“The Stunning Story of the Woman Who Is the World’s Most Popular Artist. This 86-year-old ‘Polka Dot Princess’ attracted over 2 million visitors to her touring retrospective in 2014, defying both gender barriers and poor health.”
This was the headline for an article published in the Observer last year about the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.
Yayoi Kusama is ‘the world’s most popular artist,’ made popular by the proliferation of her work throughout the fashion world, yet she lives in Tokyo in a psychiatric hospital and hires a studio on the opposite side of the road, making the short walk across to the studio in the morning and then returning to the hospital at the end of her work day.
It’s probably not the life that most of us would choose for ourselves but she has found a way of stabilising her psychosis and having a fully functional life through her creative work.
In Darian Leader’s book ‘What is Madness?’ he explains how a psychotic subject experiences two separate stages of the psychotic structure. The primary phenomenon might be a sudden experience of something radically unfamiliar and then later an experience, a different experience which is called a secondary phenomenon.
What is interesting is that within this secondary phenomenon, the patient is often finding their own way to stabilise their psychosis.
A clinical example demonstrating this self stabilising action is presented in Leader’s book.
A woman has an experience of her body, where she is terrified that her organs are going to explode out of her body. (Psychotic subjects often have unusual and sometimes frightening experiences to do with their bodies. Sometimes it is an excess of excitement that needs to be got rid of or sometimes it can be a feeling that they want to get rid of a part of their body; there are cases of people having amputations of limbs. Anorexia might also be a way of trying to get rid of a feeling of excess in the body).
For the woman who has a dramatic fear of her body exploding, her reaction to this primary phenomenon, of the organs exploding out of her, was to wrap herself in cling film. Now to someone unaware of these two stages, seeing a woman on a daily basis wrapping her body in cling film, would probably see that she needed to be treated for this abnormal behaviour, and in standard psychiatry today the solution comes in the form of a drug, and there have been, and continue to be, more and more drugs developed by the pharmaceutical industry to treat different forms of psychosis; here is a woman wrapping herself in cling film; here is the drug to deal with this condition.
In a strange twist, it seems as if the pharmaceutical industries today are leading the way with the treatment of ‘mental health.’ A psychiatrist today will be given a range of solutions to treat an ever growing set of distinctions to describe a ‘disorder.’
However if the clinician sees the wrapping up in cling film as a way of the woman dealing with her primary phenomenon, the fear of her organ’s exploding out from her body, the clinician might be able to start working with the subject, to use this secondary phenomenon, suggesting that maybe other materials could be used for wrapping up her body and in fact this particular woman found that she had a talent for dress making and managed to stabilise her psychosis through her work in the fashion industry.
A psychotic structure is just different to the neurotic. What is key for the psychotic is that when they experience something, they experience it with a more vivid connection to what Lacan calls the Real; the Real for Lacan is a form of reality but not the reality that we experience as everyday reality but the kind of reality that we experience if say we are unfortunate to see something shocking like an accident, when the stage set of our familiar surroundings fall down to reveal a kind of void, what most of us spend our time covering over and ignoring. A neurotic knows that they are constantly living in a precarious state but is able to rationalise it. A psychotic can’t always maintain that kind of distance from the Real.
Most psychotics remain stable, stabilised often by their work, which is why sometimes retirement or other changes in life can trigger their psychosis