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Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 8.4 (2001) 291-293

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Schizophrenia and the Void

Jean Naudin and Jean-Michel Azorin

It was Eugene Minkowski who, from the 1920s on, introduced the French to the work of Eugen Bleuler, whose student he had been. In the introduction to his first book, Schizophrenia: Psychopathology of Schizoids and Schizophrenics (Minkowski 1927), Minkowski nevertheless notes with regard to Bleuler that he could not allow himself "to be restricted to this student's task." For Minkowski, Bleuler certainly enjoys the great merit of having substituted the notion of schizophrenia for that of dementia praecox and of having described autism with precision. But—Minkowski says—autism is badly defined when, relying upon the concept of Spaltung, Bleuler fails to break free of associationist psychology. Minkowski justifies his critical attitude by appealing, as does Binswanger, to Husserl and above all to Bergson. For Bergson, dissociation is a normal feature of thought. If, for Minkowski, it is important to pay attention to autism, it is because it attests not to a certain fragmentation of consciousness, but rather to an attitude whereby the subject seeks to preserve the precarious equilibrium of a personality that is threatened by a void.

The article translated into English for this special issue of Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology prefigures Schizophrenia and, like an earlier article on the theme of "morbid rationalism," already announces certain key concepts. Here these concepts are, so to speak, caught in their embryonic state, and one is forced to recognize with Tatossian (1993) how radically Minkowski differs from his master, Bleuler, in the choice of specific cases. By according exemplary significance to cases of "poor autism," Minkowski focuses on the reflexivity of the subjective experience of the patient rather than on the proliferation of the delusional state, which lends itself more readily to clinical observation. We must remember that Minkowski is above all a healer. If, like Bleuler, he is interested in the problem that generates the illness, it is only in order to be able to heal the patient. It is therefore not so much the isolated problem that interests him as the way the person tries to deal with it. So it should not come as a surprise that one of the essential themes of this article is what Minkowski calls "compensation." Like the psychoanalytical concepts to which Bleuler refers, compensation is a dynamic concept. But Minkowski takes care to distinguish the compensation that characterizes the interrogative attitude from motives of a more psychological kind aimed at meeting a lack by symbolically satisfying a desire. In the purely phenomenological sense in which Minkowski takes it, compensation does not refer to a hidden motive. It represents a way of getting around the void or sense of emptiness that results from the schizophrenic person's inability to project himself into the future by pursuing the practical goals of normal, daily life. In this case, the dynamic does not feed off the vicissitudes of drive but off the élan vital—or rather, off the decline of élan vital that such persons suffer. [End Page 291]

Minkowski particularly insists upon the fact that Paul's interrogative attitude is not simple curiosity, even if Paul's questioning began with sexual curiosity. Confronted with incessant questioning reminiscent of a child, a psychoanalyst would be likely to invoke infantile curiosity concerning procreation and sexual difference. Minkowski, however, seeks to show that the prevailing motive in Paul's case is not so much desire for knowledge as the vital necessity of finding a way of—can one put it this way?—playing for time. In other words, the interrogatory attitude is a way of avoiding confrontation with the realm of practical concerns that, at bottom, makes the patient suffer. If this realm makes him suffer, it is because the absence of any vital attachment leaves him floating in a kind of void. The fundamental problem of schizophrenia is therefore identified as the loss of meaning going along with a deficiency in the individual's attachment to practical reality. Practical reality, or to put it otherwise, an orientation toward practical activity...


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