This paper explores psychosis in Jeff Nichols’ 2011 film Take Shelter, bringing into proximity Lacan’s concept of foreclosure with Korzybski’s concept of abstraction. Lacan conceptualises psychosis as the individual encountering life experiences that cannot be reconciled with their existing semantic frameworks, creating gaps that need to be plugged by being named and identified. The genesis of the psychotic structure is the foreclosure of the Name of the Father. For Lacan, psychotic delusions function to stabilise these internally destructive and perplexing encounters, by providing shape to life’s experiences. Korzybski’s model of cognition focuses on how the individual “abstracts” from their experience, how each person creates their own semantic environment based on how they attend to incoming information, and on the subsequent inferences they make. Both thinkers acknowledge the destabilising nature of chance or perplexing encounters on the human psyche, in the form of the Real for Lacan, and the territory for Korzybski. Furthermore, both emphasise the importance of the subjective position, how each individual makes sense of their world through language.
Stephen’s King’s brilliant and terrifying novel, The Shining, is an exploration of inter-generational psychosis in a family. The novel gives a multi-layered account of paranoid psychosis and provides a narrative framing of the development of a psychosis to a violent end, making it possible to explore the triggers to its violent expression. The goal of this paper is not to seek a precise cause-and-effect of psychotic and violent phenomena but to highlight and elaborate certain clinical features that allow different modalities of psychosis in the case of a father and his son to be distinguished, to trace their mutual points of overlap and convergence and to identify triggering moments of florid outbreak. While the psychosis is the one-by-one invention of a solution of every psychotic subject and is not the same in the father and son, there are moments of shared paranoid conviction and shared delusion (délire à deux). But there are also crucial differences in the father’s and son’s psychosis, in the relative strength of the defences, identifications and imaginary supports available to each of them. Points of divergence that arise between them are highly affecting and potentially devastating. These ideas are explored via their narrative and characterological development in the book.
This text is a testimony of my experience of psychosis. I do not claim to give a definitive explanation but rather to try to illustrate how easy it is to slide from a “normal” discourse into an “abnormal” one, to slide into an all-embracing psychosis (all-embracing because it entails both affect and reason) without being aware of it. My psychosis was characterized predominantly by a wide-spread delusional system with hallucinations less prevalent. I have tried to tell my story chronologically and objectively. Full objectivity is of course an illusion in this case, because of the personal nature of the article , but I have tried to avoid romanticism where possible. With this personal story I attempt to present a “small phenomenology of my psychosis”.