Conversion Disorder: 9

If there is a potential couple within the Cogito, there is a potential Cogito that can spring up between a couple.  In a passion stratified by subjectification, DG see the “doubling of a single virtual subject.”  The afflicted Le Roy girls as interpellated components of an extended (postsignifying) mind?

Conversion disorder is a machining of doubles.  A subject is always the double of another subject.  Moreover, empirical subjects that double for one another together double for one and the same transcendental subject, which is necessarily placed under erasure. The transcendental subject is perhaps the doubling machine itself.

Thera Sanchez and Katie Krautwurst mirror one another in their symptoms.  But their reciprocal mirroring is imprecise.  Each interprets in her own way the single virtual subject that interpellates them as doubles of itself.  Each betrays the contingency of the other’s interpretation with the contingency of her own.  The expression of conversion disorder in one girl may therefore stand as a kind of critique of its expression in her double.  “The subject you produced is not similar enough to the transcendental subject whose doubles we are.  Look, I am more similar.”

The machining of doubles works by mimesis.  Elsewhere in A Thousand Plateaus, DG cite Gabriel Tarde’s assertion that imitation is the propagation of a flow of belief or desire.  As “propagations,” beliefs and desires cannot be attributable to individuals.  Individuals contract or prehend beliefs and desires (Tarde’s “social quantities”) and in so doing they “become similar.” This is quite similar to Girard’s idea of mimetic desire as well.

Psychoanalysis intrudes with its temptations.  The man behind the couch declares that the transcendental object of mimetic desire is mommy-daddy.  Indeed it is rather disturbing to see how similar daughters and mothers appear (especially the Krautwursts!):

But the buck cannot be stopped arbitrarily at mommy-daddy.  They too have surrendered to the powerful compulsion to “become similar.”  They are not the authors of the desires and beliefs propagated to their prehending daughters. In any case, perhaps the outbreak can be considered weirdly anti-oedipal: a kind of unconscious alliance of the girls against their lines of descent?  And yet this seems problematic, especially considering the consequences of the outbreak: Thera Sanchez was taken out of school and is now being tutored at home.  (Not to mention the fact she’s been making the talkshow rounds with her mother.)  An intensification of oedipal relations, then.  A failed revolution and perverse reterritorialization…

This Week in PHL: Endless Summer

This week in Pig Heart Lover it’s “Endless Summer.”  Last night a friend dropped in and picked up the spare bass and joined in the fun, but we realized too late that we couldn’t plug the bass directly into Protools.  Thus he is barely if at all audible in last night’s mixdowns. (Next time there won’t be that problem.)  Anyway, click on the link in the title for a listen.

Endless Summer

Floating slowly to the west
A lonely cloud passes overhead
Shadow trailing on the grass
Like the ruffle of a beautiful dress

Following after
An incomparable sun
And endless summer…

The foothills swell and roll away
The evening comes to relieve the day
Lonesome for it knows not what
The little car speeds on into the dark

Following after
An incomparable sun
And endless summer…

Far off in the swaying golden fields
The mysteries of love at last revealed

Floating slowly to the west
A lonely cloud passes overhead
Shadow trailing on the grass
Like the ruffle of a beautiful dress

Following after
An incomparable sun
And endless summer…

This is one of those rare songs I write that isn’t keyed to D minor. The idea is simple. The eternal is more like the ruffle on a dress than an idea. To live in its sunrise therefore necessitates the kissing of joys as they fly, the affirming of haecceities as they unpredictably assemble into a midsummer’s winding drive up the old Banff Coach Road to the Rockies or a delirious Fish Creek afternoon in a field of tall grasses…

Conversion Disorder: 8

Conversion disorder can quite readily be framed in terms of “betrayal.”  Most immediately, there is the sense of the betrayal of one’s own body.  Have you ever had one of those annoying eyelash twitching episodes that continue for days on end?  When I try to imagine the frustration of Ms. Sanchez, I recall  such episodes (and then multiply the frustration a thousandfold).  When my eyelash starts twitching, it’s hard for me not to be a Cartesian, a substance dualist.  “My twitching eyelash is bugging the shit out of me. I wish it would stop already!”

In such moments, the distinction between “the subject of enunciation” and “the subject of the statement” becomes fairly clear.  The subject of enunciation is the res cogitans and the subject of the statement res extensa.  This is not quite the distinction between my mind and my body.  As DG put it, the subject of enunciation is the Cogito and the subject of the statement “the union of the soul and the body, or feeling, guaranteed in a complex way by the cogito.”  Considering Cartesianism as a postsignifying phenomenon, DG conceive the necessary “double betrayal” as taking place between the Cogito and a possibly deceitful God or evil genius.  The “absolute deterritorialization” of the Cogito is thus fueled by its “methodical doubt” in the reality of the outside world.

Insofar as “the union of soul and body” is distinct from the “I think,” it too belongs to the doubtable external world.  The “I think” can never be sure it’s not just a brain in a vat or thing plugged into the Matrix.  In conversion disorder, the primary betrayal must be assigned to the body-soul.  But it’s not only a betrayal, it’s a usurpation!  As Althusser pointed out in his ISA essay (which DG refer to in their treatment of subjectification), the term “subject” has always had two senses: the sense of sovereignity and the sense of servitude.  We could also put this in terms of action and passion.  A subject in the first sense is that which acts autonomously and a subject in the second sense is that which is helplessly acted upon.  In normal circumstances, the Cogito considers itself sovereign over its body-soul; it considers the latter to be its subject.  “Here, do this.  Now, go over there.  Embarrass yourself in the following manner…”  But in eye-twitching and conversion disorder, the Cogito finds itself subjected to its subject.  It finds itself betrayed and rendered utterly passive.  And how easily the betrayal takes place!  And how helpless the Cogito is to do anything about it!  All it can do is wait until the body-soul grows weary of its autonomy and resumes its previous quietude.

Consciousness, stratified by subjectification at least, is already a couple.  And as a couple, it takes for granted Masoch’s law that one of its components must serve as anvil to the other’s hammer.

Scanning several of the interviews Ms. Sanchez gave, I noted the following.  When the interview took place at her home, she always led the interviewer over to a wall that displayed some paintings that I can only assume are her own.  (“I was in art class.  I was in two art classes!”)  One can quickly grasp the significance of this repeated gesture.  Look, that was me then, and this is me now.  On the surface, the temporal division between a past plenitude and a present deprivation is clear-cut.  But when she looks at those paintings, does she see in them signs of the later betrayal?

At least in the interviews, she refuses the diagnosis of conversion disorder.  She did not betray herself.  Something else did: some as yet unidentified pathogen, some biological or environmental agent.  And insofar as the neurologists treating her insist otherwise, they are betraying her too.  She has become absolutely deterritorialized.  But the line remains a negative one.  How to tilt it toward the BwO is the therapeutic question the schizoanalyst must ask.

RIP Erland Josephson

Acting giant Erland Josephson died Saturday at the age of 88.  His range was incredible.  Here are some stills from one of his lesser known turns, as an earthy Nietzsche in Liliana Cavani’s Al di là del bene e del male.

Taming the black dog
Posing with Lou and Paul
The Musical Socrates
The deeper joy

Conversion Disorder: 7

Last entry I suggested that from a schizoanalytic perspective “conversion disorder” would refer to the conversion of a body into a particular organism or a concrete individual into a particular subject.  In this sense, conversion means “stratification,” or the process by which unformed matter is captured and “condensed” into formed substances.  There is another sense a schizoanalyst could lend to “conversion disorder”: that is, the conversion of an ideational delusion into an active delusion, the conversion of signifiance into subjectification.  Here “conversion” means “translation,” and refers to the capacity of one semiotic to overcode or exapt the expressions of another.

An example.  In the “regime of signs” plateau, DG state that the ancient Israelites exemplify the workings of the postsignifying regime and the procedure of subjectification.  The point of subjectification is rather more complex than DG explicitly state, so let me try to lard their sketch.  First there is a “double betrayal” on the human scale: the Egyptians betray the Israelities (i.e. betray their original hospitality in the time of Joseph and his brothers) and then the Israelites betray the Egyptians back (insofar as a slave revolt can be considered a betrayal!). The exodus from Egypt amounts to an absolute deterritorialization.  DG portray this “double turning away” in terms of signifiance and subjectification: the “interpretational and paranoid delusion” of the Pharoah against the “most passional and least interpretive delusion” of Moses…

Please, do continue

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This Week in PHL: Killing Machine

This week in Pig Heart Lover, it’s “Killing Machine,” our musical reboot of the story of Samson and Delilah.  It’s clear that a fresh interpretation of everyone’s favorite judge has been long overdue, and we live to deliver.  In any case, our collision with Samson was overdetermined, if not actually preformed.  For which Biblical hero was more of a pig heart lover than our man of the sun?  So we join Severin von Kusiemski in singing his praises.  Click on the link in the song title for a listen.

Killing Machine

Once upon a very olden time
In a land ruled by philistines
A fearsome angel of the Lord
Appeared in an old man’s yard
To tell the man that he would bear
A son whose strength lay in his hair

“And Samson’s the name
He’ll be a killing machine
And he’ll put to shame
Those goddamn philistines
Those goddamn philistines
Those goddamn philistines”

So Samson grew into a man
Killing anything that came to hand
And then one morning he did see
A daughter of the enemy
And even if she’d have him dead
He’d still have her in his bed

“Oh Samson’s the name
I am a killing machine
And if you are game
You can take your shot at me
You can take your shot at me
You can take your shot at me”

Her name was Delilah
Her name was Delilah
Her name was Delilah
Her name was Delilah

She pressed him daily to impart
So he came to tell her all his heart
Then as he slept she shaved him clean
And delivered him to the philistines
Who forthwith plucked out both his eyes
And drowned his screams in joyful cries

“Oh Samson’s the name
He was a killing machine
But now he’s a shame
And the sport of the philistines
He’s the sport of the philistines
He’s the sport of the philistines”

Her name was Delilah
Her name was Delilah
Her name was Delilah
Her name was Delilah

Conversion Disorder: 6

Conversion disorder is said to be a reaction to one or more stressful events.  One of the doctors said that in all of the Le Roy cases she has seen, there have been such occurrences.  All of the girls had something stressful (not necessarily the same in each case) that set them off.  Moreover, the doctor also relates that there is usually a “patient zero” or “index case” whose behavior comes to be “unconsciously mimicked.” (I had originally opined that there need not be.)

The hypothesis we’re working with here is that conversion disorder is a form of what a schizoanalyst would call “subjectification.”  The schizoanalyst has thus transformed the significance of the term “conversion disorder.”  By it, she no longer refers to the conversion of “psychological stress” into “physical symptoms.”  By it, she means the conversion of the body into a particular kind of organism, the conversion of the concrete individual into a particular form of concrete subject.

Subjectification is said to proceed in a linear, segmented fashion out of a “point.”  In the case of conversion disorder, there does indeed appear to be such a point of subjectification.  But it is twofold.  On one side there needs to be an event or constellation of events that have put extraordinary stress upon the affected individual(s).  On the other side there needs to be an index case that serves as the passionate double of the individual(s). The passionate double helps draw the subject out of the individual, the organism out of the body.

DG state that the point of subjectification involves a double betrayal, a double turning away.  The individual feels something turn away from her, and in turning away from it, she is introduced into the linear procedure of subjectification.  But if the point of subjectification in conversion disorder is itself twofold, then the double betrayal is itself doubled!  (God, I love complifications…)  That is, we need to consider two sets of betrayals.  One set includes the individual and the stressful event or events that has set her off.  The other set includes the individual and the index case. Perhaps I should say something perfunctory about each of these sets in turn…

Conversion Disorder: 5

It’s become difficult to proceed.  And yet I’m only now broaching the subject that kinda got this ball rolling in the first place.  When I first read about this outbreak, it became apparent to me that the largely unspoken and largely ignored presupposition with respect to the idea of conversion disorder is that the psyche is inherently mimetic.  In conversion disorder, or Mass Hysteria, or Mass Psychogenic Illness, psychological distress is said to be “converted” into physical effects.  But the physical effects are not generated from within the psyche; they are picked up or introjected from without.  They are translations of external signs.  Hence one astute researcher thought that the phenomenon should be called MSI, or, “Mass Sociogenic Illness.”  The name MSI has the benefit of alluding to the external origin of the physical effects through which the psyche expresses its distress.  But again, even with this name, the presupposition of a mimetic component has largely gone unthought or unelaborated (at least in the admittedly few articles I’ve now read, and certainly in all of the public statements made by professionals in this particular case).

As soon as I made the connection between conversion disorder and mimesis, I thought of DG’s idea of the postsignifying regime of signs.  I thought of this semiotic because of one terse, suggestive assertion they make about it: the assertion that all transformations taking a given semiotic into the postsignifying regime may be called “consciousness-related or mimetic.” The question then sprang up: could DG’s idea of the postsignifying regime of signs help explain something like conversion disorder?  My hunch was that yes it could.  But the hunch needs to be put to the test, and here is where I get a little diffident.  Because I feel I still don’t have a clear grasp on all the components of the idea, and on their relation with each other and with the idea of mimesis.  But let me set down a list in a somewhat contingent order, so I can have some points from which to proceed.

Components of the postsignifying regime of signs

1. Subjectification.  As “signifiance” was the effect of the signifying regime of signs, so “subjectification” is the effect of the postsignifying regime of signs.  As DG say, the postsignifying regime of signs is defined by the “unique procedure” of subjectification.

2. Subjectification as active delusion.  The signifying regime gives rise to “ideational delusions,” such as the paranoia of Imlac’s astronomer friend in Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas.  “Given that it started raining the moment my despair broke open to a new level, I must unconsciously control the weather.”  But subjectification corresponds to active delusions: monomaniacal delusions, delusions of querulousness, delusions of grievances, passional delusions and erotomanias.  Subjectifications are defined more by “decisive external occurrences,” and are expressed “more as emotions than as ideas, more by actions than by imaginings.”

3. Segmentarity of subjectification.  Subjectification proceeds in linear, temporal segments.  One must end before another can begin.

3. The point of subjectification.  The decisive external occurrence.  The origin of the procedure.

4. The subject of enunciation. Subjectification is the production of a subject.  But a subject is double.  The subject of enunciation first issues from the point of subjectification, “as a function of a mental reality determined by that point.”

5. The subject of the statement.  The subject of the statement issues from the subject of enunciation.  It is “bound to statements in conformity with a dominant reality (of which the mental reality is a part, even when it seems to oppose it).”

6.  The relation between subjects of enunciation and statement.  The former is said to “recoil” into the latter, to the point that the latter resupplies the former for another proceeding or another segment.

7. The regime has two axes.  The syntagmatic axis is that of “consciousness.”  The paradigmatic axis is that of “passion.”

8. The doubling of consciousness.  Consciouness is doubled in the split between the subject of enunciation and subject of statement.  “The cogito is a passion for the self alone.”

9. The fusion of passion.  There is an erasure of the distinction between subject and object, lover and beloved, hater and behated.  “Passional love is a cogito built for two.”  If consciousness makes a couple of itself, passion makes a single virtual subject of a couple.

10. Subjectification as stratum.  Like signifiance, subjectification is a procedure that stratifies us.  Stratification is not all bad, nor is it entirely avoidable.  It is bad to the degree that it renders us powerless and joyless, that it prevents us from discovering what our bodies can do, what we can do with our bodies, what we can make of them, what new relations we can enter into that will enable us to realize our powers and our joys.

11. The other side of the postsignifying regime of signs. We have to keep in mind that the semiotic is tied to an assemblage or formalized mixture of real bodies.  This is the “dominant reality” spoken of above in (5).

There may be more components, but this is more than enough to get the head swimming.  If I can make it back to shore, I might be able to use the idea to complete my pragmatic reading of conversion disorder…

Conversion Disorder: 4

Deleuze and Guattari associate the “signifying regime” (and the “signifiance” that it effectuates) with what psychiatrists of the late-19th century called “ideational delusion.”  The exemplary form of ideational delusion is paranoia.  And what else can one be but paranoid caught up in a potentially infinite number of infinitely circular networks of signs?  Everything is a sign of a sign of my sweet old etcetera.

So we were told that the signifying regime constitutes infinite networks of signs that bend back on themselves and link up with other such networks to form circles within circles and chains of chains.  We were also told that within every such network is a signifier that stands as an “interpretation” (or “point de capiton”) that lends the network an organization, but also fuels its extension in an inhuman chattering without inherent limit of magnitude.  Interpretation: “Obama is a secret communist bent on instituting totalitarianism in America…” Take it away, Fox News!  “Well, the signs are everywhere: look at his contraception policy, or his yadayada yacketyack…”

There are two other important features to the signifying regime. The first is that this semiotic always refers to a pragmatic content or substance.  This substance is a “Face.”  In the signifying regime, the face stands at the center of the swirling networks of signs, as the mask of absolute meaning.  “When I passed by, they looked at me funny and I heard them laugh. Was that about me?  Do they know what I did last summer?  Did they hear about that naked picture I accidentally tweeted?”  DG insist on the inextricable entanglement of a regime of signs with a regime of bodies: expression and content are the two sides of a stratum. The face that besets the paranoiac gripped in her ideational delusion is always the face of a despot.  It is the face that gets off by withholding the absolute meaning it so chastely contains.  It is the face as a white wall upon which signifiance may tirelessly inscribe its signs of signs.

Thera Sanchez insists that before her affliction, everybody was happy to be around her.  She was a cheerleader; she cheered every day.  She was in art class.  She was in two art classes!  Before it happened, everything was fine, she was on a roll… Really?  She was perfectly content?  This seems a bit hard for me to believe.  High school can quite easily take on hellish dimensions even for the popular kids.  High school ably exemplifies the stratum of signifiance, where every face is a potential despot, ready to pass judgment, where every face receives and emits signs of signs of drama to the nth degree, where everyone is chasing the dragon of meaning from one sign to the next, where everyone struggles to occupy the place of the despot or of the interpreting priest.

The face of the despot is always accompanied by a double: the faceless body of the one who is judged, condemned, excluded.  This is the other feature of the signifying regime: the necessity of a scape-goat, of one who is loaded with “everything that resisted signifying signs, everything that eluded the referral from sign to sign through the different circles.”  The scape-goat is sent off into the desert, sent scrambling down a line of flight.  Thera Sanchez is taken out of school.  The scapegoat’s departure ensures the stratum of signifiance will not collapse or explode.  It is therefore a kind of venting mechanism.  The stratum of signifiance only allows for a relative deterritorialization of signs and of bodies.  The expulsion of the scapegoat thus prevents the absolute deterritorialization that would otherwise explode it.  But if its expulsion frees the scapegoat from the despotism of signifiance, introducing it to an absolute deterritorialization, something else is waiting for it out in the desert.  The black hole of subjectification, the postsignifying regime of signs…

Conversion Disorder: 3

The “outbreak” brings into focus (for me, at least) what Deleuze and Guattari called “strata” in A Thousand Plateaus.  According to the duo’s account, there are many different kinds of “strata,” physical, chemical, organic, alloplastic.  But they cite three as especially important to consider: the organism, signifiance and subjectification.

The “organism” is a body organized (or “formalized”) in a particular way.  Signifiance and subjectification refer to specific organizations of linguistic signs into formal “regimes.”  As I understand it, signifiance is the primary effect of a regime of signs that DG refer to as the “signifying regime.”  Subjectification would then be the primary effect of what they call a “postsignifying regime of signs.”

Regimes of signs never exist in isolation, but always in relative mixtures.  If DG spend a great deal of time on these two regimes in particular, it is because the two are the most prominent regimes of our social and political situation.  When I first ran across the story of conversion disorder, I immediately read it in terms of these two strata.  Well, it may be that one could add the third stratum to the mix too, so as to constitute an assemblage in its entirety. The “ticking” organism that has befallen the young girls as the pragmatic “content” to the mixed “expressions” of signifiance and subjectification.  At the same time, it would be necessary to think of this assemblage as a “haeccity,” that is, as a unique and unrepeatable event that has emerged out of a larger one: the Le Roy assemblage as a sign of the subtending assemblage of late capitalist control society?  That’s the tentative hypothesis to be fooled around with for a while until boredom pushes me elsewhere.

Signifiance refers to the infinite deferral of meaning in the perpetual relay from one sign to another.  Signifiance means that “all signs are signs of signs.”  This is the basic structuralist and deconstructionist understanding of language.  (It is important to note that DG refuse the universalization of this understanding: the signifying regime is only one among many that coexist with it or are still to come.)  In any case, signifiance relates that the dragon of meaning perpetually flies down the signifying chain and we perpetually chase after it.  Meaning remains forever incomplete.  In the signifying regime, then, the sign is no longer opposed to a simple referent.  It has become “deterritorialized.”  And in this deterritorialization, the sign has split into two parts: the signifier and the signified.  In attempting to pin down and actualize a “signified,” one moves from signifier to signifier.  This movement bends into a circle: the signs form an infinite network which is infinitely circular.

This network is by no means amorphous.  Why not?  Because something else happens in signifiance: one signifier can stand as the signified, and this signifier then effectuates the organization of the network.  Hence the second aspect of the signifying regime involves interpretation.  But the act of interpreting, the act of selecting a signifier to stand as the signified (Lacan called this special signifier the “point de capiton”) only ensures the continuation of the movement.  “The signified constantly reimparts signifier, recharges it or produces more of it.”

To cut things short.  In the case of the story that concerns us, we see signifiance (or our stratification in signifiance) in the competing interpretations of the event’s significance.  What is the signified of the event that has befallen the girls of Le Roy?  According to the local doctor in charge of the case, and according to the psychiatrist on the Today Show, what the event signifies is “conversion disorder.”  One dissenting doctor has another opinion.  He’s convinced the event signifies “PANDAS” (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections).  What is noteworthy about this latter doctor is the following.  He says that it wouldn’t matter if tests for Streptococcal infections were to come up negative; he’s still convinced it is PANDAS.  In both cases, we have a signifier that functions as a point around which to organize a semiotic network.  And in both cases, the interpretation does little more than allow for the reimpartation of signifying chains.  Put less technically: the interpretations buffer the disease that William Burroughs called “the Yacks.”  The whole event helps bring into focus the stratum of signifiance by virtue of how much chattering it has caused.  The interpretations do not silence the yacks.  They only fuel them further.

On the Today Show, the girl stated that she wanted answers.  That was inaccurate.  For she is getting answers aplenty, but none of them are dissipating the organism that has befallen her.  Indeed she said that she’s grown worse since she started seeing various psychologists and psychiatrists.  What she’s asking for is something different than answers.  She wants to expunge and destroy her ticking organism.  Instead she is being shunted from one circle of hell to the next, from the Today Show to Fox News, etc…