David Cooper: Note on Mystification (1978)

[Please read as an insert to Howard Slater’s “‘Comrade Doctor’ – On David Cooper and ‘Anti-Psychiatry'”]

This term, mystification, itself mystified, entered the field of psychotechnology to specifically account for indirect communicative manoevres in families and other micro-groups.

Against the recuperating psychologism of such a reduction, the product of a boring familialisation of psychoanalytic discourse, we must define ‘mystification’ in a broader political sense – to sketch it out as a phenomenological politics.
We must re-read the five pages of Marx on ‘The Power of Money in Bourgeois Society’ (in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844) where he analyses texts by Goethe and Shakespeare on the subject.

This work done by Marx, expressing his hatred of money, is at the emotional heart of Marxism.

It does not reduce such hatred to the understanding of money’s ‘origins’ – hate, on the contrary, should be used to understand and change the world. Therein lies one of the essential meanings of a possible anti-psychoanalysis.

Money, says Marx, is “the alienated capacity of mankind.” So the divine power of money is that it brings together impossibilities.

What my human powers are incapable of achieving I can realize by means of money.

Money converts my powers into something they are not; it converts them into their opposites. For Marx this is all an illusion, an experiential distortion that occludes the condition of our being socially alienated.

Utilising terms such as ‘displacement’, ‘exteriorisation’, ‘interiorisation’, in a totally depsychologised sense, I suggest that we examine the most basic structure of mystification: the power structure / power as an illusion (Later we will understand it according to the analysis of the concept of alienation.) We live in anonymous relation with others; these others who are ultimately ‘the state’. Certainly, leaders exist as concrete individuals; they give us the spectacle of obscene morsels [… ] But “they” are not “them”. We live power (puissance), but it is experienced as something mysterious: our power is exteriorised in “them”, where our non-power (not powerlessness but nothing) is converted into power (pouvoir) by externalising itself.

But in this magical system, externalisation is at the same time internalisation (although for topographical reasons I drew two separate lines), which turns power (pouvoir) back against us, to leave an “impotence” in us – or at least, what we feel, as impotence vis-à-vis the “power” “of the system”; a power “elsewhere” in “them.”

Displacement is one single act. Something doesn’t come, doesn’t pass.

Nothing is passive: it is a praxis conditioned by a social alienation1 that is our historical condition. This alienation is susceptible to being transformed by another praxis , or an ensembles of praxes – other ways to insert ourselves into the world with the intention to destroy alienated social conditions.

Demystification means nothing other than the choice that is this praxis. As to those in power, we can now see their desperate powerlessness: they do not have the power, they are bound by power. The mystificators are also mystified by mystifications that they wield upon the mystified masses that they mystify!

At a quite different level of mystification there are those who accuse writers such as Ionesco and Pirandello of being reactionary. Such writers who deeply understand the madness of the bourgeois family are, like it or not, on the side of the revolution. Let us remember the disquieting harangue in Ionesco’s ‘The Killer’:

“X: People, you are mystified. You will be mystified …
Voice from the Crowd: Down with mystification! … I brought you a whole troupe of demystifiers. They will demystify you. But to demystify you they must begin by mystifying. They need a new mystification …
Voice from the Crowd: Long live the mystification of the demystifiers! … Long live the new mystification! …
X: I promise to change everything … The old mystification could not resist psychological and sociological analysis. The new mystifications will be invulnerable!”

No, there are no techniques of demystification. There is no human technology.

Illusion (latin, in-ludere) means playing in a joyless game, playing the game of the system – the system, to the extent that we have created it, that cannot stand without us.

Demystification means nothing – nothing but regaining our senses, senses it’s true to say, we have never lost.

Translated and embellished by HS/Google from: Qui Sont Les Dissidents, Editions Galilee, 1978.
Footnote
[1] Social alienation is only one chapter in the long history of alienation. I try to say more in The Language of Madness.

Demented Idioms – Schizo-Culture: The Event (1975) & The Book (1978)

“The problem is not really defining a political position […] but
to imagine and to bring about new schemas of politicization.”

– Michel Foucault

Back in the late 1980s, a series of pocket books appeared introducing English speakers to several writers who would become lumped together as post-modernist or post-structuralist philosophers. At the time, though, the names of Baudrillard, Lyotard, Virilio and Deleuze & Guattari were a lot less well known and these pocket books (dubbed the Foreign Agent Series) had the aura of underground publications. More aptly, perhaps, they seemed extra-academic; they didn’t seem to be coming from an institution and least of all from a British institution. The origins of these books, however, lay in a series of Journals and Conferences organized and edited under the name of Semiotext(e) and which came out of a specific department of Columbia University (an institutional vacuole?). One such Conference and accompanying Journal was the Schizo Culture gathering of November 1975, which brought (mainly untranslated) French theorists into collision and collaboration with elements of the SoHo Art Scene and with anti-psychiatry and prison activists like Howie Harp (Insane Liberation Front) and Judy Clark (Midnight Special). Ever mobile and shape-shifting and apposite to Semiotext(e)’s birth in a critique of linguistics1 we would find that William Burroughs (he of the ‘word virus’) was present, as was his fleetingly one-time Project Sigma collaborant, Ronald Laing. [Read more →]

Sincere Genesis – On Félix Guattari & Groups

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“Sooner or later the Situationist International must
define itself as a therapy: we are ready to defend the
poetry made by all against the false poetry
rigged up by power”
– Raoul Vaneigem

As a psychoanalyst and militant, Félix Guattari seems to have engaged with the problem of groups for all his life. Across his writing we see him putting forth, as part of a collaborative process, various conceptualisations of group life which are to a larger or lesser degree operational concepts which he had experienced and worked with. These are: institutional analysis, the subject and subjugated group and the collective assemblage of enunciation. Several themes, gathering points for his later more pronounced interest in the production of subjectivity, appear to flow through all of these concepts: transversalism, a mixed semiotic and the subject as ‘supra-personal’. [Read more →]

Peter Sedgwick: Psycho Politics – Laing, Foucault, Goffman, Szasz and the Future of Mass Psychiatry (Book Review)

Peter Sedgwick
Psycho Politics – Laing, Foucault, Goffman, Szasz and the Future of Mass Psychiatry
Foreword by Helen Spandler, Robert Dellar, Alastair Kemp
Unkant Publishers, London 2015
ISBN 978-0-86104-352-9

sedgwickpsycho001

Peter Sedgwick was born in 1934, joined the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in 1954, left it in the aftermath of the Hungarian Revolution two years later, then joined the Socialist Review Group. This small organization, headed by Tony Cliff, later became the International Socialists (IS). Sedgwick became a frequent contributor to their journal, International Socialism. When the organisation took a turn towards Leninist party-building and renamed itself Socialist Workers Party in 1977, Sedgwick left the group. He fiercely opposed this step, calling it a ‘propaganda-act’, a ‘silly fling’ and a fraud.

Sedgwick worked as a psychologist and school teacher before lecturing on politics at the universities of York and Leeds for the last 15 years of his life. He was the eminent translator of the works of communist dissident Victor Serge.

Besides dozens of articles in the press of the IS, Sedgwick’s main work is Psycho Politics – Laing, Foucault, Goffman, Szasz and the Future of Mass Psychiatry. This book was originally published by Pluto Press in 1982 and was an assault on the ideology of the anti-psychiatry movement of the 60s and 70s and its relative hegemony concerning positions towards mental health issues in the radical left at the time.

He sets out to show how these ideas, originally devised in the interest of the ‘mentally ill’, provided ammunition to those on the right with the agenda of dismantling the welfare state, giving them arguments to withhold adequate funding from the mental health institutions and ultimately shifting the responsibility of taking care of the mentally ill back to ‘the community’ or the family. [Read more →]

Psychiatry – Social Hygiene and Mind Control

This article is written with its practical use value in mind. It is about Psychiatry, and that means about psychiatric institutions and how people get there and are kept there, the ideology of ‘health’ and the class of its administrators, the doctors; it is also about economic interests: a repair institution for defective labour power, and the advantages of drug dependency for the pharmaceutical companies; but given the available space, it is not pretending to be comprehensive, its purpose is to give some (hopefully) valuable help in dealing practically with situations where a friend or comrade, or yourself are confronted with psychiatric treatment or confinement, it is attempting to give some background information about the system, and helping to break the silence about the topic, a silence that is astonishing given the fact that every year millions of people are exposed to breakdowns, diagnosis, medication and confinement… Added is a short list of links and bibliography for further reading and research, even though some of the books are unfortunately out of print, having been released at a time (from the mid 60’s to the late 70’s) when many facets of capitalist society and the mangement of power in it were under scrutiny, and the public eye was turned on psychiatry and exposed its often shocking face. Most people are under the assumption that in the wake of ‘Anti-Psychiatry’ the system has been reformed sufficiently to meet the needs of the ‘patient’. Sadly this is hardly the case, and the interest of the labour market and meeting the demands of ‘normality’ and ‘health’ is prioritised over the solutions of the patients problems. Illness is a result of the conflict of interest of the patient exactly with these concepts (health, normalcy), and in its present manifestations a product of Capitalism, but illness, and understanding it, can be used as a weapon, as the SPK put it. So this is not about denying madness or romanticising it – it’s about politicising it, i.e. making clear that it is a social and collective phenomenon, without robbing each patient of their individual dimension and dignity. [Read more →]