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Auditory Hallucinations Hearing Voices Lacan Seglas



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When I first began reading the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan there was an approving reference in his 1950's seminar on "The Psychoses" to the famed "Seglasian revolution" . Dr. Jules Seglas was a turn of the century psychiatrist who made the observation that many on his wards could be heard to 'mutter' to themselves the very words that they would later attribute to their "voices". The 'revolution' for Lacan consisted in the recognition by psychiatrists that the so-called 'auditory hallucinations' were in fact the patient mistaking his own words for voices that had emerged independently from their own minds.

The idea here is that such is the intensity of the internal monologue, of this feverish cogitation and such the level of detachment from the tangible external world that these individuals had become incapable of detecting all the motory movements concerned with vocalisation. Rightly or wrongly I accepted this position at the time as it intuitively at least seemed to make sense. I remembered for instance a man I once stood beside in a record shop years before who was obviously being waylaid by some personal "inner demon". In his emotional distress he kept talking back and forth to himself as though in a private duel with the different warring factions in his evidently tormented mind. And so, a clearer picture emerged for me when I related this incident to what I had learnt of the Seglasian revolution and both these in turn to Freud's notion of a dynamic unconscious of competing agencies; id, ego, ideal-ego and super-ego.

I felt at this point that it was reasonable to conclude that Lacan was surely right in asserting that they, the patients and voice-hearers, were needlessly distressing themselves further by falsely attributing the source of their "voices" to either external agencies (God, the spirit-world etc) or to an endogenous "echo" from the cerebral cortex. The entire matter appeared to have a wonderfully simple explanation and of course Lacan went on to cite the numerous studies that had been conducted which corroborated this initial insight of Seglas; voice-hearers, almost certainly, were hearing themselves speaking. This interpretation of the phenomenon needless to say suited perfectly Lacan's project of furthering the scope and applicability of psychoanalysis; if it was due to the verbal expression of an albeit furious internal psychic dynamic rather than a physical lesion (which was the current trend at the time) then this would have put the matter back within the ambit of psychoanalysis and wrested an important domain (and market!) from the new "upstart" disciplines of neurology and psychiatry.

However, all these intellectual ruminations and speculations were soon shattered and blown to the proverbial four corners. Within a matter of months, I, who had ambitions myself to become an analyst slipped into what I now know to be the inappropriately titled and poorly understood condition of "psychosis". During this intensely emotional period I heard voices on several occasions. The first time they occurred was when I was sitting in a bar enjoying a pint and a bit of friendly banter with the barmaid. I was trying badly to unwind as earlier I had a furious altercation with my boss. (I had been doing night security to help pay for college fees) "Above my station", "grandiose" perhaps even "delusional" I had at first asked then demanded my weeks wages, eventually pummelling the desk of my astonished employer with my fist. Guards were threatened to be called but I wouldn't budge until the simple two minute procedure of typing out the cheque was complete.

To them I must have appeared like a visitation from hell and as the cheque passed over I understood entirely the phrase "liberation from oppression". By my own hand, thought and act, by a furious affirmation of the will I had consigned five years of underpaid service to history. Of course, my conscience gnawed at me afterwards but in the end I examined my contribution to the company and concluded my punctuality, my professionalism, my ability to write ass-covering reports, my manner in dealing with clients, colleagues and troublemakers alike all protected and enhanced their vital contracts.

What I'm saying though is that the voice, when it emerged, was directly linked to my own intense ruminations on the nature of this "manic outburst". I may have been engaged in some light banter to begin with but once I settled down to unwind with my pint I couldn't suppress the strong feelings welling within me of the earlier furious altercation. Now, I had studied the matter. I knew already the differences of interpretation that existed between the various schools of thought. When the voice came, (obviously I wasn't expecting it) it consisted of five staccatto words that boomed not in my eardrums but in my head! They had the same thunderous impact of someone aiming a loudspeaker in my ear which was enough to topple me off the stool and send me reeling back out onto the streets. This was not all. It was their dissonance from the train of thought I had been pursuing which at once marked them out to be alien from "me" - my ego. Needless to say, this voice and these words came from within; they were "non-Seglasian".

What is more, once I unpacked their content, I realised they were a rubric in the manner of a dream; a coded message delivered directly from the unconscious. Obviously, the words had a deep personal significance. This part was not lost on me. Their tone, content, and force in fact summed up perfectly my position in the world at that time. What is frightening however is that you realised you are not master in your own house. All the active intelligence that is "you", your real you that is, is under the surface, submerged and untouchable. In conscious waking life we think we are thinking, being rational, making "decisions" and so forth, but the very grid, the template from which we are carrying out our deductions has been pre-supplied by this fiercely active unconscious mind and it is best to listen carefully when it decides it necessary make a direct communication!

This I'm afraid is the best rational explanation I can put on the matter of "voices" which, in my opinion and in the light of what I've been saying cannot accurately be described as "hallucinations" - an hallucination being an imagined perception. What was happening here, at least in my own case, is the mind's perception of an endogenous sense impression. How this occurs and through what mechanisms is at present uncertain but this doesn't mean that the lineaments of the explanation are questionable - only that they await a fuller and more focused research to be deemed more plausible.

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