black bile in the brain that prevents a person from thinking, at least in his terms of what it means to think. For Nietzsche madness seems to be a positive, as the person that everyone is referring to as mad is the only one who is actually telling the “truth.” Lacan sees madness springing out of the very configurations of reason itself. Foucault’s transhistorical analysis is not necessarily interested in the object of madness itself, but rather in the manifestations of power-knowledge institutions that surround a specific discourse which refers to madness, and the type of subjects that these institutions are producing.

We can take lots of directions with this topic. We can question the possibility of an ahistorical conception of madness. Might such a concept have heuristic value in understanding madness, or should we follow Foucault’s linking of madness to a historicity? How is madness related to rationality? Does madness stand outside of the limits of reason or are they engaged in a complex dialectical exchange? Where does madness stand in terms of the subject object relationship of consciousness, or can madness even be iterated in these terms? Does madness have a language? Can madness reveal truth, and if it can, is it possibly to evaluate the truth of madness against the truth of rationality? Importantly, is madness an actual phenomenon of consciousness, a label that has been used to group together certain decision making political subjects, or both? What manifestations of madness are of concern for the psychiatrist and the psychologist, and what manifestations of madness are of concern for the philosopher, or critical theorist? Indeed, it seems as though there are different objects of study, which would fall under the same label of madness, but is there a common interpretive thread in these objects of study, or do they all relate do differing configurations of madness?

I look forward to discussion

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