“The Eccentric Center” — Hölderlin and the Idea of Psychoanalytic Structure in the Artist

It’s fair to diagnose two primary psychical structures of the artist if we read Freud and Lacan’s legacy closely. The neurotic and the psychotic are, after all, apparent universally – only by varying quantity do we experience their structures. Freud discovers this as early as his work on Dora, the hysteric whom he and Breuer diagnosed in the late nineteenth century. Lacan would eventually generalize three psychical structures, the pervert, the psychotic, and the neurotic.

All of psychoanalysis implies that these psychical structures emerge by varying “quantities,” which means that they are evident in all artists. But any psychoanalytic reading of the mad artist does not forecast something dire and unfortunate for what it means to reach realms of transcendent beauty or the discovery of some artistic truth.

Nor do these psychical structures fetishize the artist as in-touch with some mad reality and truth that is inaccessible to others. These psychical structures are interiorized processes that we can identify via deconstruction of texts and psycho-biographies. Because these two forms are experienced in degrees, I’d like to look at the psychotic artist under the paradigm of Hölderlin, the great poet and German idealist novelist.

In this post, I want to claim that the psychotic’s legacy, particularly within the poetic and artistic field is paramount. To do this I will expand on Jean Laplanche’s Hölderlin and the Question of the Father, the authoritative reading of Hölderlin’s schizophrenia (which is a form of psychosis) and its relation to his artistic project(s). Secondly, I’ll develop a better understanding of what the “eccentric center” portends for the psychotic artist.

At the outset, it’s important to distinguish the neurotic artist from the psychotic artist. I’m planning to generate a list of psychotic and neurotic artists in the future. Of course to statically situate an artists as either/or is misleading: many poets exhibit both structures, but I’d assume that it’s fair to suggest that individual poets experience these two structures, not poetic movements. The distinction is helpful as it enables us to operationalize some deeper structural tendencies for all artistic production and aesthetic truth, and ultimately subjectivity, more of which will be explored below.

The Psychotic and the Neurotic: What’s the Difference?

The neurotic seeks a harmony that does not exclude dissonance, while the neurotic is able to approach dissonance through analytic procedures and discern the disorder in nature, metaphysics, etc. One always writes for the other under neurotic complexes, but under psychoses, one writes for oneself.

The goal of the psychotic artist is to develop the ‘absence of the morbid state’, while the neurotic artist approaches their problems psychoanalytically, constantly trying to figure their problems out through others, by creating characters, for example that represent elaborate problems and the solving of those problems in their art. For the psychotic, the subject is usually a closing, not an opening, as we find in the neurotic. The psychotic artist reproduces an inner universe, which is why the surrealists referred to psychotic art as realist. Yet as Lacan comments, the psychotic is unable to produce poetry, just as we find with Schreber’s psychosis.

Holderlin and Apollo

Hölderlin and the Eccentric Center

Bildung, that desire for an education rooted in experience, beauty, and authentic maturation is the drive for Holderlin. Bildung is the tendency to give form, to ripen oneself. Like all German idealists, bildung is a central goal, and as Hölderlin writes the Hyperion, it also presents a dialectic that he will attempt to trace in individuals and in civilizations. Because schizophrenia is excluded from any dialectic, we find a master dialectician in Hölderlin. As Badiou has noted in Theory of the Subject, it is Hölderlin’s reading Sophocles that shows how the subject formation is always rooted in an insurrection from the law, more of which we will explore below (Badiou, TOTS pg. 164). The law that Hölderlin is after represents the father, and it is Fichte that represents the grounding of the law for Hölderlin in Fichte’s perfect metaphysical system, Hölderlin finds the pinnacle of rational education, which ultimately failed (Laplanche, Hölderlin, 34 – 35).

A look at Hölderlin’s Oedipal object relations shows that he suffered from a strained libido during his Jena period, where he was in close interaction and collaboration with his two masters, Fichte (who represents the law), and Schiller, (who represents the father). His strained libido leads to a failure to position the phallic in relation to the law. Schiller was the only man, to whom Holderlin was attached, and he measured his greatness in light of Schiller. We know from Lacan that in the early formation of psychosis, it is the father who prevents the mother from “reintegrating her own product”.

At the same time, Schiller fills the place of superego for Hölderlin. What led to Holderlin’s “Jena Depression” is his over reliance on a rational education, and the resultant breakdown that happened when this education went unfulfilled. When the law (symbolized by Fichte’s metaphysical system) broke down, Hölderlin fell into what psycho-biographers refer to as his “Jena depression”. Even though Jena gave him access to Hegel, Goethe, Schiller, and Fichte, his life was filled with utter despair. This hole in his psychical composition is what Laplanche has referred to as the eccentric center.

This lack of a center is filled over at times in a completely imaginary relation, which led to schizophrenic outbursts, but at other times it was reliant on a dual relation, what we can call good and bad object relations (borrowing from Mealnie Klein’s system). The eccentric center is both an absence of an absence, and that both developing proximity towards the center becomes the source of artistic and mystical creation.

a. Situated by Name-of-the-Father, and consists of an absence of absence, or what Lacan refers to as “the foreclosure of the parental signifier”. Even when Schiller occupies the center, he consists in both the good and the bad object.

b. Schiller does not simply occupy the position of the actual father, but a new father. The occupation of this empty place by a new father does not result in a psychical organization as it were, but in an utter breakdown.

Filing this eccentric center became the source of all salvation for Holderlin’s Hyperion novel. It is the proximity that Holderlin would develop towards the eccentric center that led his artistic creation following his post Jena period.

That Hölderlin was able to persist without Schiller’s proximity became the source of his eventual salvation. As Matussek comments on the onset of schizophrenia, “there is no longer any space between the object of anxiety (in this case Schiller) and the imaginary object”. Once Hölderlin escapes the proximity to Schiller, his paternal object collapses and he no longer requires teh same degree of proximity, we could say that he had sublimated the absence of the lack.

We can generalize this specific tendency, or requirement to fill over the lack of the psychical center to the idea, which we find in Harold Bloom, of the anxiety of influence. Once the psychotic artist is able to develop a certain proximity to the eccentric center, the pride of influence replaces the anxiety of influence – you can enlarge yourself by admitting others into your own conversation.

The structural excess of the real causes the center, and inhabiting the center consists of an imaginary cohabitation. Hölderlin, lacking an object after fleeing Jena and developing distance from Schiller, sought to fill the center with his mother, which eventually grew to replace the position of the father. The center became associated with totality, with the excess of the real, with salvation. The obsession to fill the center, yet being at peace with the reality that the center can never be filled opens up Hölderlin’s conception of infinity and the unlimited. The desire to fill the eccentric center into a totality was of course embodied by Diotima, who becomes the figure in the Hyperion that Hölderlin would use to cover over the lack of the center.

What we find occurring in the proximity to the eccentric center is also highly significant for Hölderlin’s work on the Gods. The Gods as they have come to be understood by humanity are, according to Hölderlin, “another humanity by which humanity devotes itself”, and as such, Gods are invented in order to escape from what is too difficult for man to think – its own contingency in the universe. This inability to think contingency is, one might suggest, the inability for humanity writ large to think the eccentric center.

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