Tuesday 1 January 2013

Existential Pioneers. 17. Karl Jaspers. General Psychopathology, 100 years on. Inner Circle Seminar 198 (1 December 2013)

Karl Jaspers

Existential Pioneers

17. Karl Jaspers
General Psychopathology (1913)
A centenary reappraisal

Anthony Stadlen
Inner Circle Seminar No. 198
Sunday 1 December 2013
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Karl Jaspers (23 February 1883 – 26 February 1969), psychiatrist and existential philosopher, published his General Psychopathology 100 years ago. R. D. Laing wrote scornfully, in a devastating review 50 years ago, that many regarded it as ‘the golden touch on psychiatry of the finger of a master European thinker’. Many still do today. Laing himself must have valued Jaspers at one time, because he planned to study individually with him in Heidelberg. But this never happened. And Laing insisted, in his review, that there is ‘a radical lack of discrimination on the highest level if Jaspers is classed among the great thinkers of recent European history. As a philosopher, Jaspers has produced an amalgam of the work of others … in a way that Sartre has called “soft and underhand”. As a psychopathologist, I find Jaspers even less satisfactory than Sartre finds him as a philosopher.’

What was Laing's main criticism of Jaspers? Laing had written in The Divided Self that ‘the greatest psychopathologist has been Freud’, but he had also written in ‘Series and Nexus in the Family’ that the concept of ‘psychopathology’ is itself ‘corrupt’; how, then, could any ‘psychopathologist’ be, for Laing, ‘satisfactory’? But Laing explains:

When I read Jaspers’ pathographies of Van Gogh, Hölderlin, and Strindberg, I thought that here was a betrayal by a philosopher of the artist and poet. Instead of a compassionate understanding of the all-too-human risks involved in the exploration of reaches of reality that transcend those that a learned pedant will ever wish to know at first hand, Jaspers is no longer with them when they go too far. Later, I have come to the opinion that Jaspers was not even in a position to betray. To betray, one must have some understanding of what one is betraying.’

Was Jaspers psychiatry’s ‘master thinker’? Or was he, as Laing put it, a ‘learned pedant’ who simply did not understand, for example, how a dream can be a life-changing event, and whose ‘grasp of large tracts of the subject [of dreams] is not merely undistinguished, it is inadequate’? Was Jaspers, in Laing’s words, a ‘would-be Faust without Mephistopheles’? This seminar will try to reach a balanced assessment. You are invited to contribute to the discussion.

Venue: ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE

Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £116, others £145, some bursaries; coffee, tea, biscuits, mineral water included; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled

Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857 E-mail: stadlen@aol.com 

For further information on seminars, visit: http://anthonystadlen.blogspot.com/

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and colleges.

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