A Dark Precursor

Provisional Thoughts on Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, Politics, and Universities

Tag: Félix Guattari

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