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…


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