The social world of melancholic and schizophrenic persons

Giovanni Stanghellini

in Disembodied Spirits and Deanimated Bodies

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print September 2004 | ISBN: 9780198520894
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754302 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

The social world of melancholic and schizophrenic persons

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The analysis of subjectivity as a social phenomenon has been the fruitful epistemological basis for social psychopathology whose aim is the clarification of the impairments of intersubjectivity in mental disorders, and especially in melancholia and in schizophrenia. This is the topic of the Fifth study: the description of the social worlds of manic-depressive and schizophrenic persons based on their own self-accounts. The schizotypal and the melancholic type of personality are described as ‘axiological’ types, i.e. focusing on the structure of their values and beliefs. The (sometimes tragic or heroic) dialectic between societal demands and individual needs, values, and meanings is taken into account.

If we view the life-world as a chessboard, whatever the melancholic type's position may be, its range of movement is precisely that of a pawn, limited and predictable. The stubbornness and heaviness of the melancholic type's existential core make him a basically centric type: enmeshed in common sense, hyperidentifying with social norms, intolerant of ambiguity (and, thus, of reality's complexity), hyper-syntonic, with a tendency to be hypo-critical towards the decreed social customs and therefore, in this context, hyporeflexive. The melancholic type seeks harmony rather than truth in interpersonal relationships, is intent on endorsing the pre-established order and adapting to it rather than challenging it, or even simply imagining a possible alternative. In other words, the melancholic type succumbs to the gravitational pull of the Law, which he equates with Nature. Here the words of Minkowski are appropriate, where he states that the utmost normality is found in syntonia – as well as the utmost pathology in schizoidia.

The schizotypal's position is, in contrast, completely outside of the chessboard. It can be seen as reflecting his inclination towards bracketing ready-made social roles and rules. This is all related to the schizotypal's tendency to be placed, but also to actively place himself, outside of the boundaries of the social game. The schizotypal person as an existentially-vulnerable type is quite weakly anchored to common sense, and as a result finds it difficult to adjust to social norms. He is enslaved by individualism to the same degree that the melancholic type is the hostage of a collectivistic mentality. The schizotypal may be trapped by the complexity and contradictions of reality, to the point of being displaced, disoriented and even paralyzed by the multiplicity of alternatives. Hyperreflexive to the point of bewilderment by the possibilities that in the end resemble a funhouse mirror game, ‘he can stand there’ as Kretschmer would say ‘with a puzzled face and hanging arms, like a note of interrogation’.

In the schizotype's world view, the evanescence of the foundation of social life (that is, the loss of self-evidence) lives side-by-side with the refusal of impersonal and anonymous norms. Thus, it is possible that a schizotype might consider it worth placing himself on the outskirts of social life. In fact, his actual position in life may end up coinciding with his attitude towards life – the disdainful and angry rejection of artificiality in the world, and furious nostalgia for authenticity.

Just as the melancholic type embodies being hostage to centricity, the schizotype incarnates propelling himself into extreme eccentricity.

Chapter.  6708 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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