Silence and Psychosis

Stijn Vanheule’s book “The Subject of Psychosis” is a good one. However, I feel that he attempts too quickly to construct a model for psychosis, and a lot of generalizations are made – despite Lacan’s insistence, which is repetitively referenced in Vanheule’s book, that one should not be tempted to presume that a psychotic structure is so easy to understand. Recall that Lacan also claimed that obsessionality can often appear as psychosis, and that, moreover, one should let the analysis play out through the speaker without attempting at every corner to prematurely ‘understand’ (by, for example, linking the speaker to a structure).

One such example of the problem concerns Vanheule’s insistence throughout the book that the psychotic’s metonymic chain confronts a nonsensical emptiness that can not be integrated, and that this can be discerned in the analysand’s inability to speak. The problem is that this inability to speak, this dead end, or this ostensible hole, could in fact also be understood as the nothing-object offered or upheld in response to the big Other’s demand to speak.

Put another way, silence is not always psychosis. Very often it is a response to a demand. To offer a practical example, we see this in people with eating disorders. Against the demand to eat, the individual eats nothing. Why wouldn’t they also say nothing when they discern a demand to continue to speak?

I ran into this problem during my own psychoanalysis. I desired very much to be a psychoanalyst and I was tired of going through my narrative over and over again. So, one day, I thought: I will offer nothing, which will put an end to the demand to speak so that I may move forward as the individual I want-to-be. This is not necessarily a psychosis, although, it could very well also seem that way. It is important to recognize and locate the register of the demand before first presuming an underlying psychotic structure.

Do not forget that many psychoanalysts use silence to thwart the silence of their patients. In this case, the analyst knows very well that silence has an effect/affect, and that perverse affect/effect is anxiety.


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