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On the Origin of the 'Influencing Machine' in Schizophrenia


Viktor Tausk completed his medical studies in 1919 and went on to work as a psychiatrist with an interest in the psychoses. After three consultations with Tausk, a Miss Natalija A. consented to describe for him the influencing machine which she felt was being operated in an obscure fashion by a rejected suitor of hers who had previously sought to influence her, to make her agree to marry him. Though in Tausk's view this case was unique, the machine described was analogous, if atypically, to a number of such machines alluded to but not interpreted in the psychiatric manuals. In "On the Origin of the 'Influencing Machine' in Schizophrenia", Tausk developed several psychoanalytical hypotheses.

Influencing machines were of a "mystical nature," described by patients at once in would-be technical terms and allusively with respect to their persecutory effects, namely images, thoughts, feelings, motor phenomena, sensations, and various bodily manifestations. Such a machine would make its appearance late in the evolution of schizophrenia, arguably as the unstable product of feelings of estrangement, of influence, of inner change, or of transformation that for their part tended to emerge early on, and in a most striking way. A machine would be constructed in an attempt at identification with the persecutor and projection into the outside world. After the fashion of the complicated machines in dreams, the influencing machine was an outwardly projected representation of a patient's genital organs conflated with his or her own body. Tausk noted how attempts would be made to eliminate parts of the body (sexual organs, arms, and so on), and how the head (in the case of Natalija A.) might be replaced by a "lid" (as of a coffin).

Interpreting this description in the light of another symptom of schizophrenia, the loss of ego boundaries, Tausk set forth hypotheses concerning the combined and conflictual development of narcissism and ego-formation. Whereas an "innate" narcissism fixed the libido at the level of the organs and their functions during an early, objectless stage, the search for the object indispensable to the formation of the ego led to a finding of it in the subject's own body, still experienced as external. This process preceded the encounter with the object proper in the outside world, which would, in a second stage, inaugurate an "acquired" psychic narcissism, nourished and regenerated by the earlier basic narcissism and locked in a complex struggle with the ego.

This kind of very early functioning, at the start of extrauterine development, affected not only the relationship to the subject's own body but also the relationship to thought (still, however, within the context of the distinction between inner and outer worlds), and Tausk was led into a whole discussion of the mechanism of hallucinatory representation. In the last reckoning, the important polarity for him was not that between the sexes but that between object-libido and narcissistic libido, as revealed by the regressions characteristic of schizophrenia, which also showed sites of libidinal stasis in the "physiological" sense.

At the very early infantile stage following a first renunciationthat of the mother's protectionthe whole body was experienced as a genital organ, and the male subject wished to "creep back" into the genital from which he had emerged. The image of the genital organas the representative of sexualityhad been preserved in the form of a figurative representation, in the form of language. The machine aspect taken on by the influencing apparatus argued strongly for the idea that it was a projection of the body considered in its entirety as a genital organ, threatened in its narcissistic posture, independent of the intentions of the ego, and hence subject to an external will.

Although it was reasonable to speak of "somatic paranoia" with respect to the construction of the machine, the fact remained that, in contrast to paranoia, it was the persecuted in this case, not the persecutors, who were organized in a kind of systematic passive plot: The subject's dear ones or love objects were subordinated to a narcissistic object-choice by identification, while the exigent persecutor was eliminated by a paranoiac mechanism.

Tausk concluded his paper by evoking the astonishment of the young boy when he becomes aware for the first time of his erection, which he experiences as independent of the ego, as imperfectly controlled, and as part of the external world. Curiously, Tausk never returned in his study to his initial report that his patient Nataliya A. had been completely deaf for several years as the result of a recurrent middle-ear infection that obliged her to communicate with those around her by means of the written word.

This article is considered the main legacy of Tausk, whose brilliant career was cut short by his suicide in the year of its publication (1919). It is rife with more or less well-worked-out ideas, including, for instance, the casual mention of the notion of an ego "the chief weapon of which is the intellect" (p. 48). One may readily imagine the multifarious responses it elicited and the many rereadings of it that developments in psychoanalysis would later make possible; one has merely to consider how many ideas it addressed: hallucination, the psychic, the somatic, the psychosomatic, the "ego," narcissism, the object, andunnamed but clearly presentseduction. Tausk deployed all of these after his own fashion, often distinct from Freud's approach. But, in his text as in the footnotes, he emphasized time and again (perhaps even too often?) how great an inspiration Freud had been for him, and how the relationship of the two men was comprised of enigmatic encounters, and how this reflected the difficulty of their relationship.

Marie-ThÉrÈse Neyraut-Sutterman

See also: Ego boundaries; Narcissism; Splitting of the ego; Tausk, Viktor.

Source Citation

Tausk, Viktor. (1933 [1919]).Über die Entstehung des Beeinflussungapparates in der Schizophrenie. Internatationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse 5, 1-33. On the Origin of the "Influencing Machine" in Schizophrenia. Translated by Dorian Feigenbaum, PQ 2 (1933). Reprinted in Robert Fliess, ed., The Psycho-Analytic Reader. New York: International Universities Press.


Gillibert, Jean. (1975) Postface to Viktor Tausk, Oeuvres psychanalytiques. Paris: Payot.

Major, René. (1978) Dissidence du corps ou "L'État sans tête." In L'Agonie du jour. Paris: Aubier-Montaigne.

Neyraut-Sutterman, Marie-Thérese. (1975) Preface to Tausk, Oeuvres psychanalytiques. Paris:Payot.

Roazen, Paul. (1969) Brother animal. New York: Knopf.

Shentoub, Salem A. (1984) De la Machineà influencerà la suggestion. In L'Impact de la suggestion dans la pratique psychanalytique. Paris: Institut Psychanalytique de Paris.

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