The Birth of a Political Self
The Jean-Max Gaudilliere Seminars 2001-2014
This book provides a psychoanalytic reading of works of literature, enhancing the illuminating effect of both fields.
The second of two volumes, The Birth of a Political Self: The Jean-Max Gaudillière Seminars 2001-2014 contains seven of the "Madness and the Social Link" seminars given by psychoanalyst Jean-Max Gaudillière at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris between 2001 and 2014, transcribed by Françoise Davoine from her notes. Each year, the seminar was dedicated to an author who explored madness in their depiction of the catastrophes of history. Surprising the reader at every turn, the seminars speak of the close intertwining of personal lives and catastrophic historical events, and of the possibility of repairing injury to the psyche, the mind and the body in their wake.
These volumes expose the usefulness of literature as a tool for healing, for all those working in therapeutic fields, and will allow lovers of literature to discover a way of reading that gives access to more subtle perspectives and unsuspected interrelations.
Table of Contents
1. Seminar 8: 2001-2002 Wilfred Bion (1897-1979): Questions of memory 2. Seminar 9 (2004-2004) Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), Vasily Grossman (1905-1964), W. G. Sebald (1944-2001) and Eric Kandel (1929-): The history of wars in War and Peace, Life and Fate, Austerlitz and In Search of Memory 3. Seminar 10 J. W. von Goethe (1749-1832): Madness against cognitive distortions 4. Seminar 11 Robert Musil (1880-1942): The birth certificate of phantoms 5. Seminar 12 François Rabelais (1483-1553) and Yvette Guilbert (1865-1944): Mirroring madness 6. Seminar 13: 2011-1012 Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) On the Road 7. Seminar 14: 2013-2014 Kurt Vonegut (1922-1969) Timequake: the hard reality of fiction
Jean-Max Gaudillière studied classical literature at the École normale supérieure (ENS) in Paris before becoming a psychoanalyst. He was a professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) and was a member of the Center for the Study of Social Movements (CSSM), founded by Alain Touraine, research director at the EHESS.
In the weekly seminar called “Madness and the Social Link,” held for forty years at the EHESS, Gaudillière combined his clinical work with the exploration of literary works dealing with the madness of war. The focus of his clinical work was the impact of historical catastrophes on personal lives.
He is the co-author of two books written with Françoise Davoine: History Beyond Trauma (2004) and A Word to the Wise (2018, Routledge).
"It is with great trepidation I endorse this book as I fear I cannot do it justice. It is an awesome book made up of seven seminars given by Jean-Max Gaudillière and transcribed by his wife, Françoise Davoine, much as Francesca Bion did for her husband, Wilfred Bion. This book is more than a study or exploration of important authors and moments of history; it is itself an act of creation using materials from antiquity to the present, opening profound experience of war, death, madness, and creative use of our many capacities, ways of sensing, feeling, knowing. A book in which primary-secondary processes interact and add life to life.
The seminars begin with imaginative amplification of Bion's autobiographical writings and end interweaving Kerouac and Vonnegut. In between are writings using myth, poetry, neurobiology, and more as materials to open dimensions of psyche, culture, society. It is a book I will be reading for a long time and I cannot recommend it highly enough as a partner for your - our - journey".
Michael Eigen, PhD, Author, The Psychotic Core, The Sensitive Self, Contact with the Depths, The Challenge of Being Human
"The privilege of learning from the brilliant teachings of a practicing psychoanalyst who passed away five years ago, made possible thanks to the relentless efforts of his life-and-work partner, Françoise Davoine, is a rare, precious, and uniquely instructive experience. But it is much more. Gaudillière had a keen interest in and a deep understanding of literature, especially novels and plays that staged people wounded so deeply that they had lost their social connectivity. The literary texts, with the help of Gaudillière as their midwife, yield exceptional insights in an aspect of literature rarely if ever analyzed: the way it can first show, then cure, the breaking of the social bond the repairing of which is indispensable for life. Only within sociality is it possible for a political self to emerge, act, and thrive".
Mieke Bal, Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis
"Jean-Max Gaudillière’s seminars are breathtaking in their erudition, the enormous sweep of their understanding, and the core, deeply clinical truths they regularly rediscover: that family trauma leads to generational madness; that, in the place of madness, time has stopped and the social order has been perverted; that the silenced 'political self' comes to life at the unconscious intersection of the patient’s and therapist’s history. Years ago, toward the end of an anxious bit of travel for my family, Jean-Max said, 'It’s OK. I’m here.' How grateful we are to Francoise Davoine that we hear that voice still, and that, through his seminars – which, as an occasional guest, seemed to me more intellectually alive than any I had ever experienced – Jean-Max, his patients, and all those whose trauma he brings to us continue their teaching".
M. Gerard Fromm, PhD, Distinguished Faculty, Erikson Institute, Austen Riggs Center
"Jean-Max Gaudillière and Françoise Davoine have widened our understanding of 'madness.' And they have done so in a way that lead us to recognize, 'yes, but of course'.
The words of my deceased colleague Gaetano Benedetti come to mind when thinking of my dear colleague and friend Jean-Max:
'It is a comfort, in such troubled times in society, to have the memory of colleagues who have dedicated their professional lives to a discipline like psychotherapy which [.. ….] effectively represents one of the most noble efforts to relieve the [.. ….] suffering [of the mad person]. This suffering was once - and sometimes still is - considered to lie outside the realm of therapy, whereas it lies in fact at the very heart of it'".
Brian Koehler, PhD, MS, New York University