The body language: a semiotic reading of Szasz’ Anti-psychiatry

In “The myth of mental illness” Thomas Szasz challenges the idea that mental illnesses are diseases in the biomedical sense. In his view they are more similar to a foreign language and for this reason they cannot be treated by means of biomedical therapies. The present article explores the semiotic implications of Szasz’s view of the hysterical symptoms as an iconic language. Following Reichenbach, Szasz distinguishes three classes of signs: indexical, iconic and symbolic. The somatic language of the hysteric person would be an iconic protolanguage which is more primordial than the objective language. Nevertheless, it retains all the basic functions of the language: to transmit information, to induce mood, and to promote action. Five different but intertwined reasons for the use of such an iconic form of communication are discussed. In conclusion, the hysterical symptom speaks its proper language and our ethical commitment is primarily to empathically listen to it.
Keywords protolanguage  myth of mental illness  hysteria  semiotics  iconic sign
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