On Scripting Fatigue

Feb. 1, 2023, 11:43 a.m.  –  by Rouzbeh Shadpey

This project was realized as part of the Celine Bureau 2022 writing residency with cigale journal

A script seems to be the perfect—if not the only—vehicle for the accurate expression of weariness. If I have learned anything from the experience of chronic fatigue, and the extensive cross-disciplinary research of it, it is that fatigue crystallizes in the in-betweenness of people, or the fragmented self. Whether alone or in company, fatigue is always a dialogue (or, in the case of psychoanalysis, a monologue for two.)

It is said that, before abolishing the asylum, one of the first reformist interventions of the Italian meta-psychiatrist Franco Basaglia was to offer its prisoners mirrors. At times, reflection can hold the power of self-witnessing; a precious balm in the long meanwhile of the fight for liberation. Weariness, pain, affliction: these are conditions that, whilst simultaneously hollowing out the distance between the suffering self and the other, beseech the other’s tacit acknowledgment. Their solidarity. Some call this care. For others, it is the difference between an emptiness that is barren, mistaken for nothing, and an emptiness from where weariness might speak; the empty speech of weariness itself. The interlocutor of weariness—dignifying its call with their listening, or perhaps their bare presence—becomes a mirror, reflecting to the weary subject its conditions of possibility.




Character 1

a polyphony of:

the weary, the tired, the fatigued

the patient, the analysand, the speaker

the hysteric, the woman, the hypochondriac, the mad?

the undiagnosed, the untreatable, the incurable

the in-between, the indifferent, the neutral

the case, the exception, the limit, the syndrome

the subject of lack

the symptom

the stateless


Character 2

a monophony of:

the analyst, the arbiter, the listener


Character 3

the audience, which is to say:

the doctor, the psychiatrist, the judge, the executioner




"... They are side by side in a conversation and yet no conversation takes place. Face to face, yet they do not know one another, did not live in the same era, never spoke the same language... each is placed like a surface on which the other may come into focus."

– Anne Carson, Economy of the Unlost, 1999

"They take seats, separated by a table, turned not toward one another, but opening, around the table that separates them, an interval large enough that another person might consider himself their true interlocutor."

– Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, 1969

“Psychoanalysis is not a dialogue, or a monologue, but a monologue for two meant to crack open the identity of the one.”

– Aaron Schuster, Impossible Professions, and How to Defend Them, 2017

A room in an unspecified location. A time between the end of history and the end of the world.  The character is not in analysis, but the nature of fatigue renders all his encounters analytic.*1



The character is a cipher, an enigma, a riddle. His identity is unfixed, mirroring the formlessness of his condition. He is resistant to its fixation. He seeks to hold onto more tentative ways of being (He was in a state—or rather, he was in a State within a State—but he could not say of what. It didn’t matter. State of panic, state of confusion, state of shock… these were all tautologies.) He is simultaneously the medicalized subject of unexplained illness, the hysterical (and historically) feminine, the weary subject of history, the subject of psychoanalysis and the science of psychoanalysis itself (a tired science in perpetual denouement), the embodied limit-experience, and a syndrome-in-the-making. His presence both asks and pre-emptively answers the question: “Who are the weary?”*2

His affect oscillates between the dissociative sheen of the hysteric’s belle indifference and the hypochondriac’s neurotic bodily self-obsessions. He is accused of narcissism by his therapist, of relishing in his unknowability. His symptom is understood as an expression of the repressed desire to be unique, manifesting through illness, manifesting as illness (even in illness, he distinguished himself.) Others less psychoanalytic consider him a malingerer with or without the dignity of self-awareness, a direct descendant of the fictive baron Munchausen. This amuses him, if only they knew how much disability insurance pays a month, he thinks to himself.

His attitude towards medical professionals varies from hatred to pity to contempt. He feels superior to them due to his complex understanding of pathologies of the mind-body—a knowledge he has acquired through the sublimation of ill experience with a broad range of medical and philosophical readings on fatigue. He finds “a strange comfort in using [his] body to signify the very ignorance of the scientific Other, who vainly searches for the cause of [his] affliction.”*3 However, no matter the appearances he keeps, his displays of sickly confidence are riddled with doubt: even within its throes, weariness eludes him, compromises his perceptual faith, and turns him into an unreliable narrator. His attempts at phenomenology systematically fail. Fatigue undoes the subjectivity required of him to experience it.

He teeters between conflicting desires to depathologize and pathologize weariness—that is: to depathologize the weary patient by displacing her illness into the socio-historical realm to free her into political subjectivity or to pathologize the weary patient in recognition that “Pathology is the place where history talks in its loudest, most grating voice.”*4 He believes he can find within fatigue an escape from the dialectical magnetism of health and illness, but finds it difficult to dwell in the promise of fatigue’s neutrality. He scours history in search of case studies affirming one or the other of his critical positions, identifying, empathically, with the hysterics of the 19 and 20th centuries, the revolutionary patients of the SPK,*5 the possessed and spiritually mad North African,*6 the growing body of people with long COVID, etc. He wants to gather them all under the cover of weariness. He grows convinced that weariness is their shared truth, that weariness will set them free.

And yet, he believes himself to be undeserving, unworthy of a fatigue scientifically distilled from the spent bodies of workers at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. He feels the burden of entropy weigh on him, a history of energetic expenditure that has, for centuries, sinewed the gaps between fatigue, the energetic body, the unconscious drives, and the sun. He believes himself to be an aberration to universal law, particularly the second law of thermodynamics. He fantasizes about predictably windling energetic economies, identifying with machinic organisms and their calculable losses. He fantasizes about heat. Three times a day, with the rigor of prayer, he repents to the sun, apologizing for making a mockery of its generosity. Fatigue made him averse to the sun, its energetic gift (of course, he still referred to it as a gift even though it had been long established that he lived in the era of solar debt.) To free himself, he read Levinas and Bataille. He began to understand fatigue non-dialectically, as the plenitude of emptiness; that which could exhaust all action in order to reconstitute the germ out of which all action is borne. Fatigue became for him synonymous with abolition—of the carceral institutions of physical and mental illness, as well as the epistemological and historical categories that had, for centuries, provided the illusion of their separation. He imagined a clinic the size of the world that would be home to a psychoanalytic science worthy of its name. He no longer asked to be done with weariness, but to be “led back to a region where it might be possible to be weary.”*7 He gave the name weariness to his life… but he remained afraid. He could not shed the fear that, were the revolution to happen—when the revolution happened—he would be too tired to join.



A Woman Undiagnosed

Most people who have read Clarice Lispector think she's a mystic or a soothsayer, but I just think she had chronic fatigue syndrome. Of course, it wouldn't have been called chronic fatigue syndrome back then, there would have been another diagnosis for it. The suffering of women has donned many names over the centuries. Did you know hysteria was banished from the DSM in 1980? Replaced with the sexless “conversion disorder”… Conversion! Can you imagine? For a science that desires nothing more than to kill the specter of Freud once and for all, to expunge the concept at the heart of his psychoanalysis—committing it to scripture in their diagnostic bible—is, at the very least, ironic. It appears that even the DSM has a sense of humor.

Why was Lispector tired? Because she wrote, of course. This was the consequence of her fatigue, not its cause. Fatigue manifests itself most urgently in her obsessive preoccupation with form, which is to say, her insatiable desire to molt. Reading The Passion [According to G.H], I remember thinking, “This is a woman undiagnosed!” The clues are everywhere, I assure you. They float at the surface [of the text], no need to dig.

I remember reading, once, in a tome of phenomenology about a concept called the perceptual faith. Its claim was humble. We do not doubt the reality of our senses, only their objects. For example, one never asks oneself if they are seeing; only what they are seeing. The fact of vision remains, a priori, unquestioned. I suppose this has something to do with the Cartesian experiment—most things do. We are the legacy of hyperbolic doubt and floating men. Until we grow weary, that is. I’ve come to understand that it is fatigue’s nature to collapse the separation mined by the perceptual faith. For it just so happens that the weary patient who questions the object of their weariness is met with a sick surprise… weariness takes no object! To interrogate one's weariness is thus always to question the reality of one's senses, which is to say; one's sanity.

“Did something happen to me that because I didn't know how to live it, lived as something else?” asked Lispector in 1964. Her question is that of all weary men and women who, strolling the abyss between psyche and soma, search for new forms to live and die in.



Cage at the Clinic

His organ-speech is loud and obtrusive, spilling his unconscious into his body, punishing him for words he does not have about things he cannot know. On days when its din has reached its peak, he finds himself pulling from his reserve of fatigue sentences. His delivery is simultaneously apologetic and confessional in its tone. Penance is his horizon:

Exhausted to death, completely exhausted

I'm simply dead

No, I don't think so, I've just

I'm lying down!

Work is work, I've slept 12 hours, no nightmares

No dreams either, just

I should probably rest

You're right

Empty, hollow...


It's hard to explain: like gathering water with a

No, no pain, just fatigue

Lead, pooling in my extremities

The air’s getting thinner

I can't feel a thing

Normal, the tests came back normal, the doc was a cop

Nothing hurts in particular, everything does in general

Like I've never slept, and never will

I was so tired just now, I could have died

If I wasn't so tired

OK, miss you too.

"Health is life lived in the silence of organs," wrote René Leriche in 1936, a physiologist with a Cagean penchant.


*1 An analyse interminable of sorts—this is due to the demand that fatigue makes upon its listener: the requirement to listen to the incommunicable within its symptom, to be met by a listening attuned to the impossibility within the symptom. See Sigmund Freud, “Analysis Terminable and Interminable,” in The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (London: The Hogarth Press, 1964).

*2 “A political theory of fatigue would therefore treat it as a form of having refused, minus the initial act of refusal, an aversion without an act of averting.”  The weary would therefore be those who already exist in a state of refusal. See Jonathan Sterne, Diminished Faculties (Duke University Press, 2021), 187 (emphasis in original).

*3 Andrew Skomra, “The Insufferable Symptom,” UMBR(A) 10 (2006): 5.

*4 Jacqueline Rose, “On the Universality of Madness,” in States of Fantasy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 109.

*5 Sozialistisches Patientenkollektiv or Socialist Patients’ Collective, a radical patient-led group formed in the 1970’s in West Germany whose rallying call “turn illness into a weapon” encapsulates their revolutionary standpoint: that, under capitalism, we are all sick. For more, see chapters 7 and 8 in Beatrice Adler-Bolton and Artie Vierkant, Health Communism (Brooklyn: Verso, 2022).

*6 See Stefania Pandolfo, Knot of the Soul : Madness, Psychoanalysis, Islam (Chicago: The University Of Chicago Press, 2018).

*7 Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation (Minneapolis ; London: University Of Minnesota Press, 2016), xx.