Interview: When the Sun Bursts – The enigma of schizophrenia


Interview: When the Sun Bursts – The enigma of schizophrenia

João Paulo Ayub

“Schizophrenia is enigmatic”. This sentence, extracted from Christopher Bollas’s book When the Sun Bursts, doesn’t translate just the psychoanalyst’s/writer’s intellectual curiosity, someone who has dedicated decades of his life to the treatment of people who experiments very difficult psychic events. Together with an attempt to understand, at the epicenter of a sort of unusual terrain (here, consider not only the psychoanalytic field, but all the health area), one also sees in Bollas an ethical engagement that provides for the achievement of the best psychoanalytical tradition, that tradition which has in Sándor Ferenczi its singular source of inspiration. The ethical imperative, that guides the psychoanalytical clinic towards the reception of the other who suffers, is what turns Bollas into a rightful heir of the Hungarian psychoanalyst. In Jurandir Freire Costa’s words: “what to do before the helplessness” or “what to do with whom is suffering and doesn’t know what’s the cause of her suffering”, these were the big questions which gave sense to the Ferenczian psychoanalytic practice. [1]

Helplessness and suffering take frightening contours not only for the individuals who undergoes schizophrenic experiences, but also—and, above all!—for those who are by their side. Here we can see some of the challenges faced by Bollas. In this interview given to a YouTube channel called “Prairie Public Broadcasting”, among other things, Bollas confronts the topic of excessive medicalization in the field of mental health.

When he says that we are part of the problem (“How much are we medicating them to make us feel better… or are we medicating them to make them feel better?”) it is impossible not to think that we would be, nowadays, under the register of a cluster of powers and knowledges invested in the production of a regimen of normalcy, whose analysis we owe to the French philosopher Michel Foucault… Bollas and Foucault read as “terrible” the current isolation of the individual who suffers, and it doesn’t need to be a physical isolation, but an introvert silencing.

Bollas’s book isn’t a textbook, a handbook that contains the whole literature about the topic or, still, an attempt to explain and debate the causes of schizophrenia. It’s far away from it—and, maybe for that very reason, it goes far beyond these issues…—, Bollas is interested in the conquest of an experience that allows the overcoming of the pain through the ability of self-understanding—by the patient—of what has happened to her in her moment of breaking down.

Bollas believes that schizophrenia can bring together as many idioms as any life free of psychotic events. It’s necessary to take into account the wealth of these idioms, and give back to the individuals the dignity of what would be “another kind of intelligence”. The psychoanalyst teaches us that the understanding of schizophrenia, free of prejudices, is an open road for the human adventure, once we all are, to a certain extent, misunderstood, just as the mental life is inherent to a certain constitutive precariousness…

For all of that, the least one can do is to think of how much psychoanalysis owes to Christopher Bollas’s work.


[1] – Costa, J. F. “Preface”. In: Pinheiro, Tereza. Ferenczi: from shout to the word. RJ: Jorge Zahar Ed.: Ed. UFRJ, 1995.

Visit the website for Christopher Bollas:

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