Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Philosophy of Madness

Today's post is by Wouter Kusters, a philosopher, linguist and independent writer, teacher and consultant living in the Netherlands. In 2014 his comprehensive and transgressive book Philosophy of Madness was published in the Netherlands, and later this month the English translation will appear at MIT Press. Here you find an excerpt from the Preface to the English Edition (there is also a video presentation you can watch).

Wouter Kusters

Madness as I discuss it in this book is the imperfect translation of the Dutch waanzin, with which I focus on the range of experiences of all those who are deemed in medical jargon to be psychotic, as I myself was twice.

Its first thematic line is a philosophical examination of the experience of being psychotic. I examine what happens in the various phases of the psychotic experience. What happens to the experience of time and space? What happens to reality? How are other persons perceived, and what happens to thought? It was this highlighting, analyzing, expressing, and evoking of the experience of psychosis which made this book to such a success in the Netherlands.

I was asked to give lectures, presentations, and courses to inform and teach psychiatrists, psychologists, and all kinds of other professionals and non-professionals who work and live with psychotic people. But didn’t they already know what the experience of psychosis is like? Apparently not. 

In mental health education today, so much of the psychotic experience is hidden behind supposedly objective labels and descriptions, behind risk management, fear, and theoretical and distanced semi-professional attitudes. Consequently, the voices of the psychotic, with their full meanings, intentions, desires, and intensities, are seldom heard.

The book also touched a nerve among other kinds of readers, namely all those who at one time or another have been labeled psychotic, schizophrenic, bi-polar, or by any number of related terms. So many have gone through the same depths and heights, the same dark confusions and bright insights, but have never had the chance to allow madness to re-enter their consciousness, to be put into words, either for others or for themselves. 

In a way this is also a dangerous book, since it concerns the possible maddening effect of certain words and thoughts. I demonstrate that a certain kind of consistent philosophizing may very well result in aporias, paradoxes, unworldy insights, and circular frozenness that is reminiscent of madness. This fed another kind of reader who was primarily interested in the book for its perspective on philosophy as a dangerous, possibly maddening, activity in which the stakes are, and should be, set high.

These thematic lines blend together and can be depicted as a circle, as the proverbial snake that eats its own tail, or as a so-called Möbius strip. This paradoxical image forms the basic structure of the book and runs in coded and mirrored forms throughout the book. The empty center of the circle refers to the voice and subjectivity of the author of the text, but also to the empty mind of the reader, and to the quasi-mystical, ineffable content of the concept of madness. 

This circular, paradoxical form is the signpost in the field where madness and philosophy intertwine, contrast, and converge in the text. Without any stable stronghold in an “objective point of view” or in a “neutral language or framework,” I present this field with all its intrinsic mysteries, paradoxes, and strange obstacles of down-to-earth spirituality.

1 comment:

  1. such a great presentation you gave today! Thank you!. I look forward to reading the book in its entirety!


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