Following the discussion of Cotard's Syndrome on English Heretic earlier this year (mentioned here), there's a fascinating essay by Thomas Metzinger ("Why Are Identity Disorders Interesting To Philosophers?") which considers the implications for the philosophy of mind of conditions such as Cotard's.
Metzinger compares Cotard's with mystical experiences of depersonalisation ("the only other phenomenal state-class in which speakers sometimes consistently refer to themselves without using the pronoun ‘I’"). These are the ecstatic parallel to Le Délire de Négation's destitution. (Perhaps there is a parallel between this 'delirum of negation' and the 'generic misanthropy' Dominic has written of.)
What's interesting to Metzinger, of course, is not so much the extreme psychotic states per se, but what they tell us about the way in which an 'ordinary' sense of personal identity is constituted. For Metzinger, the statement of the Cotard's sufferer "I don't exist" is not only possible, it is true. His neurophenomenology dethrones the idea that personal identity is any kind of substance or thing. Instead, it is a process which misrecongises itself as a thing. This is by no means the same as the standard, kitsch-Nietzschean notion that the self is a process, because, for Metzinger, the self only exists at the level of false appearances; it is the way that the process (mis)represents itself to itself. What happens is a reification of reflexivity - we move from certain patterns of self-modeling to the self, or, in even shorter hand, from self- to self. (For a detailed precis of Metzinger's Being No-One by the author himself, go here; for a discussion of Metzinger and Kant, see Speculative Heresy.)
James Trafford has written of the congruence of Metzinger's demolition of the self and the work of Ligotti, in particular the moment of dread revelation in Ligotti's stories when individuals come to recognise themselves as marionettes without a master. But I think that there's a broader affinity between Metzinger's anti-phenomenology and the Weird. Like Freud and Lacan but in a different register, one of Metzinger's achievements might be to have rendered personal identity as something inherently weird, in which the seeming depth of the self unravels into a Moebian surface, or a paradoxical, self-generating geometry worthy of Escher.Posted by mark at October 23, 2008 03:18 PM | TrackBack