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This paper clarifies the notion of "contact with reality" by investigating one way in which lack of such contact can be expressed: the interrogative attitude. The case of a socially withdrawn, seventeen-year-old schoolboy is examined.
Paul C. had long been overly logical and precise in his style of thinking. An acute disturbance began with mental fatigue along with apparent obsessive symptoms (e.g., extreme monitoring of his own actions) to the point that simple, everyday actions became very time-consuming; he also developed a tendency to ask endless questions even about trivial phenomena. However, unlike those of the true obsessive, Paul's monitoring, doubting, and querying seemed to lack any emotional or personal element; he was not anxious but, rather, apathetic. Also, Paul lacked real curiosity: To him, everything had the same level of importance, and his attention was not directed by any precise or personal goal.
This paper argues that Paul's interrogative attitude was actually a form of autistic-schizophrenic thinking characterized by "pragmatic weakening" and a loss of vital contact with reality, which are consequences of a weakening of the "élan vital" with its "vital propulsion toward the future." Such patients retain their intellectual powers but do not use these powers in accord with the requirements of reality. The interrogative attitude can be seen as a compensation mechanism—a way to maintain some minimal contact with the world. The paper ends with psychotherapeutic recommendations. (Abstract written by special issue editor: L.A.S.)