The Land of Unreality: On the Phenomenology of the Schizophrenic Break

New Ideas in Psychology 6 (2):223–242 (1988)
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Abstract

This study in comparative phenomenology offers a description of the lived-world of the Stimmung, an experience especially characteristic of early stages of schizophrenia. In this state, the patient will stare transfixed at an alienated perceptual world that may have one or more of several anomalous characteristics. The world may seem strangely unreal; objects may seem fragmented, or devoid of standard pragmatic meanings and manifesting instead their sheer existence; or objects and events may seem imbued with a tantalizing but ineffable quality of significance. Like many schizophreniform symptoms, the Stimmung has often been considered to be radically alien, beyond the pale of an empathic comprehension. The nature of these symptoms and their role in the overall development of schizophreniform illnesses is discussed, largely through examining the experiences of “Renee,” author of the Autobiography of a Schizophrenic Girl. Certain closely analogous phenomena from the culture of early modernism are then considered— focussing primarily on works by Hugo von Hoffmansthal, a turn-of-the-century Austrian writer. The possibility of a detailed phenomenological description, as well as the existence of such close modernist parallels, would seem to contradict the widely held view that such symptoms are incomprehensible.

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