Saturday, March 17, 2012

On "Being-in-the-World" by Ludwig Binswanger **

Binswanger was an existential psychologist that Philip K. Dick thought highly of. In some ways, Binswanger seems very much of his time and in line with Jungian psychology, which Dick was also a fan of. But in others, Binswanger seems to depart quite a bit from Jung, at least in my reading/understanding of him.

The understanding is based in part on the substantive introduction to this book, by the translater Jacob Needleman. When I say "substantive," I mean nearly 50 percent of the pages of this text. Needleman lays Binswanger out in the context of nineteenth- and twentieth-century philosophy. As such, the work in total felt a bit over my head. I've never been that much of a fan of pure theory, and that's much of what is on hand here.

Needleman starts with Kant and with ideas about what is "real." Is the real the exterior world of things, or is it the interior world of thoughts? Do our thoughts compose those things, or do the things compose our thoughts? Kant finds a way to meld these two ideas with his concept of understanding--that we understand the exterior, essentially, thus bringing it into the interior.

But for Binswanger, an even bigger influence is Heidegger, whose work I've never had much enthusiasm for. Thus, most of my interest went more toward Needleman's later passages when he writes of Binswanger's actual closer tie (in terms of ideas, not influence) to Sartre. Sartre claims in a way that we compose our world, our reality--but we compose it with the things that are in the external world. Essentially, we have objects, but our interpretation of those objects is what makes the world.

Within this comes Binswanger, whose interest in these topics revolves in large part around treating psychological problems, especially schizophrenics. Here, he departs from Freud a bit (and I would think Jung too) in his concept of a meaning matrix. It's not enough, Binswanger seems to suggest, that objects have universal meanings (e.g., cigars as penises). We need to know why they have those meanings, what that meaning's significance is, and whether that meaning applies to a given person's situation. In this, I think Binswanger is a bit more practical--dreams do ultimately need to be seen in a personal rather than universal context for interpretation.

Binswanger's ideas of schizophrenia rest in these ideas of what constitutes reality. To him, a schizophrenic is one who loses "being-in-the-world." Such a person creates a world of his or her own, a world that is ultimately dislodged from the world and from the true self. The neurosis and fear becomes the center of existence, and thus the person ceases to exist in a real way. If All facts are interpreted through a twisted worldview. Thus, old clothes might become, for one person, for example, a harbinger of death, of old skin, and all actions then work their way out to avoid this.

If freedom of choice is based on the opportunities presented to us, the insane person actually lacks choice. He or she is handed a sleight of predetermined ideas or interpretations of the world, and all sensory perception is thus guided by them, as are all decisions. In this idea, it seems, Binswanger merges ideas of existentialism with those of psychology.

Binswanger is at his most lucid in his essay on the case of Lola Voss. Here, his theoretical discussions take on a concreteness that allows one to see them in action. It was in this essay that I began to feel, finally, like I was sort of beginning to understand what was being argued.

I suppose, if one wanted to try to apply Binswanger's ideas to Dick's books, Now Wait for Last Year, might be one that one could twist into appropriate shape. For in a sense, that book--about alternative universes--is also a book about interpreting one's reality, and changing one's past and future through such. But Dick's novel works on a very exterior/literal level--thus whatever psychological focus the work has arguably has been literalized as a surface part of the story.

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