“A Flaw in the Great Diamond of the World”: On Contemporary Psychology and the Enigmas of Subjectivity

Louis Sass presents this lecture as part of the 2023-2024 series Madness and Mental Health.

In this lecture, I consider the enigmatic nature of human subjectivity, which the philosopher Merleau-Ponty referred to as the “flaw in the great diamond of the world.” First, I offer an historical sketch of the focus on subjectivity that began in the European Renaissance. Then I consider the status of several dominant ways of conceptualizing human existence in contemporary psychology and the psy professions.

Exploring the history of modern subjectivity helps remind us of what can be at risk in the course of cultural change. A key question to ask is whether psychology and related fields—which play a decisive role in contemporary culture—do sufficient justice to the forms of subjectivity and selfhood that came into focus during the Renaissance and its aftermath.

  • About the speaker

    Louis Sass, PhD is Distinguished Professor of Clinical Psychology at Rutgers University, and a member of the New York Institute for the Humanities. Sass has published on schizophrenia, phenomenology, psychoanalysis, and the thought of Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Foucault—as well as on modernism/postmodernism and other cultural issues.

    Sass is the author of Madness and Modernism: Insanity in the Light of Modern Art, Literature, and Thought and of The Paradoxes of Delusion: Wittgenstein, Schreber, and the Schizophrenic Mind. He has received various awards for his contributions to theoretical and philosophical psychology, and currently holds the International Francqui Professorial Chair, Belgium. A revised edition of Madness and Modernism (Oxford University Press) was awarded the BMA: British Medical Association First Prize as best book in psychiatry for 2018.