p. 45 – 63. The conclusion of Cogito and the History of Madness and what I picked up from it.
He continues by positing (or relating Descartes’ posit) that dreams are more mad than madness because they are completely illusion, whereas madness maintains an element of reality. But dreams also contain intelligible elements like bodies, colors, and shapes.
Our senses sometimes deceive us, and this is the basis for much of philosophy.
Reasons for madness discussed:
1. the body – “perversion of the senses”
2. the mind or will – decreased “faculties of representation or judgment… He would even be condemned to construe it, like all errors, not only as an epistemological deficiency but also as a moral failure linked to a precipitation of the will; for will alone can consecrate the intellectual finitude of perception as error. It is only one step from here to making madness a sin, a step that was soon after cheerfully taken” [by Descartes].
However, it seems that these two truths become vulnerable in turn, as soon as we come to the properly philosophical, metaphysical, and critical phase of doubt. This reminds me of the gnomic will that does not know outcomes and can rationalize any decision based on perceived good.
He then introduces diabolical transcendent hyperbole (exaggeration and unattainable infinity?) and the evil genius which I am having difficulty understanding. “Marking the absolutely hyperbolical moment which gets us out of natural doubt and leads to the hypothesis of the evil genius. Descartes has just admitted that arithmetic, geometry, and simple notions escape the first doubt, and he writes, ‘Nevertheless I have long had fixed in my mind the belief that an all-powerful God existed by whom I have been created such as I am.’ This is the onset of the well-known movement leading to the fiction of the evil genius.”
Perhaps he is saying that if we can’t trust our senses, then God is an evil, elusive, genius who tricks some people into hell. He talks about Descartes believing that God alone saves from madness. Maybe Derrida is rebelling against the deterministic god who saves some but not others. I think he’s saying pure thought must be kept as a possibility for anyone.
If truth and reality/sanity are elusive, then there is the possibility of the evil genius. He also weaves in the notion of the attempt to be sane through language, and that insanity is a sort of silence, “Beneath this natural comfort, beneath this apparently prephilosophical confidence [ignorant insanity is bliss?] is hidden the recognition of an essential and principled truth: to wit, if discourse and philosophical communication (that is language itself) are to have an intelligible meaning, that is to say, if they are to conform to their essence and vocation as discourse, they must simultaneously in fact and in principle escape madness. They must carry normality in themselves. And this…is not a defect or mystification linked to a determined historical structure, but rather is an essential and universal necessity from which no discourse can escape, for it belongs to the meaning of meaning… even the discourse which denounces a mystification or an act of force. And paradoxically, what I am saying here is strictly Foucauldian. For we now appreciate the profundity of the following affirmation of Foucault’s that curiously also saves Descartes from the accusations made against him: “Madness is the absence of a work.” [boldness mine] Now the work starts with the most elementary discourse, with the first articulation of a meaning… for to make a sentence is to manifest a possible meaning. By its essence, a sentence is normal. It carries normality with it, that is sense, in every sense of the word… It carries normality and sense within it, and does so whatever the state, whatever the health or madness of him who propounds it, or whom it passes through, on whom, in whom it is articulated. In its most impoverished syntax, logos is reason, and indeed a historical reason. And if madness in general, beyond any factitious and determined historical structure, is the absense of a work, then madness is indeed, essentially and generally silence, stifled speech, within a caesura and a wound that open up life as historicity in general.
He then makes a distinction between the two extremes of dogmatic, determined historical facts and “some ahistorical eternity” – transcendent hyperbole. I think this latter is a criticism of a certain clueless, elusive, apophaticism. Then he goes into how to live within silence and language, “Not a determined silence, imposed at one given moment rather than at any other, but a silence essentially linked to an act of force and a prohibition which open history and speech. In general. Within the dimension of historicity in general, which is to be confused neither with some ahistorical eternity, nor with an empirically determined moment of the history of facts, silence plays the irreducible role of that which bears and haunts language, outside and against which alone language can emerge – “against” here simultaneously designating the content from which form takes off by force, and the adversary against whom I assure and reassure myself by force. Althought the silence of madness is the absence of a work this silence is not simply the work’s epigraph, nor is it, as concerns language and meaning, outside the work. Like nonmeaning, silence is the work’s limit and profound resource. Of course, in essentializing madness this way one runs the risk of disintegrating the factual findings of psychiatric efforts. This is a permanent danger, but it should not discourage the demanding and patient psychiatrist. (p. 53&54)
I will say that going back through this and trying to articulate through writing what Derrida means after a confusing once-through reading, is very clarifying, though my notes may be indecipherable. Another thought I’ve had through this part of the chapter is that if color, mathematics and geometry are accepted empirical realities, then no wonder we need icons to protect us from delusion. And I like the idea of the universal attempt-to-know which invites fulfillable, not elusive, revelation. I’ve often thought that truth comes to those who openly seek it. People whose hearts are open can find it, to whatever extent. Though it certainly gets stifled in all of us when we self-protectively close our hearts.
Back to madness, he speaks of fiction being a means to give language to madness by keeping onesself distant from it to be able to continue to live. Through this type of “complicity with it, [one can] measure their own strength against the greatest possible proximity to madness.”
Regarding “I think, therefore I am”, he says that “the Cogito escapes madness only because at its own moment, under its own authroity, it is valid even if I am mad, even if my thoughts are completely mad. There is a value and a meaning of the Cogito, as of existence, which escape the alternative of a determined madness or a determined reason. Confronted with the critical experience of the Cogito, insanity, as stated in the Discourse on Method, is irremediably on a plane with skepticism. Thought no longer fears madness… The certainty thus attained need not be sheltered from an imprisoned madness, for it is attained and ascertained within madness itself… [and] seems to require neither the exclusion nor the circumventing of madness.”
He is defending his right to think, and says that the work of thinking validates the thinker. I can respect a person’s desire to think and work through problems. It is giving up that is the decision to despair – madness. Contrarily, he is questioning Descartes’ God alone theology that in order to prevent madness, you have to check your brain in at the door and let God take control. “For finally, it is God alone who, by permitting me to extirpate [extricate] myself from a Cogito that at its proper moment can always remain a silent madness, also insures my representations and my cognitive determinations, that is my discourse against madness. It is without doubt that, for Descartes God alone protects me against the madness to which the Cogito, left to its own authority, could only open itself up in the most hospitable way.” (p. 58)
The compromise would be synergy with God, because “me alone” would be a recipe for disastrous madness.
Apparently the ‘silent theory’ isn’t new, Analogously, Saint Anselm saw in the insipiens, the insane man, someone who could not think because he could not think what he said. Madness was for him too, a silence, the voluble silence of a thought that did not think its own words. (p. 59)
The historicity of philosophy is located and constituted within the transition, the dialogue between the hyperbole and the finite structure, between that which exceeds the totality and the closed totality.(p.60) The Incarnation and economia in the Church can be seen as embodying that transition and dialogue.
We have attempted not to extinguish the other light, a black and hardly natural light, the vigil of the “powers of unreason” around the Cogito. We have attempted to requite ourselves toward the gesture which Descartes uses to requite himself as concerns the menacing powers of madness which are the adverse origin of philosophy. (p.61)
He must be drawing the connection between “extinguish” and ‘forcefully incarcerating’. The strategy is not to do frontal assault with madness, but to work around it by thinking, a subtler force. I’ve always liked the way John Nash’s struggle was portrayed in A Beautiful Mind by deciding not to interact nor aggressively confront his delusion. He sort of let it float around in the periphery. Denying it’s presence wasn’t helpful either. He was also grounded to reality by the physical presence of his wife, and when she wasn’t there, by her handkerchief.
So in his explanation that there is no such thing as complete madness, I can draw a similarity to a denial of total depravity. And I think that healing steps are available to all who are on the quest, even those not within the Church. But the Orthodox Church has the balanced fullness of healing steps for people who are willing to do the work. We are allowed to dialogue with the Church who will mediate between us and God, or at least bear mutual witness. (I did not say, “dialogue with God” because we can pray wrongly and can be deluded as to how God answers back, but He is merciful and will send the help we need if we’ll accept it.) We do not have to check our brains in at the door. Derrida never mentioned listening though, but he obviously has listened to philosophers and worked to understand what they said, and believes that people will be helped by listening to him. I believe listening, thinking, questioning and speaking in response are parts of healing that the Church encourages. And we are given freedom to accept or not the answers, with whatever ramifications. We have a very active role in implementing our own health.