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Fuchs, Thomas, Micali, Stefano, u. Boris Wandruszka [Hrsg.]
Karl Jaspers – Phänomenologie und Psychopathologie.
Freiburg: Verlag Karl Alber 2013. 256 S. = Schriftenreihe der Deutschen Gesellschaft für phänomenologische Anthropologie, Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, 1. Kart. EUR 35,00. ISBN 978-3-495-48574-3.
Mads Gram Henriksen/Maja Zandersen
This important anthology gravitates on the work of the renowned German psychiatrist and philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883–1969). Last year, Jaspers was greatly celebrated in the academic world in regard to the one hundred year anniversary of Allgemeine Psychopathologie (1913). Although this textbook figures among Jaspers’ early works (he was barely thirty when he wrote it), it is by many scholars considered his opus magnum. Here Jaspers founded psycho-pathology as a science in its own right and he introduced a new method (i. e. descriptive phenomenology), drawing on insights from especially Husserl and Dilthey, to describe, define, and classify abnormal psychic phenomena. Notwithstanding the outlook of a promising career in psychiatry, Jaspers decided to follow a dif-ferent academic path, pursuing his lifelong interest in philosophy, never again to return to the psychiatric clinic. The anthology presents and discusses the sophisticated and multifaceted work of Jaspers in a very thoughtful and illuminating way. It is composed of ten interesting contributions from senior and early stage researchers from several academic fields. In the following, we address five of these contributions in some detail.
Thomas Fuchs offers a dense and concise presentation of Jaspers’ central arguments against the psychiatric dogma of his (and our) time, namely biological reductionism, which claims that psychopathological phenomena are reducible to brain dysfunctions. Jaspers stressed that this dogma ignores the fundamental discrepancy between phenomenal consciousness and neurophysiological processes, thereby leading to questionable »brain mythologies«. Jaspers’ arguments are linked to his famous distinction between (biological) explanation and (psychological) understanding, and his belief that psychiatry, as its conditio sine qua non, must endorse these methodologically incongruent approaches. Against Jaspers, Fuchs argues that research on neuroplasticity (e. g., results indicating that psychotherapy may affect brain structure) draws into question the seemingly straightforward distinction between (biological) explanation and (psychological) understanding and calls for a more comprehensive approach that recognizes the embodied nature of the mind.
Alfred Kraus’ excellent contribution may be divided into two parts. In the first part, Kraus critically discusses the current diag-nostic manuals’ criteria for delusions (i. e. falsity of content, certainty, and incorrigibility), which were imported from Allgemeine Psychopathologie, although Jaspers explicitly warned against conceiving these, in his view, »external characteristics« as defining features. Kraus argues that these characteristics must be grasped as aspects of what Jaspers called the altered »awareness of reality« manifest in primary delusions, and that the apparent failure to realize this has led to textually unjustified criticism of Jaspers’ account of schizophrenic delusions. In the second part, Kraus presents two cases of deluded patients with schizophrenia and offers a rich Dasein analytical interpretation of them. Kraus argues that delusional or hallucinatory experiences in schizophrenia do not simply consist in errors of judgment about reality (which remains the predominant view in psychiatry) but result rather from an al-tered form of being-in-the-world, reflected in an increasingly solipsistic existence and worldview.
Christoph Mundt provides a scholarly and detailed exploration of Jaspers’ central concept of »limit situation« (Grenzsituation) and its reception in the psychopathological tradition. The concept of limit situation refers to certain conflictual situations that involve the double recognition of not being able to continue to exist as usual and of not having any solution to dissolve this conflict at one’s disposal. According to Jaspers, one cannot endure in such a vulnerable situation, but transcending it requires an existential leap. In that regard, Jaspers considers limit situations as entailing a unique possibility for authenticity. Mundt describes Jaspers’ categories of limit situations (i. e. conflict, guilt, chance, death, and suffering), reviews the psychopathological reappraisals of his concept, and discusses why trauma cannot be construed as a special sort of limit situation.
Theo Leydenbach provides an inspiring and vivid psychotherapeutic case description, demonstrating the applicability of some of Jaspers’ concepts to a psychotherapeutic context. In his analysis of the history of »Frau P.«, Leydenbach describes how she manages to move from a (limit) situation of incoherence, helplessness, and feelings of emptiness to a renewed existence, thereby gaining a sense of ease and security that had only been an immanent possibility in her life since early childhood. Although Jaspers himself did not apply his concept of limit situations to psychotherapy, it seems relevant to do so, since limit situations reflect existential crises, calling for resolution, restructuring, and restitution. Leydenbach also makes use of Jaspers’ concept of existential communication to describe the special kind of communication taking place in his therapeutic interaction with »Frau P.«.
Thiemo Breyer carefully explores different phenomenological perspectives on death, arguing that they constitute a spectrum ranging from conceptualizing death as an immanent and integral part of life (e. g., Heidegger) to exteriorizing death as the absolute counterpart to life (e. g., Sartre). Moreover, Breyer examines the complex relationship between temporality and death, drawing on Husserl’s notions of empirical and transcendental consciousness. Turning toward Jaspers’ conception of death as a limit situation, Breyer discusses Jaspers’ distinction between death as a state (i. e. »being dead«– something which we cannot experience) and death as a process (i. e. »dying« – death as it manifests itself to us throughout our lives as something present in its very absence), suggesting that Jaspers, by this distinction, embraces both poles of the spectrum of death in phenomenology. Breyer illustrates well that for Jaspers, our experience of and relation to death is quintessentially imbued with ambiguity and paradoxicality.
Finally, it merits attention that the contributions that have not been addressed in our review are also stimulating. Overall, the anthology is engagingly written and entails many qualified discussions of Jaspers’ thematically extensive and quite complex writings. The anthology balances well between, on the one hand, presenting Jaspers’ thoughts and defending them against misunderstandings, and, on the other hand, critically reassessing these thoughts in the light of contemporary research. Most importantly, the anthology made us want to re-read Jaspers’ own texts and this is perhaps its central achievement. We strongly recommend the anthology for anybody with an interest in the psychopathology and phenomen-ology of Karl Jaspers.