chapter  1
18 Pages

From beyond speech to non-inscription: spirit and psyche in the philosophy of psychoanalysis


The origins of the words spirituality and psychosis reveal, perhaps surprisingly, that they are closely connected, indeed, overlapping terms. Our English word spirituality, as the French esprit and the Spanish espiritu, is derived from the Latin spiritus. The original sense of spiritus is breathing or breath. This root is retained in English in words like respiration. From taking in breath, it is a short journey to an auspicious fl ow of ideas, as we fi nd it in Cicero, where, citing Ennius, the father of Roman poetry, he calls the poet holy (sanctos), because he is infused with divine inspiration ‘et quasi divino quodam spiritu infl ari’ (Cic. Pro Archia 18). It is this word spiritus that Jerome used in the Vulgate to translate the Greek term pneuma, a word we fi rst fi nd used by Anaximenes to mean air or wind (Kirk et al. 1984; Liddell and Scott 1863).1 A sense which preserved in our word pneumatic. It is only what we would expect when we are told that Anaximenes had said the air was god (Cic. De Nat. De. I, 10.26).2 According to Theophrastus, the same conclusion was drawn by Diogenes of Apollonia (fl oruit 425 BCE), who said that the air within us is ‘a small portion of the god’ (Theoph. De Sen. 42).3 Later, we fi nd Herodotus using the word in his Historia. In Plato, Pythagoras and Empedocles we fi nd the word daemon being used sometimes interchangeably with theos (god), as a divine element in man and sometimes to describe something like a guardian angel (Guthrie 1962), sometimes an evil spirit (Dodds 1951). Although the precise defi nition of the terms daimon and daimonios is vague in antiquity, by the second century CE virtually everyone, whether pagan, Jew or Christian, believed in the existence of intermediary beings ‘whether he called them daemons, angels or simply spirits (pneumata)’ (Dodds 1965: 38). When the spirit possessed someone, his speech would be

considered either prophetic or demonic, depending, perhaps, on whether one agreed with him or not. In general, illness – and this included mental illness – was thought to be the result of the agency of malevolent pneumata (spirits). Here we begin to see the ambiguous connection between matters spiritual and madness.