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 →]