chapter  16
10 Pages

The Unexceptional Schizophrenic: A Post-Postmodern Introduction

Guattari proclaimed that ‘‘no, no,’’ they had never seen a schizophrenic, they were not expecting to be taken literally. As active readerswemight trya thoughtexperimentof our ownand replace ‘‘schizophrenic’’ in that phrasewith ‘‘woman,’’ or thedesignation for an individual of any racialized group. Such a statement would be so much less likely, because at the time Anti-Oedipus was published (originally in 1972, in French), the civil rights movement and the burgeoning women’s rights movements would have drained the resulting expression of any ironicvalue. In thewakeofa formerlydisadvantaged group’s clear entre´e into the civic sphere, no purchase can be gained through claiming-even facetiously-never to have met a member of that group. That Deleuze and Guattari canmake the claim tomediate schizophrenic experience while never

havingmet a schizophrenic says a great deal about the lackof self-identifying schizophrenics in thepublic sphere one generation ago. Deleuze and Guattari are hardly the only

postmodern theorists to ground their analysis of the late capitalist order in a stereotypical portrayal of the schizophrenic. Frederic Jameson also delineates the position of the schizophrenic, analogizing the postmodern condition to the breakdown of the signifying chain that characterizes schizophrenic thought: ‘‘[T]he schizophrenic is reduced to an experience of pure material signifiers, or, in other words, a series of pure and unrelated presents in time’’ (27). Jean Baudrillard, similarly, analogizes the experience of postmodern reality to the experience of schizophrenia, correcting modernist notions of the schizophrenic as he does so: ‘‘The schizophrenic is not, as generally claimed, characterized by his loss of touch with reality, but by the absolute proximity to and total instantaneousness with things, this overexposure to the transparency of the world’’ (27). Reality is thus accessible to postmodern theory through the thought patterns of the schizophrenic.What is commonin thesemoments of access is the certitude with which schizophrenics are discussed; the schizophrenic is allowed no change in position or in thinking, andno agendaofher or his own. In the wake of this certainty regarding how schizophrenics think and how they act, Petra Kuppers’s comment on her viewing of the work of artist and schizophrenic Martin Ramı´rez is very refreshing: ‘‘I can’t know Ramı´rez-that is the only firm knowledge I can take away from the images and their history ofmaking, storing, display, and criticism’’ (189). Postmodern theoryhasmany roots, and in

discussing Jameson, Baudrillard, and Deleuze and Guattari, those who have specifically drawn upon schizophrenia to elucidate postmodernity, I am not limiting postmodernism to those entities. Nor do I

find reason to challenge the central insights of postmodern theory and their utility to much of disability studies. I do, however, believe that it is productive to consider postmodern attempts to ground the shared postmodern condition in the unshared position of the schizophrenic, and interrogate those attempts within the context of the disability rights and specifically mental disability rights movements. My examination of how one theoretical program can propose to liberate at the same time as it (certainly unwittingly) casts certain identities outside the social order-whether in celebratory fashion, as in Deleuze and Guattari or Jameson, or in pathologizing fashion, as inBaudrillard-draws inspiration from David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder’s recollection in Narrative Prosthesis that the identitywork conducted by race and sexuality studies historically involveddistancing people of color and women from the ‘‘real’’ abnormalities with which they had long been metaphorically associated:

Following Mitchell and Snyder, it is interesting to note that Deleuze and Guattari, to launch their critique of late capitalism, have to distance schizoanalysis from the ‘‘real’’ schizo, stuck in the void. This central displacement is necessary to allow for the metaphorizing of schizophrenia along the exclusively positive channels Deleuze and Guattari allow.However positive, thismetaphorizing enacts what Susan Sontag would

call a ‘‘rhetorical ownership’’ over schizophrenia. Sontag suggests that the ‘‘metaphorical trappings’’ that attach to diagnoses have very real consequences, in terms of how people seek treatment, or don’t, including what kind of treatment they seek. She writes: ‘‘it is highly desirable for a specific dreaded illness to come to be seen asordinary. : : : Muchinthewayof individual experience and social policy depends on the struggle for rhetorical ownership of the illness: how it is possessed, assimilated in argument and in cliche´’’ (93-94). Cliche´s are, by definition,metaphors that

have become too stable. The appropriation of the schizophrenic by postmodern theory is a cliche´, one that posits continually the rhetorical exceptionalism of schizophrenics. This stability mirrors the medicalized investment, which, as Snyder and Mitchell have observed in ‘‘Disability Haunting in AmericanPoetics,’’ findsdisability tobe ‘‘an organic predicament basedon the common sensenotion that disability status cannot be altered’’ (2). As a result of this common sense notion, Snyder and Mitchell argue, the disabled are not allowed to enter the history of U.S. social conflict as an active constituency arguing for their rights within the public sphere. Postmodern theory values schizophrenics precisely because it imagines them insulated from civic life. They are to remain the ‘‘exceptional, private citizenry’’ that Snyder andMitchell identify as typical of the role given to the disabled. There is, however, an increasingly public citizenry of schizophrenics who claim the following: to speak publicly, particularly on issues that affect their lives; to self-identify as schizophrenic without having to embrace the stigma associated with the termnor undersign anymedicalized investment; to found and use their own press organs to further their causes (in this way, very much the ‘‘bodies with organs’’); to be considered in public addresses, and finally, to enjoy a rhetorical position and a life that

is not predicated on complete absence of impairment. In short, they claim the right to unexceptional instability, which is not something postmodern theory has readily granted them.