A Dark Precursor

Provisional Thoughts on Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, Politics, and Universities

Category: French Psychoanalysis

Félix Guattari interview broadcast on France 3 Régions, April 20, 1987 – in English


Last week, the good people over at Revue Chimères shared on Facebook a link to a short interview with Guattari that was broadcast on April 20, 1987 as part of an hour-long program devoted to “the thought and heritage of Freud at the end of the 20th Century.”

The interview was conducted by Sylvie Steinbach, and the broadcast helpfully includes a transcript, which I’ve translated into English below.

Generally, what Guattari says here will be familiar to those who’ve spent time with Deleuze and Guattari’s other published discussions of psychoanalysis. What is interesting here is primarily how Guattari inflects the significance of their critique, and how he identifies its target. Rather than representing a break with psychoanalysis per se, he claims, he and Deleuze should be understood to have broken with structuralism — or perhaps a Lacanian orthodoxy that in his mind was producing an increasingly impoverished version of psychoanalysis.


Interviewer [Sylvie Steinbach]: In 1972, you wrote Anti-Oedipus with philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Was this a rupture with Freudian orthodoxy?

Félix Guattari: Yes of course, but after all there were many others who had made this rupture, while speaking of aligning themselves with orthodoxy.  There was in particular Lacan and the Lacanians who made a rupture with Freudianism but who do not want it recognized, that’s their business.  But us, it was perhaps more a rupture with structuralism than psychoanalysis. That is to say precisely, we spoke of it at the beginning, the fact of reducing the productions of the unconscious to facts of language.  And of reducing analysis to a work relative to language.  And for that matter to a work that is very poor in the end because very often, sadly, structuralist psychoanalysts content themselves with listening without ever intervening, by basing an entire theory on the fact that it is like this that it must happen, only by listening and silence.  For my part, I don’t believe it at all. But after all this, we’re not going to get into this whole aspect of things.  So, rupture, because at bottom we were told [nous on disait] yes it was indeed very important this unconscious subjectivity, beyond norms, beyond ordinary frameworks [cadres].  But then, it is not only something that one is going to encircle, that one is going to grasp in the psychoanalyst’s office, above all with the turn that things have taken.  But it is something which arises just as well no matter where, in a class.  For example there is a whole current of thought around Fernand Oury in the wake of Célestin Freinet, who said that one can do a sort of psychoanalysis in school, in certain types of school.  The problem of analysis also arises in institutions like health care institutions for the mentally ill.  It also arises in cultural life, in the theater, in cinema, it arises all over.  And it will even arise more and more as and when subjectivity is flattened [écrabouillée] – if you will permit me the expression – by the system of mass media, by advertising and by these enormous collective equipments which produce the subject like they produce automobiles or shoes.  So, the problem of rediscovering not only a mastery but the sense of the singularity of one’s relationship to life, of one’s relationship to existence, well this is a problem that will arise more and more. More and more people will have less and less assurance in their work, in their social life, and will have more and more need to shape their own personalities [se construire], to fabricate themselves.  And this is the analytic problem par excellance.  So our attack against Freud and against Lacan is finally in the name of the psychoanalytic discovery.  This is why analysis continues and why it does not get stuck in this dogmatic quarrel, in these schools of thought [chapelles] which in the end present us a practice of analysis that is more and more impoverished, more and more sterile.

Interviewer: In other words it’s necessary to leave the office a little?

Guattari: Yes obviously.  And even when staying in the office, to leave the office, which is to say at least to open the windows of the office and to be prepared to hear all sorts of things, all sorts of other problems than the problems strictly of identification with the father, with the mother, the interfamilial problems or all these machinations [cuisine] that one calls the mathemes of the unconscious, such as the structuralists have developed.

Guattari, Institutions, and … Utopias?

I’ve been thinking about Guattari and institutions a lot. More specifically, I’ve been thinking that part of what is interesting about Guattari is that a large portion of his thought is devoted to questions not only about the ways in which subjects are constituted by and in relation to institutions, but also about how relations between subjects and institutions can be rearticulated in order to give rise to real and lasting transformations of both.

Such questions are eminently practical for Guattari, arising out of his political and his psychiatric practice, both of which involve institutional relations at very basic levels—he was a hospital psychiatrist and an activist whose political work was always carried out within a network of highly instituted contexts (Trotskyist militancy, the Youth Hostel movement, various periodical publishing collectives and research groups, etc.).

What all these institutions have in common is that they are at least potentially revolutionary—though in both the case of the hospital and the case of the party, there is also the constant risk of stagnation, blockage, or constraint. As a result, working within institutions requires constant attention. But given this attention, and a certain amount of institutional skill, Guattari also clearly believes that the institution, as such, can function both as a site and an enabling condition for the emergence of new and better forms of life. In the psychiatric context, for instance, the transversal relations that can be set up within the institution allow it to function as a rich and flexible diagnostic and therapeutic instrument.

Guattari is by no means unique among his contemporaries in seeing the creative power of institutions with respect to forms of life.  Foucault, of course, must be credited with a similar insight.  And the very early Deleuze also seemed to have been thinking in terms of institutions as mechanisms of satisfaction, rather than exploitation or constraint.  But Guattari frequently inflects the point differently, and especially optimistically.

In this respect, it seems worth asking what might be gained by reading Guattari in relation to the Utopian tradition.  Already in More we can find envisioned a manner of organization in which the institutions of society should be capable of producing, at least in most cases, a profound alteration in the affective constitution of subjectivity—such that, for example, the desires for property, luxury, or visible status should be purged from the citizens of his island.  Moreover, the organization of work and the distribution of tasks in Utopia is clearly aimed at fostering in each individual a continual process of development precisely on the basis of maximizing his or her opportunities for intellectual, scientific, and creative endeavors.

But it may be less to More’s canonical text and more to the experimental communities that were set up by many socialists in the 19th and 20th Centuries, and which may have to some extent been consciously or unconsciously repeated in the hostelage movement, that it may be profitable to compare the relatively closed, or at least deliberately circumscribed and programmatically organized (and reorganized) space of the clinic to which Guattari devotes so much of his early theoretical energy.

At very least, this seems worth following up.

Elisabeth Roudinesco’s Obituary of Jean Oury [in English]

Sadly, Jean Oury died several weeks ago at the age of 90.  What follows is my quick translation of Elisabeth Roudinesco’s short obituary, published in Le Monde on May 16, 2014.  The original text is here.

Jean Oury, Leader of Institutional Psychotherapy, is Dead

by Elisabeth Roudinesco

French psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Jean Oury, internationally known for being the leader of French institutional psychotherapy, died the night of May 15, at the La Borde clinic in Cour-Cheverny (Loir-et-Cher), his student and friend Pierre Delion, professor of child psychiatry at Lille, has announced.

The life of Jean Oury, born March 5, 1924 in La Garenne-Colombes, tends to become confused with his work at the La Borde clinic, a place which he founded in 1953 and which he was known to keep alive despite all difficulties.

Analyzed by Jacques Lacan

Jean Oury was not the founder, but the inheritor of institutional psychotherapy. This current of psychiatry, of which he became the most famous incarnation, was based on a global approach to madness resting on the idea of psychic causality of mental illness in opposition to theses privileging purely physico-chemical causes. It aimed to reform the institution of the asylum by privileging a dynamic relation between caregivers and patients in sites of care said to be “open” to the outside world.

The term institutional psychotherapy was employed for the first time in 1952 by Georges Daumezon. In France, this approach, which already existed elsewhere in the world, had developed starting in 1940, under the Occupation, in the Saint-Alban (Lozère) psychiatric hospital, where there were mixed together pell mell members of the resistance, the mentally ill, refugees and passing intellectuals such as Paul Eluard or Georges Canguilhem.

Jean Oury began his career in 1947 as an intern in psychiatry at the Saint-Alban hospital. At La Borde, he famously worked with Félix Guattari, who died in 1992, who in 1957 took on the administrative directorship of the clinic. A member of the Ecole Freudienne de Paris until its dissolution in 1980, Jean Oury had been analyzed by Jacques Lacan for twenty years. His brother, Fernand Oury, who died in 1997, was the creator of the movement of institutional pedagogy.

—translated by Edward Kazarian    


Jean Laplanche Has Died

Today, Le Monde carries a short announcement, written by Elisabeth Roudinesco, that Jean Laplanche died yesterday of pulmonary fibrosis.

Here is the text of Roudinesco’s announcement translated into English:

Born the 21st of June, 1924, Jean Laplanche, psychoanalyist, graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure, agrégé in philosophy, doctor of medicine, former intern at psychiatric hospitals, founder of the Centre de recherches en psychanlyse and psychopathologie fondamentale (1979, University of Paris VII), then professor emeritus, died the 6th of May at the Hospital de Beaune of the effects of a pulmonary fibrosis.

Jean Laplanche belonged to the third generation of French psychoanalysis. He was analyzed by Jacques Lacan, who remained, after Freud, his major intellectual reerence, and was among the founders of the Association psychanalyse de France (APF, 1964). He was the scientific director of the publication of the complete works of Freud by the Presses universitaires de France (PUF) and the author, with Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, of the celebrated Vocabulaire de la psychanalyse, publised in 1967 and translated into twenty five languages.

He was also the author of an important body of work: 20 volumes, pulished by PUF of which some were translated into many languages. He was also, until 2003, and under the name of Jean-Louis Laplanche, a remakable wine-maker, proprietor of the Château de Pommard, which he inherited from his father.

March 19, 1969: Jacques Nassif presents on Deleuze in Lacan’s Seminar

Early in the research that eventually led to my dissertation, I discovered that Deleuze had been taken up on at least two distinct occasions in Lacan’s seminar, first in 1967 (Seminar XIV) after the publication of Coldness and Cruelty, and then again in 1969 (Seminar XVI) after the appearance of The Logic of Sense. Intrigued, I went to the typescripts of these seminars — the official edition of Seminar XVI had not yet appeared — and discovered not only that Lacan had praised Deleuze warmly on both occasions, but indeed that he had been so taken by The Logic of Sense as to request, on March 12, 1969, that one of his students put together a presentation on it. This request was taken up the next week by Jacques Nassif, whose presentation was preserved in the typescript of the seminar.

Thrilled, I dutifully set to work translating the presentation. Originally, I had also intended to write up an introduction to it, and possibly an analysis of the entire episode, which is quite interesting in many of its nuances — not least among them Lacan’s rather explicit attempts to claim what Deleuze is doing as an effect of his own project, while also rebuking Deleuze for relying too much on Jean Laplanche’s portions of his and Serge Leclaire’s famous presentation on “The Unconscious” at the Bonneval colloquium in 1960, a text which was central to the break between Lacan and Laplanche. The project stalled, having too many moving parts, many of which were drawing me further and further from the central issue (at the time) of Deleuze’s own relationship to psychoanalysis.

In the mean time, I had the translation sitting around. When the official edition of the seminar appeared in French, Nassif’s text was not included. There is thus no more ‘official’ edition than the one in the typescripts, nor is one likely to be forthcoming. From the point of view of Lacan scholarship, this is reasonable; and indeed given that what is at issue is a rough presentation that was composed in the course of a week, it is hardly surprising that the editors — and quite probably Nassif himself — saw fit to let it lie.  For several years, I have done the same.

Nevertheless — especially given Lacan’s rather pointed ‘introduction’ of The Logic of Sense to his seminar the week before — it seems to me that the text retains some considerable interest to those trying to understand the relationship between Deleuze and Lacan.  Indeed, it provides a very rare example of how Deleuze, more or less with Lacan’s authorization, could be read by Lacanians prior to what Monique David-Ménard rather pointedly calls “the altercation” of the 1970s.

Accordingly, I present here a revision of my translation of Nassif’s presentation, with the original French text from the typescript linked above en face.

J Nassif on Deleuze’s Logic of Sense, Presented to Lacan’s Seminar, 3-19-1969

Comments on or corrections to the translation are, of course, welcome. There are several passages that are tricky and awkward, especially given the emendations in the text. Also, as the opportunity presents itself, I hope to work on translating the relevant sections of the two meetings of the seminar before and after March 19th, where Lacan introduces The Logic of Sense and makes a few comments in the aftermath of Nassif’s presentation. I will update this post with links to those materials, as appropriate. Perhaps someday I’ll even finish writing up my discussion of the various ‘moving parts’ animating the episode.