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Little Daniel Before the Law: Algorithmic Extimacy and the Rise of the Paranoid Apparatus


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1. Nervous Systems

In 1882 Doctor Paul Emil Flechsig, a brain anatomist with no experience in clinical psychiatry, took up the directorship of the psychiatric clinic of the University Hospital in Leipzig. For German institutional psychiatry, the appointment decisively inaugurated a new episteme. In one move, the era of the soul ended and the era of the brain began. Dr. Flechsig’s project linked neural activity to all of human behavior and thought, a reduction that persists in contemporary neuroscience. Despite substantial work done in order to resocialize and politicize neuronal contingency, materialist neuronormativity remains the dominant scheme for understanding the brain in today’s neoliberal neurosociety. This means that the discourses responsibly for interpreting the significance of the brain's plasticity remain predominately mobilized towards individual enhancement, adaptation, and modification in the context of a neoliberal care of the Self, in contrast, for example, with the investment of the Italian autonomists in the political and emancipatory potential of the general intellect, as explored in the work of Antonio Negri and Paolo Virno.

Dr. Flechsig’s early experiments in the Leipzig clinic were among the first institutional attempts to bring the immortal spirit down to the level of physiology. Like his famous predecessor, the neuropathologist Theodor Meynert, Flechsig contended that psychiatry should be understood as nothing more than the treatment of diseases of the individual brain. All human actions were caused by scientifically explicable, objective truths that could be distilled from neuroanatomical data. This neuropsychiatric tradition of understanding mental illness as an objective and quantifiable entity—simply the illness of the nerves and the brain—was initiated by the neurologist Wilhelm Griesinger in the mid-nineteenth century.

Doctor Paul Emil Flechsig poses behind an anatomic depiction of the brain. Significantly, Flechsig “a brain anatomist with no experience in clinical psychiatry, took up the directorship of the psychiatric clinic of the University Hospital in Leipzig.”

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