Abstract

I argue that the language of some schizophrenic persons is akin to the language of Benjy in Williams Faulkner's novel The Sound and the Fury, in one crucial respect: Faulkner displays to us language that, ironically, cannot be translated or interpreted into sense . . . without irreducible 'loss' or 'garbling.' The same is true of famous schizophrenic writers, such as Renee and Schreber. Such 'garbling' is of an odd kind, admittedly: it is a garbling that inadvisably turns nonsense into sense. . . . Faulkner's language is a language of paradox, of nonsense masquerading beautifully as sense. When this language works, it generates the powerful illusion that we can make sense of the 'life-world' of a young child or an 'idiot'—or a sufferer from chronic schizophrenia. But this remains, contrary to Louis Sass's claims, an illusion.

Thus, drawing on the thinking of Wittgenstein (his On Certainty, especially, with its incisive critique of the very idea of being able to make claims or statements from within a sufficiently altered [non]state of mind) and of the Wittgensteinian literary critic James Guetti (who critiques the very idea of 'deranged language' being paraphrased into sense), I argue that the most impenetrable cases of schizophrenia may be cases not of a sense being made that we cannot grasp, nor of a different form of life, but, despite appearances, of no sense, no form of life, at all. This is an option that has not really been considered in the literature of/on psychopathology to date. And it can be tentatively established, not through a dubious scientism, but through a careful attention to the literature of the insane and the literature of Modernism.

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