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Robbins, M. (1998). The Paradoxes of Delusion: Wittgenstein, Schreber, and the Schizophrenic Mind. By Louis A. Sass. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994, xii + 168 pp., $24.95. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 46(3):959-962.

(1998). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 46(3):959-962

The Paradoxes of Delusion: Wittgenstein, Schreber, and the Schizophrenic Mind. By Louis A. Sass. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994, xii + 168 pp., $24.95

Review by:
Michael Robbins

Nowhere is the heterogeneous state of psychoanalysis more apparent than in the study of psychosis. During the very period I was reading Sass's effort to explicate the meaningfulness of schizophrenic delusions, I had occasion to discuss a paper by the psychoanalyst Thomas McGlashan (1994); based on the work of Hoffman and Dobscha (1989), it utilized computer neural network models in support of the hypothesis that delusions are meaningless products of electrical storms in the brain.

Social attitudes toward schizophrenics have encompassed the archaic narcissistic spectrum from subhuman to superhuman. Sass's book describing schizophrenic thinking as philosophizing gone awry is in the latter tradition, which may be traced back to the ages-old idea of the schizophrenic as oracle or seer, and more recent beliefs about the unusual creativity of schizophrenics, their special sensitivity to the ills of society, and their unusual attunement to primary process. Sass joins a long time of scholars following Freud who have sought to extract from Daniel Paul Schreber's memoirs some clues about the nature of schizophrenia.

Sass's contribution involves his creative juxtaposition of Schreber's memoirs with philosophical writings on the subject of epistemology, particularly those of Wittgenstein on solipsism. Sass's central thesis is that schizophrenic thought is not disturbed or disordered so much as it is detached from its normal embeddedness in or relatedness to the body, the emotions, and other people. In concert with most observers of schizophrenia, who have noted dissociation of psychic functions, he states that “madness … is the endpoint of the trajectory consciousness follows when it separates from the body and the passions, and from the social and practical world, and turns in upon itself; it is what might be called the mind's perverse self-apotheosis” (p. 12). He skillfully highlights Schreber's solipsism as reflected in his idiosyncratic use of the subject-object referents of ordinary communicative grammar, and in peculiarities of his attention and concentration. The principal paradox of delusion about which Sass writes is the oscillation of Schreber's totalistic experiences as solipsistic subject (the rays) and as solipsistic object (the nerves).

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