Sunday, September 13, 2009

Deleuze and Schizophrenia

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's work Anti-Oedipus explores the notion of schizophrenia, and does so via a combination of two seemingly disparate domains of inquiry. Firstly it is a literary work. In being so it aims to shock, display stylistic originalities, bend the rules of language and in the end startle us with its bold audacity. But on the other hand it is work that analyses schizophrenia, and as such is situated (probably reluctantly) in the fields of psychopathology, psychology and even psychiatry to a limited extent. But these two currents that run through Anti-Oedipus are often considerably divergent.

But the book interests me because I am engaging in academic work on schizophrenia in the discipline of Philosophy. In this work I have situated my research squarely in the medical model of understanding the condition. I see schizophrenia as a disease that needs to be palliated, and feel that things like medication are invaluable in treating the condition. But I am also a poet, having had poems published in journals such as Stylus and verb-ate-him. And so I am very interested in literary understanding of schizophrenia, which can in some instances be at odds with the medical model, and this is where Anti-Oedipus fits in for me.

Anti-Oedipus postulates a socio-economic understanding of schizophrenia, situating the disease in the broader fabric of a capitalist system that puts such strain on individuals that they break under the pressure. Coming from the medical model as I do, where biological irregularities are seen to underlay schizophrenia, this seems difficult to reconcile with a socio-economic understanding. But as the diathesis-stress model of schizophrenia postulates, environmental factors (perhaps even economic ones) that cause stress are part of the aetiological chain in schizophrenic processes. Deleuze and Guattari may have a point to make here.

But what really fascinates me about Anti-Oedipus is the way the insights that are contained in the book are expressed. There is a stylistic (and indeed literary) flair which is quite seductive. What Deleuze and Guattari say about schizophrenia is in many ways intended to shock, and works by shocking those in the establishment that adhere to the more traditional understandings such as the medical model. In this they succeed, and have made their book a literary success.

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