the madhouse: Max Stirner in the open asylum

Man, your head is haunted; you have wheels in your head! You imagine great things, and depict to yourself a whole world of gods that has an existence for you, a spirit-realm to which you suppose yourself to be called, an ideal that beckons to you. You have a fixed idea! Do not think that I am jesting or speaking figuratively when I regard those persons who cling to the Higher, and (because the vast majority belongs under this head) almost the whole world of men, as veritable fools, fools in a madhouse. What is it, then, that is called a “fixed idea”? An idea that has subjected the man to itself. When you recognize, with regard to such a fixed idea, that it is a folly, you shut its slave up in an asylum. And is the truth of the faith, say, which we are not to doubt; the majesty of (e. g.) the people, which we are not to strike at (he who does is guilty of — lese-majesty); virtue, against which the censor is not to let a word pass, that morality may be kept pure; — are these not “fixed ideas”? Is not all the stupid chatter of (e. g.) most of our newspapers the babble of fools who suffer from the fixed idea of morality, legality, Christianity, etc., and only seem to go about free because the madhouse in which they walk takes in so broad a space?

there is no thinker who has had a more profound influence on me that stirner. poor stirner. poor johanne kaspar schmidt who got swollen with egoic power and died alone from a mosquito bite. if you want a critique of existing left politics or of liberal humanism here it is. of course we don’t go near dear old max because a bigger boy called him saint max and sancho and little kaspar was dismissed. even worse those old postmodernists looked at him talked about him or worse still the insurrectionist anarchists and the paedophile hakim bey. what do these words mean? so the fuck what about who picked up stirner and let him run his mouth through them? stirner knew how to tear shit down even if he lived a quiet humble unassuming life. that is in the nature of implosive politics.

you want to survive on the psychiatric ward and in the open asylum? okay, you gotta learn one quick lesson: the attendants and the doctors are keeping an eye on yooooooooou. when the world itself is the asylum what outside do you think there is? the outside is a movement inside of abolitionism and refusal. it is a movement inward towards that creative nothing that stirner spoke about as the creative nothing. this is the ego of stirner. how many times does it need said? you’re a flesh and blood creature as well as a lot of other things. you aren’t your idea about yourself. you aren’t the ideas about yourself that populate your head and come from god knows what machinery of mystification and fuck mystification anyway. at this point who doesn’t know they are mystified and that their vision is distorted by all manner of semiological possessions conditioning them. these ideas are demons as the old style lunatic used to tell you quite clearly if you’d ever actually listen to him rather than laying down some clever theory about paternal functions or whatever else it is you have up your sleeve. the demon that infests us is the biblical legion. “we are legion for we are many”, say the multiplicity of ideas that stand above us.

stirner couldn’t be more clear on all this if he tried. and he couldn’t be more clear about the nature of the ego that he posits: 

it is not that the ego is all, but the ego destroys all, and only the self-dissolving ego, the never-being ego, the— finite ego is really I. Fichte speaks of the ‘absolute’ ego, but I speak of me, the transitory ego.” (1995, p. 163) Stirner’s ego is always in activity, never a principle of justification or axiom of a system; it is not one, but rather only named as one by its uniqueness as such. By qualifying this account of the name ego/I, we come to a point at which we realize it’s purely functional character.

the ego is ‘functional’ but impermanent and ‘self-dissolving’ and in fact is ‘never-being’: this is the point that our contemporary neuroscience has taken us too as well. it is conjured up and then dissolved. it is a phenomenal self model that is there when we call on it and is gone when we’re looking elsewhere. it can be updated with new information but it isn’t itself a thing. this is the first madness that has been with our suffering little species: that we exist at all. we can say with evolutionary science that what stirner says of the ego is also true of the species. the entire point of evolution is the dissolution of stable categorical essences belonging to individuals or populations.

for stirner ‘the human’ of humanism is just another idea conjured up in the minds and the discourse of clever people that those same clever people have subordinated themselves to. to be subordinate to a world of ideas- whether or not they come from the material organization of society- is to be insane. stirner asks what it is that the humanist sees in this or that corporeal body and answers that they see only this ‘the human’- an essence or a practice or whatever else: fundamentally they see in terms of a conditioned category and they relate to the category rather than the body that is here and now doing whatever it is that it is doing or which is standing in this position or that one. for stirner the human or humanism is neither you nor i nor some genericity subtending us at the prepersonal level. ideas of genericity are ideas still and one cannot relate to an idea unless one is making use of it or being made us of by it. that is, we are either speaking or spoken. the one who is spoken in language by language is the madman. the semiological autonomism and verbal tics of our age are so many symptoms of this madness.

stirner calls them “idee fixe”. here is susan bordo discussing the idee fixe that is operative in anorexia

The idée fixe — staying thin — becomes at its furthest extreme so powerful as to render any other ideas or life projects meaningless. … “I felt all inner development was ceasing, that all becoming and growing were being choked, because a single idea was filling my entire soul”

and here is johann christian heinroth, a psychiatrist contemporary with esquirol and pinel

is the disposition which is seized by some depressing passion, and then has to follow it, and then since this passion becomes the dominating element, the intellect is forced by the disposition to retain certain thoughts and concepts

or here is marina van zuylen commenting on the history of literature’s handling of “monomania”

the illness, suddenly an all consuming idee fixe, displaces any previous creed or practice. perhaps it is this power of displacement…[that give the hypochondriac] a new order, a new harmony…those who do not share the symptoms are discarded as trivial and commonplace.

pay attention: the obsessives are those with a total creed and practice and who only deal with those who are inside their own game. this is the way it is and that is how it is in the open asylum: whoever does not share the symptoms is discarded. this is how it works. Or consider Henry Miller in The Cosmological Eye

The world seems like a mad-house, and the world is a mad-house, but nobody dares dwell on it. When an appalling piece of insanity, already properly castrated, is about to be presented a warning is issued to the spectactors not to indulge in demonstrations. Rest impartial! that is the edict,We command you in the name of lunacy- keep cool!

here is a man who can stay with the surface. the sur-face. over and above the face. the face of the face understood as the surface of the surface. the skin of the world. one must not point out the lunacy of our lunacy. this is the one asylum where insight is not encouraged. insight. what is that? it’s the psychobabble for the ability to know that one is hallucinating when one is hallucinating. welcome to the nuthouse where insight is prohibited. at least out loud. everyone is invested in making sure the whole damn thing keeps going. all the protest and the shouting and the demonstrations and the direct actions appear from here as just more of noise from the new admissions. they’re still thrashing about denying that they’re mad as if that didn’t already make them the maddest of the lot.

listen to someone who has been on a hospital ward and he will let you know. throw away the big book of philosophers who know and political economists who will tell you a thing or too. those are important for navigating life inside the asylum, sure, of course; but you want to get out alive don’t you? so how can marx tell you that? how much time did he spend in the company of schizophrenics and suicides all huddled together on the ward? you’re spirit guide is the man who has been through it or the psychiatrist who has realized that he’s just another patient in disguise.

the first path is that of the generalized victimology: these are the professional patients who kick and scream but also talk the talk to the good world, hoping for a pleasant discharge. the second path is that of those who sink below that level.  the victimological is the expert of experience who is integrated into the functioning of the open asylum. the others evade it, or try to, by withdrawing out of view and admitting it to themselves: yes, i am a lunatic…but under her breath she will also say…perhaps not lunatic enough.

humanism wants to cover over an essential crack in the fabric of its object. stirner calls this crack the un-man and defines it as the

a man who does not correspond to the concept of man, which refuses to conform to a human essence, as the inhuman is something human that is not conformed to the concept of the human…

the un-man is what is always left over as that excessive smear on the polite sheen of the concept of man carried in the hearts of humanists everywhere. it is the excremental part that remains which the hypochondriac destroys when she annihilates the organs of the body. the un-man is the rational that comes out of an exorcism of madness that comes from a realization that one is mad. this might be what is at stake in various psychoanalytic injunctions to care for one’s symptoms. to cherish one’s insanity is to make a space for the un-man and to tolerate the horrific ambiguity of the somatic infrastructure that generates the illusions of the egos. in this sense the new rationalism of accelerationist inhumanism might actually be entirely compatible with a consciously lived insanity. consider reza negarastani’s “drafting the inhuman: conjectures on capitalism and organic necrocracy”-

The Inhuman, respectively, is outlined by those ways of binding exteriority or complicity with non-conceptual negativity which are not immanent to the anthropic horizon and betray the economical order of the anthropic horizon in regard to exteriority. Such alternatives do not simply suggest dying in ways other than those prescribed by the organism, but rather the mobilization of forms of non-dialectical negativity which can neither be excluded by the dominant dissipative tendency of the anthropic horizon nor can be fully sublated by its order.

the Inhuman is the involved with non-conceptual negativity that has nothing to do with the “anthropic horizon” that reduces everything to the Human at the same time as “betraying” the capitalist economic rationality that escapes any kind of capture within the conjunction of humanism-capitalism. but isn’t this insanity? that’s the point…inhumanism is a mad gesture in the open asylum. this is the risk of accelerationism’s gamble: to accelerate the processes of madness so as to be liberated from madness.

max stirner calls the ego the “creative nothing”. poetry. it’s all poetry. and poetry confounds the gatekeepers of psychobabble who dwell inside us. yesterday it was talk of microfacism. well today fascism is looming large. no. today it is the micropsychiatrist and the microtherapist who accompany us everywhere. this is no longer a call for us to dive into the schizoflow and liberate some nomadic madness that is uncontaminated by all the shit of the world. this is a call to dwell in and as the shit of the world. if there is such a thing then the humanism of the inhumanism of the un-man is an excremental humanism. what is left over. the lunatics and the degenerates and the monsters: we are they.

the creative nothing is the emptiness that produces something that will only ever be dissolved. it is possible to see in this the image of a puckered anus pushing out whatever it has festering away up there. it is equally possible to see this anus as the anus that explodes on the skin of the world. it is the asshole of the world that we look away from in the attempt to deny our symptoms and our bodily state: that is why we hide behind the concepts that haunt us in the first place. the idea is a cocoon from which we hope not to emerge. the madhouse erupts periodically and we are anesthetized by smiling faces.

stirner’s egoism if it remains such is an egoism that becomes the ecstacy of the egoic in its prolonged dissolution. it is the passage out of everything to do with the ego into the void from which it is conjured. this is a dementia that doesn’t end in despair but in the image of a man singing a song because he has lungs and lips to sing and who doesn’t care what you do with that song or if you are even listening.

in the madhouse we have reached the point of generalized lunacy predicted by jacques camatte back in the days when the left punched its enemies rather than itself in the guts. before the masochistic phase of leftist critical reflexes- like an oesphageal reflex that draws up the acid from the stomach eroding the tubes destroying the capacity to speak- camatte had said that this condition consisted

in the place of human beings, and on the basis of their present limitations, capital realizes everything they desire (normal or abnormal), but human beings cannot find themselves and enjoyment continually lies in the future. The human being is carried off in the run-away of capital, and keeps it going.

welcome to the madhouse where everything that is said is the mad speech of madmen arguing endlessly over something that is nothing. we went insane over and over again. consciousness. capitalism. control. our specific insanities multiply. we love them. we are finished with. the only rationality we have left is that of deranged and desperate figures. in this world i mouth the words of those who have gone before me as if i am a device for the transmission of the voices of dead souls. disembodied voices dictate to me and i copy out what they tell here in this disembodied infosphere (the ultimate psychotic realm).

i stand perched over the creative nothing and hear the words and mouth them while writing “i have set my affairs on nothing!” “all things are nothing to me!” “I don’t care”…this is stirner’s anti-mantra. it is the anti-mantra of the implosive power of indifference. it is the secret weapon of the lunatics in the hospitals. this is how you get out. it is the mantra that meets the perfected indifference of the dark cosmos beyond our knowledge and the indifference of what once passed itself off as capitalism. before it ran away.

Paul Celan says:

                    does anyone ask after you


  1. I had something all typed up explaining my undying love for Stirner and how much I appreciate your linking of Stirner, psychosis, and critical psychology/psychiatry more broadly, but opted for the following instead: This post is fantastic, fruitful for my thought, and I look forward to reading more on the articulation of these themes. Thank you so much.

    • another route with stirner, i don’t know if youve read it, is via federico campagna’s book The Last night. worth reading.

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