On Jean-Pierre Deffieux’s “On reasoning madmen”
Via NLS – New Lacanian School of Psychoanalysis
“Jean-Pierre Deffieux’s “On reasoning madmen” analyses the seminal work of Paul Sérieux and Joseph Capgras for an English-speaking audience. Sérieux and Capgras were two major figures in French psychiatry whose 1909 publication, Les folies raisonnantes, which was considered a “masterly” work by Lacan, provides significant background to some important points in Lacan’s own understanding of psychosis.[i] Their analysis of “delusions of interpretation”, a concept that has since become famous in France but less well-accepted to psychiatry in the English-speaking world, emphasises what they call the “interpretative side” of psychosis over the paranoid or persecutory aspect.
With fine clinical observation, they focus on the role of interpretation in paranoia and conclude that the real kernel of paranoia is not ideas of persecution but an interpretative delusion. An interpretative delusion can be characterised in these terms. It begins with a dominant idea such as one of grandeur or persecution, or perhaps a mystical, erotic or jealous idea. There then ensues a reasoning and systematising process that successively crystallises a series of interpretations out of the phenomenon. Their analysis thus emphasises the role of the signifier itself, rather than the role of the signified or the content of the persecutory delusion.
Sérieux and Capgras contrast interpretative delusions (as the kernel of paranoia) with litigious delusions, taking the latter to be a distinct entity. Litigious delusions are linked to a precise external cause that the subject regards as prejudicial, and the subject is characterised by an idée fixe and by a manic commitment to working for “the cause”, as he understands it.
The task of separating out and refining these significant clinical entities was clearly an arduous business. The absence of hallucinations, mood disturbance, or signs of schizophrenia worried the authors to the point where they even wondered whether what they were describing really was a mental illness. And the precise identification of the interpretative delusion was difficult to make.
The article is accompanied by a valuable discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of Sérieux and Capgras’s contribution with Jacques-Alain Miller and other members of the École de la Cause freudienne.
[i] John Cutting and Michael Shepherd published a long excerpt from Les folies raisonnantes (pp. 5-43) in their excellent edited volume, The clinical roots of the schizophrenia concept (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1987), along with other seminal works from French and German psychiatrists.”
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