Sunday, April 7, 2019

Schizophrenia



The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.*

- I miss your stories, our chats. What's happening there? Where are you now?
- Starbucks on Santa Monica in Beverly Hills, as usual at this time of night. I can tell you, not a story, more like an argument. Sitting a few yards from me is that movie producer I told you about who'd actually produced a well known movie, who was spending some nights sitting outside the cafe, others flopping down at Chabad, the Jewish cult that runs the youth center down the street. He doesn't always get along with the rabbis because they extort from him the names and phone numbers of his former associates in the movie business they can call up and beg money from.
- That was months ago. Last year.
- Yes. He said he was waiting for money to be paid him. I guess he's still waiting.
- So what's the story with him now?
- The story's not about him, but another movie producer I met last night with nowhere to go.
- Was he a real producer too?
- Seems so. I was riding past on my bike, three in the morning, when I saw him standing waiting to cross the street the Century City Shopping Center, paper shopping bag at his feet. I stopped, asked him what he was doing on this corner at this time of night. He was not bothering anyone, he said, sleeping on the ground in the shopping center, when a guard and a L.A. policeman rudely woke him up and ordered him to get out. He was the producer of an Academy Award Winning movie, he said, and these guys waking him probably never finished high school.
- I told him I was on my way to the 24 hours open Macdonalds. If he wanted he could join me and we'd talk.
- Did he come?
- Yes. He convincingly described his involvement in two films. The first, the Academy Award winner, a big success. The other a big failure. He told me he'd been 3 months with no place to live. He was 78. He too was waiting for money to arrive. I asked him:

- Don't you have any friends?
- Not in L.A.
- Where then?
- Pennsylvania. My producing partner lives there.
- Can't you go to him? Don't you get along?
- I can. We get along great.
- Does he have room for you?
- Yes. He has a big house. His kids love me like an uncle.
- So why don't you go there?
- He's very liberal.
- His politics?
- Yes. He's like a hippy.
- What does that matter?
- His house is far from anything.
- What are you doing here that keeps you here?
- I want to produce another film.
- While sleeping on the street? How long do you think, at your age, your health can take it? I'd put your life expectancy at no more than a few months.
- Why? I feel alright.
- You'll have a heart attack. You'll develop circulatory problems, contract infections, suffer mood swings and general weakness from sleep deprivation. You'll suffer from strangers' fear and contempt. What keeps you in L.A.?
- I like L.A. I like the weather.
- You're willing to die on the street here for the weather? Isn't it hard wandering from place to place all night, killing time until morning?
- It's an adventure.
- Working out how to keep yourself alive. Is it an adventure worth dying for?
- You keep saying that. Are you afraid of dying? Can I buy you something to eat?
- No thanks. Do you want to know what I think?
- What?
- You're obviously not insane, not a schizophrenic, but maybe you are leading what philosophers call a schizophrenic life. I'll get a quote for you from the internet. Just a second. Here, this will do:
'The failure of the infant to accede fully into the realm of speech and language'. Schizophrenic experience is an experience of isolated, disconnected, discontinuous material signifiers which fail to link up into a coherent sequence. The schizophrenic thus does not know personal identity in our sense, since our feeling of identity depends on our sense of the persistence of the “I” and the “me” over time. According to Jameson, the schizophrenic lacks a personal identity, is unable to differentiate between self and world, and is incapable of experiencing continuity through time."**
- I know who I am.
- Do you? Thought and language are different from each other. Thought is an experience of isolated, disconnected, discontinuous material signifiers, which float in a sea of grammars - alternative senses to be made of them - that language fixes thought into as sentences are produced. The philosopher Jameson says schizophrenia is the culture of our capitalist times: we are pushed to take on one unstable image after another, each associated with consuming a product or service, each unstable because dependent upon outside suggestion. Other philosophers say that a protection from this assault on human nature can be had by deliberately taking on disposable images of our own making. Your hippy friend might recognize this idea as existentialist. A clinical schizophrenic lives on the level of language, producing language in response to his circumstances, without any rooting in his own thought. The thoughts expressed in his language seem to be in the control of what is outside himself, a terrifying prospect.
- I'm not a schizophrenic.
- And obviously you're not a capitalist consumer, seeing yourself in products you buy. But your adventure sounds like the other philosopher's schizophrenia cure, proposing your own image of yourself against those assigned to you by others.
- Then I'm healthy and not going to die.
- Well, no, you're aren't going to be let off so easily. It's a painful, terrifying experience to live on the level of language, disconnected entirely from, without ownership of the thought it's built out of. Remember what I said about language and thought? How thought, before settling down to speech bathes in a sea of alternative grammars? This is the source of both our sense of freedom, and of personal continuity: continuity in the constantly increasing memories of experience that compose our thought, freedom in the cloud of alternative grammars thought builds itself into language with. Deliberately taking on one image after another, if not actually insane, entirely un-rooted in personal thought, remains schizophrenic in being personally discontinuous, each new role composed out of a unique selection of experience, and unfree, in being required to fit in with the descriptions of themselves others make for themselves. In your adventure, are you not protecting yourself rather than expressing yourself, substituting a performance, an act, imitation, a role more to your liking than the one's demanded of you by your situation, with no continuity between roles? What do you think of what I'm saying? You're nodding off.

- He fell asleep while you were talking?
- Yes.
- Did he wake up? He didn't die there at Macdonalds?
- No, he didn't die.
- Maybe he'll go to his partner's house.
- And leave the great self image marketplace of L.A.?
_____________________
* G. K. Chesterton
** Capitalism and Schizophrenia