ON PYTHIATISM AND THE FAMILY IDIOT
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
A seemingly novel kind of hysteria is ‘Doctor’ Jean Paul Sartre’s diagnosis after his multivolume analysis of Gustave Flaubert in The Family Idiot. It is not the vulgar, convulsive or paralytic, demonstrative sort of hysteria, but rather a facile, evasive hysteria due solely to capitalistic cultural persuasion and auto-suggestion; something called ‘pithiatism.’
The pithiatism he alludes to in this case is a rather metaphorical hysteria. But is not the “illness” of “mental illness,” absent a physical disease, metaphorical as well? Sartre resorts to concealing his moral disapprobation by resort to a psychoanalytic myth, letting the great realist off the hook while castigating him to no end to raise his own prestige.
We consult psychiatrist Thomas Szasz on the nature of the psychiatric demoralizing strategy: The mental illness Jean-Paul Sartre attributed Flaubert would be utterly fictitious according to his perspective laid out in ‘The Myth of Mental Illness,’ a short paper and a book by the same name. He reasserted the theme that “mental illness” does not exist except as metaphor in a later article entitled ‘Mental illness is still a myth,’ stating that:
“My critique of psychiatry is two-pronged, partly conceptual, partly moral and political. At the core of my conceptual critique lies the distinction between the literal and metaphorical use of language—with mental illness as a metaphor. At the core of my moral-political critique lies the distinction between relating to grown persons as responsible adults and as irresponsible insane persons (quasi-infants or idiots)—the former possessing free will, the latter lacking this moral attribute because of being “possessed” by mental illness. Instead of addressing these issues, my critics have concentrated on analyzing my motives and defending psychiatric slavery as benefiting the “slaves” and society alike. The reason for this impasse is that psychiatrists regard their own claims as the truths of medical science, and the claims of mental patients as the manifestations of mental diseases; whereas I regard both sets of claims as unwarranted justifications for imposing the claimants’ beliefs and behavior on others.”
“Why do we make diagnoses?” he asks.
“There are several reasons: 1) Scientific—to identify the organs or tissues affected and perhaps the cause of the illness; 2) Professional—to enlarge the scope, and thus the power and prestige, of a state-protected medical monopoly and the income of its practitioners; 3) Legal—to justify state-sanctioned coercive interventions outside of the criminal justice system; 4) Political-economic—to justify enacting and enforcing measures aimed at promoting public health and providing funds for research and treatment on projects classified as medical; 5) Personal—to enlist the support of public opinion, the media, and the legal system for bestowing special privileges (and impose special hardships) on persons diagnosed as (mentally) ill.”
Everyone has noticed the growth in the number of purportedly abnormal behaviors to be treated by the mental health monopoly over recent years, and the fact that there are always newer or better psychotropic drugs to be prescribed for the classified mental illnesses. In fact the classifications are often designed to match the specifications of the funding sources; to suit the insurance industry and the government regulators. All in all, if we examine the developing nosology set forth in the diagnostic manuals, and take note of the proliferation of subjective diagnoses made with objective pretense, and the relationship of the classifications with a developing moral code—for example, the morbid tendency of slaves to flee; neurasthenia due to the stress of industrialization; purportedly immoral homosexuality and masturbation, included and then excluded from the manuals or dismembered and tucked away in other classifications—the diagnostic manuals appear to be indexes to a fiction novel encompassing all aspects of modern life.
To wit: civilization is an incurable disease, but its symptoms can be alleviated with a proper regimen of psychotropic drug treatment and methodic counseling by licensed doctors. Further, any intelligent and sane person patient enough to study the development and current plot of this living novel (everybody is sick and needs doctors to help them) cannot help but conclude that it is not being written by scientists.
Indeed, the very proliferation of diagnoses from a few to hundreds, right down to the malingerer, the wandering fuguist with jet lag and coffee nerves destined to forget everything that occurred during his fugue, and the shy boy diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a vague position on the autism spectrum, is evidence that the good doctors do not have a scientific theory nor a clear conception of sanity. Once all the kids and adults are sorted into their respective disorders, a normal person, other than a total madman, cannot be found, but the classifications will be milked for hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
That, however, is not to say that the well intentioned therapists are not as helpful as priests or lay practitioners or witch doctors, provided that the afflicted persons believe in the psychotherapy cults. If the patients themselves are faithless, then sane people, or people who cannot tolerate misbehavior, can put disorderly people out of the way in institutions for the mentally ill.
Szasz’ critique of his profession was certainly not appreciated by his peers for it was a direct attack, questioning the motives of everyone involved in the mental illness racket, excepting perhaps, the neurologists who were looking for a causative organic link to mental anomalies. But then the “disease” would not be “mental.” “Mental illness,” on the one hand, is an euphemism intended to relieve misbehaving people from blame for their condition; on the other hand, it may deemed an insult to the dignity of the human being, whose essential difference from other animals is the ability to think.
No doubt many psychiatrists have the best of intentions; they care for their patients and would like to see them behave normally, at least to make the adjustments necessary to lead a “productive” life; that is, one that adds to the gross national product at least to the extent that others do not have to support them. But mandatory “adjustment” to the status quo disturbs people who do not want to conform or who want the status quo to change. Yes, one of the main categories in the Diagnostic Standards Manual is “adjustment disorders.”
Everyone has encountered mentally disturbed or deranged individuals; “mental illness” may be a myth, but there is definitely something wrong with them, with their behavior. They do not fit into our culture, the “irresponsible insane persons (quasi-infants or idiots),” and especially adults “possessing free will” who therefore deliberately misbehave.
In any case, “behavior” is the key word. Is the misbehavior simply immoral, a moral issue rather than a question of neurological malfunction?
“As for psychiatry, it ought to be clear that, except for the diagnoses of neurological diseases (treated by neurologists), no psychiatric diagnosis is, or can be, pathology-driven. Instead, all such diagnoses are driven by non-medical, that is, economic, personal, legal, political, or social considerations and incentives. Hence, psychiatric diagnoses point neither to anatomical or physiological lesions, nor to disease-causative agents, but allude to human behaviors and human problems.”
A critical mind, kind enough to acquit psychiatry of bad intentions, might even say the psychotherapy profession is a symptom of the sick society it wants to cure, but lacks the means to alleviate the basic anxiety terribly aggravated when philosophy, the queen of the hard and soft sciences, was reduced to positivist psychology after the so-called Supreme Being was assassinated.
So it appears that our frustrated psychiatrist, ‘Doctor’ Sartre, steeped as he was in atheistic leftist propaganda, disapproved of Flaubert’s bourgeoisie misbehavior. Poor Gustave, as it were, had been possessed, as if in Delphi, by a hysterical, Cretan pythia, a dragoness against whose viselike grip the hapless romantic struggles in bad faith for a realistic rationale. His faith is bad because he knows he cannot know himself from within or without; his ‘I’ is nothing; the reality he pursues is a negation; lacking an objective, he is condemned to fiction, to art for the sake of art.
We envision him according to Sartre’s analysis as psychically conflicted and traumatized by his dispassionate father in his passionate childhood, sitting masochistically for hours on end, hunched virtually immobile over his desk, knuckles bloodless from gripping his pen ever so rigidly, agonizingly finding just the right and fit words which will leave no evidence of his own existence behind, thus he appears to be entirely unsympathetic towards his subjects, meaning the objects he painstakingly details; and, above all, he is truthful, that is to say, cynical. The result: Madame Bovary, one of the finest novels every written, the virtual incarnation of himself, an example mimicked by many masters thereafter—such is the persuasive power of masterful suggestion.
Flaubert deserves credit for his individual willpower, which is in fact the principle concern of French Existentialism in its obedience to the ancient command Know Thyself.
Socrates has turned from stargazing to introspection back in the day, but he observed that, whatever the Truth is, it matters not whether one proceeds with the investigation from subject or object, within or without. The wisdom Socrates found was that he alone knew he was ignorant. But that is saying much for knowledge, for ignorance is not the stupidity that Flaubert gave as a prerequisite of happiness providing health and selfishness concur with stupidity. No wonder Flaubert’s reality tasted, as he said, like shit.
No wonder Socrates thought philosophy is the preparation for death. Consciousness cannot know the knower. The knower is essentially nothing; Reality is indefinite; Being is nothingness; how depressing!
Flaubert, disenchanted with the imaginative monstrosities of his youth, turned from subject to object, from the romantic vagaries or python within to the objective clarities without. He was not the social-utopia activist Sartre would have liked him to be, but he was a realistic activist in the sense that thinking and writing is symbolic activity; and his cynical depiction of bourgeois society, cynical because his depiction happened to be true, was just as liberating as Sartre’s self-involved or romantic existentialism, which was essentially a furthering of French Spiritualism or Voluntarism; not to mention Sartre’s intentional fiction wherein he was hardly loath to exhibit moral degeneracy for sake of drawing attention to scandals that everyone is “born in sin,” i.e. as an individual necessarily varying from the Good of the Whole, naturally finds fascinating.
Again it appears to us that Sartre’s psychoanalysis of Flaubert’s preoccupation amounts to a thoroughly moral condemnation of his patient, who is all too patient of a patient because he is already dead.
Sartre knew a sinner when he saw one; are we not all sinners to an extent? Sartre’s sin is in his existential individualism, of being born an individual in the first place, and then flaunting his individualism in opposition to the summum bonum or Good that society and/or its god is, ad infinitum in writing.
Flaubert tried to disappear in a fugue, to render his own pathetic existence invisible while describing the falsifications or illusions of the others. Still, the sin here, and Sartre knew this very well from existentialism’s progenitor, Soren Kierkegaard, was in being, not in existence per se; it was in being false to existence. It is the sin of being an artist who places himself beyond good and evil rather than to make a choice and live with it.
The morbid, morose, moribund person, we recall from our etymology, is morally diseased, is immoral in his deadly contradiction to the force that urges him to live forever in his differentiation by paradoxically merging with the bustling crowd, instead of falling back into the womb, which represents his own death although others may emerge from his tomb if he is not reborn.
The writer’s despairing retreat can be a very lonely one if his ego is subject to Kierkegaard’s “fatal disease.” Kierkegaard referred to the sinful existence of the artist’s existence—we would rather call it the sin of his being or form of existence instead of his existence per se, which in its contradictory individuality happens to be the original “Christian” sin, the crux from whence the twin fears, of life and death, plague humankind with anxiety.
However that may be, Kierkegaard stated: “From a Christian point of view, any poet’s existence, with his whole aesthetic existence, is a sin; the sin of writing poetry instead of living, of connecting himself with the good and evil instead of being the good and evil, that is essentially aspiring to become all these.”
The Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis celebrated the Christian sin of pride with this description of a writer’s workshop: “The fourth day I jumped out of the bed, I took the pen and I started writing… I was writing and I was so proud; I was a God who was doing what he wanted, was changing the reality, shaping it the way he wanted, mixing the truth and the lie; but it was no longer the truth and the lie, it was a soft dough that I was shaping according to my own imagination, without asking for anyone’s permission.”
In the final analysis Sartre’s novel psychoanalysis is hardly objective inasmuch as it is deliberately prejudiced by a hackneyed Marxist criticism of so-called bourgeois society, a society that Flaubert also despised and was fain to bitterly criticize, although he simulated bourgeois life for the sake of convenience, using it as a foundation for freedom.
“Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work,” was Flaubert’s maxim.
Sartre had also been cultivated by the bourgeois culture. Indeed, he identified himself as a member of the bourgeoisie through his resistance to it.
Who would we be without those we oppose?