Unreal Nature

February 16, 2016

Having Nothing More to Lose

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

… Having nothing more to lose, he can indulge in the intoxication of self-surrender …

Continuing through Art Brut by Michel Thévoz (1995):

… It has often been thought surprising that so many inmates of psychiatric hospitals should suddenly begin to draw, usually without having had any artistic training, and sometimes reveal unsuspected gifts. To be accurate, one would have to say that they begin to draw again, since they are only taking up anew an activity which all of us have practiced in childhood.

[line break added] What has actually happened, in every case, is that there has been an interruption in the practice of drawing. But then the real matter for surprise is rather that this interruption should prove to be final in “normal” individuals.

… Detention is particularly propitious to imaginative creation. It may be likened to a state of drowsiness. It involves a social estrangement and a decline of the “reality principle.” The surrounding world ceases to be envisaged in an instrumental sense, and the emotional investments, on the basis of which it was originally built, stand revealed for what they are.

… While prison aims essentially at impressing his responsibility on the inmate, the psychiatric institution does everything to exempt him from it. The mental patient, as soon as he is designated as such, ceases to be listened to — except with a view to diagnosis or in a climate of therapeutic solicitude that rules out any reciprocity.

[line break added] Since he is now deprived of any interlocutor, his utterance, his power of expression, no longer has to be regulated in terms of a desired result: it becomes an end in itself. Disinterested, having no direct object, it can play freely with itself. Usually it will regress towards stereotypy. But it may also develop and open out, without regard to any standard of communication.

[line break added] The psychiatric inmate, having nothing to look forward to, having no idea when he may be released, if ever, is in a position to prefer the shadow to the prey, as André Breton put it. The advantage he reaps from his dereliction is that he is free to express himself gratuitously, and he is exonerated from the anxiety of human relationships and social responsibilities.

[line break added] No longer having to use language as an instrument, since his faculty of so using it is challenged, he can make play with it for its own sake, he can let himself be lured away by the plastic density of the signs and their intrinsic symbolic energy. Having nothing more to lose, he can indulge in the intoxication of self-surrender and untrammelled freedom which is so favorable to imaginative creation.

… I do not by any means claim that detention in itself is apt to arouse a man’s faculties of invention. It would be preposterous to credit the psychiatric institution with the works that see the light there. The “secondary gain from internment” to which I have referred — rare at the best of times and now largely eliminated by the advent of chemotherapy — can in no way compensate for the essential inhumanity of the mental patient’s position in our society.

[line break added] The fact remains that in a very small number of cases, and these are the ones that concern us here, institutional care has happened to have a positive effect, in so far as it represented an alternative to a social existence in the outside world which was felt to be still more intolerable.

My most recent previous post from Thévoz’s book is here.

-Julie

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