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World and Self in Ageing and Psychosis

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image of Journal of Phenomenological Psychology

Through the twofold meaning of nature for man-rhythmically-of which he is a part and from which he is apart, the situations of psychosis and of ageing "cross over." In both are manifested the imperious sway of that nature of which we are a part: in the earlier half of life-largely-as psychosis, in the latter half of life through ageing. It is in the midst of the life-span, with the transition from predominant instinctuality to awareness of its recession, that psychosis and ageing are disclosed as complementary perspectives, the vanishing point of the former toward the bodily birth of the individual, that of the latter toward the death of the individual body. Together they intimate the possibility of an individuality which can encompass the human meanings of both. In psychosis and ageing alike, the sway of that nature of which we are a part is coupled with a heightened awareness of our own nature as apart, in the former instance passively, with an accent on one's helplessness as mechanical mind, in the latter with the realization of one's own active part over and apart from the body. In psychosis the self is overwhelmed by that nature of which its body is a part as the latter's complexion is mediated by the world. In ageing the presence of the self stands out more clearly from the ebbing instinctuality with which it was earlier alloyed. To the negative defusion of instinctuality and individuality in psychosis corresponds the possibility of a positive separation in ageing. If in psychosis, "uprightness" (Straus), "eccentricity" (Plessner), "being in the world over and beyond the world" (Binswanger), has been early flawed, ageing enables individuality to emerge in relief from the detritus of imperfect projects. "When gods die they become men, when men die they become gods." (Heraclitus). While bodily membership in nature pervades emerging individuality in the first half of life, self-assumption of responsibility emerges with the discovery of ebbing instinctuality in the middle of life. The body as a hinge between nature of which we are a part and nature from which we are apart, and whose ambiguity (Merleau-Ponty) is rhythmically reflective of the world and of self, now becomes apparent. With this the possibility of a "depth psychology" is reached, that is, a reopening of the archives of one's history for a commemorative rereading (Freud, Jung). This moment of discovery, traditionally conveyed in the analogical imagery of late summer and the Mediterranean experience of noon and afternoon, recurs throughout the opus of Freud, from his "Gradiva" essay ( 1906), through "The Uncanny" ( 1919) to his "A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis" (1936), with undertones both of psychotic derealization and of the purifying ordeal of ageing.


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