Literature and the Arts Perspectives on Psychiatry for the Person

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Ekaterina Sukhanova
Hans-Otto Thomashoff
Yves Thoret


The origin of the word “person” in a number of European languages goes back to the Latin persona, supposedly derived from an Etrusquan root phersu meaning masked characters in a theatre play. Throughout its long history, the term has been applied to various facets of what today is referred to as “personhood,” denoting an individual with specific capacities or the social status granted to him or her because of those capacities. Just like text, the word “person” belongs to those basic concepts which are commonly used in an indeterminate sense and whose definition is still heavily debated.A quotation from Georges Lantéri-Laura helps us finding a way out of this semantic labyrinth, focusing on the aspect most relevant to the present topic. Lantéri-Laura stresses the “personal,” individual character of each human being. For  him, the subjective being of each individual may only be conceived as having a singular, individual character: “Subjectivity consists in being distinct from others; it is personal inasmuch as it reveals an individual history that is at the root of its human action: subjectivity becomes a singular subjectivity”. It is that subjectivity that is simultaneously the vehicle and the object of the creative process.Paul Ricoeur also sees narrative identity  as being created through a dynamic mediation between the two poles of personal identity, the pole of “idem” identity (Engl. “sameness,” Fr. mêmeté), understood as a set of innate or acquired attitudes and capacities that enables a spatio-temporal coherence, and the pole of “ipse” identity (Engl. “selfhood,” Fr.  “ipséité”) , understood as the most concrete and particular core of a subject that enables initiation of new things. Without both types of identity there is no self. Historical time becomes human time “to the extent that it is articulated through a narrative mode, and narrative attains its full significance when it becomes a condition of temporal existence.” These narratives, unique to each patient, need to be taken into account in the analysis of an individual’s subjective experience, as they are key for a person-centered integrative diagnosis (PID).

Article Details

Special Section: Conceptual Bases of Psychiatry for the Person
Author Biography

Ekaterina Sukhanova, City University of New York (CUNY), USA

Dr. Sukhanova has been curating exhibits of art brut at many international venues, with the aim of using such exhibits as a vehicle for fighting stigma. She has organized a number of scientific symposia at major mental health colloquia around the world and served as the Chair of the Organizing Committee for an international cross-disciplinary conference on body image. She is the co-editor (with H-O Thomashoff) of a collective volume, The Person in Art: Conceptual and Pictorial Frames on Art and Mental Health (Nova Publishers, 2008). She is the Scientific Secretary of two SEctions of the World Psychiatric Association: Literature and Psychiatry as well as Art and Psychiatry. Dr. Sukhanova is the author of a research monograph, Voicing the Distant (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2004) and a number of scholarly articles.