Madness and the Symbolic Order?

I disagree with Žižek on the radical distinctness of human subjectivity. I think sapience is an elaborated capacity of sentience, which is itself a capacity emerging from organic dispositionality viz. the capacity for sensation. All wholly natural, ecologically evolved and material-energetic. Yeah for me, boo for the beard.
However, where I board the Slavoj-train (metaphorically speaking) is the way he talks about “the madness of the passage to the Symbolic itself, of imposing a symbolic order onto the chaos of the Real.” Human phantasy (imagination, subjectivity, etc) is generated via the delimiting neuronal specification of language. Dramatic, I know – but said another way, self-consciousness is the direct result the embodied brain’s ability to reference itself through symbolization (tokens). Mirror-neurons, pattern recognizers, blah blah blah. We create synthetic caricatures of experienced realities using symbolic tokens and language to manifest images and narratives about the Real. Thus, we enact a massive, near universally delusion epistemic cognitive detachment from the world with various and mixed results for survival and adaptation. Sometimes we use this detachment to contemplate and imagine and innovate, in other cases we project our fears and nightmares via a multitude of violent acts and collective insanities. At times symbolically achieved sapience has served individuals and collectives well, at other times it drives us off the brink of sustainability and appropriateness.
Here is Joseph Carew on Žižek’s framing of madness and consciousness:

“In short, the passage from darkness to light only occurs at the level of the Symbolic: in the Real, nothing changes, unruliness (our break from nature) is left untouched. It is this aspect of the intrinsic madness of culture, language, and phenomenal reality, its psychotic lack of contact with the world, that Žižek claims we forget, that we must necessarily forget, if the transcendental misrecognition of reality necessary to subjectification as a reaction formation is to be a successful “compensation.” All our discourses, all our “truths,” are nothing but the deluded ravings of the asylum unaware of their true origin within the founding gesture of subjectivity as a recoil spurred on by the brutal trauma of violently awakening up into a dismembering hemorrhaging of being, the ultimate ontological catastrophe. All the beauty of the world merely belies its true, unbearable horror: “[i]f we take into consideration the many terrible things in nature and the spiritual world and the great many other things that a benevolent hand seems to cover up from us, then we could not doubt that [the ego] sits enthroned over a world of terrors.” In this respect, “the true point of ‘madness’ […] is not the pure excess of the ‘night of the world,’ but the madness of the passage to the Symbolic itself, of imposing a symbolic order onto the chaos of the Real. If madness is constitutive, then every system of meaning is minimally paranoid, ‘mad.’” Paradoxically, the world can only become known to itself—being can only replicate itself within thought—if its medium of self-disclosure operates “with no external support of its truth,” without ever touching the Real.


4 responses to “Madness and the Symbolic Order?

  1. Cule. I would say this ‘horror’ is only viewed as horrible from the perspective of the forgetting subject. The abyss is only abysmal when one is hanging on to it real identity.

    • Total agreement here. Our imaginings become paralyzed when we intensify habits of cognition that depend upon the insidious symbolic grids offered by modern and post-modern social ecologies. We for-get the intrinsic psychotic nature of consciousness with its unconscious biases, subconscious attachments and ephemeral projections to create reaction formations and compensations that are at base maladaptive.

  2. Madness can be Symbolic or Real. Madness can have that connotation of internal conflict, which would evolve from the presence of the Symbol of Being. On the other hand, madness could be seen as that conflict occurring in the Real which drives us to the Symbolic in the first place. I think its hard to put conflict under control in the human condition, part of the reason why the organization of law enforcement in the US needs a complete overhaul. It is ethically unjust and should be socially unacceptable to give one human being control over the life of another human being. There is a concrete presence of exteriority, a complete ignorance of reality, in the disjuncture between official and offender. The officials know less of the offender than the offender knows of the official. How can you judge intent and provocation without knowing the line between an offender’s tolerance (of unlawful behavior) and his ignorance (or knowledge) of lawful actions? ‘The delimiting neuronal specification of language’ puts the odds at one to infinity that one human being could correctly interpret the motives of another human being. We are all human beings, not one better than the other, at the same time having in common the concept of madness itself. Some forms of madness are too intense to be kept subjectively determined, but along the spectrum of madness, relatively speaking, those extreme cases of uncontrollable madness are a lot more rare, contrary to the representation of presently incarcerated populations in the US.

    And if an individual is mentally conflicted, I wouldn’t recommend putting the individual in a small room and forced into social programming written by people who have no clue about that individual, other than that the individual is mad. For the sake of humanity, and in consideration of the human condition, listen to the text, in this case the individual’s language, and derive an analysis from the text. All evidence is circumstantial; a life is worth more than a guess in judgment. The relativity of conflict is out of sync and really needs some serious repairs.

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