Élisabeth Roudinesco in 2007
|Born||10 September 1944
|Institutions||University of Paris VII – Denis Diderot & École normale supérieure|
|Notable awards||Prix Decembre 2014, Prix des Prix 2014|
Born to half-Jewish parents, she was the daughter of Jenny Aubry (she was a psychonalyst born Weiss – whose sister was the feminist Louise Weiss) of the Javal family and Alexandre Roudinesco, of Romanian origin.
She received her secondary education in Paris at Collège Sévigné. She studied Literature at the Sorbonne, with a minor in Linguistics; her master's degree was supervised by Tzvetan Todorov, and her doctoral thesis, entitled Inscription du désir et roman du sujet, by Jean Levaillant at the Université Paris VIII-Vincennes in 1975.
She also took classes of Michel de Certeau, Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault at the time of her master's degree. She next defended her "habilitation à diriger des recherches" (H.D.R – the French accreditation needed to supervise doctoral dissertations) in 1991 with Michelle Perrot as supervisor and Alain Corbin, Dominique Lecourt, Jean-Claude Passeron, Robert Castel, and Serge Leclaire as members of the examining committee. This work was published under the title Généalogies.
From 1969 to 1981, she was a member of the École Freudienne de Paris, founded by psychoanalyst and philosopher Jacques Lacan. Meanwhile, she was also a member of the editorial board of Action Poétique (1969–1979). She has written for French national newspapers, Libération (1986–1996), and then Le Monde since 1996.
In the 1970s, Elisabeth Roudinesco's first works dealt with literary criticism, notably with Raymond Roussel, Antonin Artaud, Bertolt Brecht and Louis-Ferdinand Céline. At that time, her work concerned linking a singular trajectory and an author's work, without resorting to psycho-biography, in other words, the psychologization of literary work by the clinical study of its author. This approach allowed her to demonstrate that most of 20th century literature has been influenced by the history of Freudianism and psychological medicine based on the theory of degeneration.
From 1979, Elisabeth Roudinesco writes a history of psychoanalysis in France. At that time, the main model was still the biography, because the archives and documents of the psychoanalytical movement were still in the hand of Freud's heirs.
Indeed, this model corresponded to the historiographical trend centered on the notion of the founding father figure; a trend which is at the core of any quest of origins. However, this model has gradually declined.
Considering how psychoanalysis was established as a movement and system of thought, Elisabeth Roudinesco asserted that France was the only country where all the necessary conditions were gathered together, over a long period of time, to successfully establish Freudianism in scientific and cultural life. According to Elisabeth Roudinesco, this favorable situation dated back first to the French Revolution of 1789 which provided a scientific and legal legitimacy to reason, heed/gaze over madness, giving birth to the institution of the asylum. Then, the Dreyfus affair, which has precipitated the arrival of intellectuals' self-awareness as a class. Designating themselves as an 'avant-garde', they furnished fruitful and innovative ideas. Finally, the emergence of literary modernity with Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Lautréamont, who enunciate, in a new style of writing, the project of changing man through “I is another”.
Scholarly historiography emerged with such work as Henri Ellenberger's The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry, first published in 1970. Though this book had been known in English-speaking countries since that date, the book (published in French in 1974) remained largely unnoticed in France. Elisabeth Roudinesco republished it with a lengthy new preface in 1994.
In his work, Ellenberger developed a conceptuality of freudianism founded on archivistics and reference to the concepts of “mental tools”, “long length” and “system of thought”. This last category proposed presenting doctrines in their own terms and structures. The study of the system of thought of dynamic psychiatry, psychotherapies and psychological medicine no longer echoes back to a single founder, but to a plurality of singular itineraries, shattering the biographic model.
From Ellenberger's thesis, Elisabeth Roudinesco retained several guiding principles, while adding methodology derived from the works of the French epistemological school: Georges Canguilhem and Michel Foucault. Thus, the study of system of thought becomes the form in which, at a given time, knowledge achieves independence, finding balance and entering into communication: a history of a man who thinks, systems which intertwine, but also a critical analysis of the concepts of consciousness and subject of knowledge.
In 1993, Elisabeth Roudinesco published a biography of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. From 1938, Lacan felt preoccupied by the generalized decline of the patriarchy and tried, like Freud and the English school, to promote the father figure within Western society, under the form of a symbolic function. Roudinesco highlighted the fact that the genius of Lacan's work is the introduction of elements from German philosophy (e.g., Nietzsche, Hegel, Heidegger) within the Freudian doctrine – creating a phenomenon Freud would have never conceived himself, since he built his theory on a biological model (darwinism), by consciously refusing to consider and include any philosophical discourses, contemporary or ancient, in his thought process.
Physician and philosopher Raymond Tallis wrote a scathing review of the first English language translation of Roudinesco's biography, stating "The innocence with which Roudinesco reports all kinds of clinical cock-ups [in Lacan's medical career] makes this book a particularly disturbing read for a medic."
From the study of the melancholic Théroigne de Mericourt (1989), early feminist and famous case of the annals of French alienism – she has been 'gazed' by Etienne Esquirol in La Salpêtrière – Roudinesco think the French Revolution is a paradigm in the French situation of Freudianism. For Roudinesco, it was necessary to include the analysis of patients into the analysis of doctrines as a major constituting element of the discourses of psychopathology.
Roudinesco think that invariant conditions are required to introduce Freudian ideas and establish psychoanalytical movement in a given space. First, a psychiatric knowledge must have been previously constituted, namely a gaze over madness able to conceptualize the notion of mental illness to the detriment of explanation such as divine possession. Secondly, the existence of a State of right capable of guaranteeing the free practice of a transmission like the transferential kind.
Whenever one or both of theses elements are lacking it explains why the establishment of Freudianism has not been possible (era of the world influenced by Islam or whom the organization is still tribal) or its disappearance ( under totalitarian regime, nazism and communism). She notices that military dictatorship didn't refrain the expansion of psychoanalysis in South American (notably Brazil and Argentina). Roudinesco assesses that caudillo regimes didn't try to eradicate psychoanalysis as “jewish science” as did Nazism in the years 1933–1944 nor as a “bourgeois science” as did communism over the period 1945–1989.
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Since 1997, she has expressed political standing in various public debates. She stands in debates such as laicity, cloning, genetics, innate and acquired. She fiercely criticized INSERM's reports of experts over psychotherapies. In that sense, she is one of the very first signer of Pas de Zéro de Conduite's petition against systematic detection of delinquency of children under three years of age, as advocated by another INSERM's reports.
Her book, a biography of Sigmund Freud, has been awarded the Prix Decembre 2014 and then, the Prix des Prix 2014. Professor of Psychology, Jacques Van Rillaer has produced a critical review of this book.
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