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Anzieu, Didier (1923-1999)

ANZIEU, DIDIER (1923-1999)

French psychoanalyst and professor of psychology Didier Anzieu was born July 8, 1923, in Melun and died on November 25, 1999, in Paris.

His parents, who worked for the post office, met in Melun, where Didier Anzieu spent his childhood and part of his adolescence. A younger sister died at birth. His parents' intense investment in Didier, especially on the part of his mother, Marguerite, who became seriously depressed after the stillbirth of her daughter (she herself was a "survivor," her sister having died when she was a child), led to alternations between "superimposed layers of care" and feelings of abandonment that would mark Anzieu's life and work. His mother's illness and subsequent treatment in a psychiatric hospital further distanced him from her; he was raised by his maternal aunt, who later moved in with her brother-in-law.

His close, secure, and warm relationship to his father sustained him throughout his childhood and entrance into adult life. He began his secondary school studies in Melun, followed by Paris, where he met Zacharie Tourneur, with whom he edited Pascal's Pensées. After theÉcole Normale Supérieure and his studies in philosophy, he turned to psychology, which he taught, along with Daniel Lagache, at the Sorbonne, before continuing his academic career in Strasbourg (1955-1964) and Paris (1964-1983). In 1957 he completed his oral defense for the doctoral degree, the subject being Freud's self-analysis and its role in the invention of psychoanalysis.

Before he became a psychoanalyst Didier Anzieu worked as a clinical psychologist. His involvement in psychology led him through several fields of study: psychodrama, dermatology, projective methods, and Rorschach methods, in which he specialized. He made use of the dynamics of Lewinian groups in creating, in 1962, an associationCEFFRAP, the Centre d'études françaises pour la formation et la recherche active en psychologiethrough which he set up the first French experiments in group psychoanalysis and group psychodrama. Anzieu's various activities supported a brilliant academic career alongside his work as an editor and creative writer (short stories, essays, drama).

As a psychoanalyst, Anzieu's life intersected his personal history, his psychoanalytic history, and the history of the French psychoanalytic movement. His mother, Marguerite Anzieu, had been treated by Jacques Lacan, who had used her treatment as the basis for his medical dissertation De la psychose paranoïaque dans ses rapports avec la personnalité (On Paranoiac Psychosis in Its Relations with the Personality ), published in 1932, in which she is known simply as "Aimée." Didier Anzieu began psychoanalysis with Lacan in 1949. After four years of fruitful work, their relationship became problematic when Lacan asked him to remain silent about how therapy was being conducted. Anzieu continued his training (1953) with Daniel Lagache, Juliette Boutonier, and Georges Favez. He participated in the foundation of the French Psychoanalytic Association when it was formed in 1964 following the break with Lacan, and assumed a number of responsibilities within the association (he was its vice-president).

Anzieu's psychoanalytic writing can't be separated from his other writing, his activity as a psychoanalyst, or his interests. It is both varied and indivisible, always informed by the uncertainties of psychology, literature, and the psychoanalysis of intersubjective bonds.

In his psychoanalytic practice, Anzieu always claimed to be an orthodox analyst, but he was also careful to modulate the mechanism and technique of interpretation according to the treatment needs of the individual patient. As he refined his theoretical understanding through clinical activity, he highlighted the transformations needed in the object of interpretation (the "archaic") and in the handling of a reliable and flexible framework that harmonized with the specific transferences generated by the pathologies of the primal. He gave increasing attention to these areas of practice, which were supported by his contacts with the Anglo-American school (Melanie Klein, Wilfred R. Bion, Donald W. Winnicott, Esther Bick). He was also interested in the unconscious formations and processes involved in group bonds and the work of creation. A statement written in 1975 expresses his fundamental position: "The question is not to repeat what Freud found when faced with the crises of the Victorian era, but to find a psychoanalytic response to mankind's malaise in the civilization in which we live. Work such as that of psychoanalysis needs to be done wherever the unconscious arises, standing, seated or lying down; individually, in a group or in a family, wherever a subject can allow his anxieties and fantasies to speak out to someone who is supposed to listen to them and is likely to help him understand them."

Anzieu's worldwide recognition is largely due to his scrupulous approach to clinical and theoretical work and his intellectual freedom in searching for innovative tools. He renewed the understanding of self-analysis and dream interpretation, primordial models for what he would later theorize as the work of creation and processes of thought.

He introduced new concepts into psychoanalytic theory. With the important concept of the "skin ego" (1985/1989), he referred to "a figuration the child's ego makes use of during the precocious phases of its development to represent itself as an ego containing psychic contents based on its experience of the surface of his body." This concept inaugurated several research projects on psychic interfaces and envelopes, on the dual prohibition of touching, on formal signifiers and their normal and pathological transformations. These investigations gave rise to a theory of thought processes and a conception of the work in which the dual polarity of creation and destruction is affirmed.

Didier Anzieu made use not only of clinical psychoanalysis but literature (Pascal, Julien Gracq, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Samuel Beckett) and the visual arts as well (Francis Bacon) to bring to light the traces of the body in writing, drama, and painting. Finally, through his work on individual and group psychoanalytic psychodrama, he enriched the instruments derived from psychoanalysis by proposing a new outlook on the operation of the unconscious in groups.

RenÉ KaËs

Work discussed: Freud's Self-Analysis.

Notions developed: Heroic identification; Skin ego.

See also: Aimée, case of; Analytic psychodrama; Body image; France; Group analysis; Lacan, Jacques-Marie Émile; Literature and psychoanalysis; Nouvelle Revue de psychanalyse ; Paradox; Protective shield; Psychic envelope; Psychoanalytic family therapy; Psychological tests; Self-analysis; Skin; Thought.


Anzieu, Didier. (1959). L'autoanalyse. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

. (1989). The skin ego (Chris Turner, Trans.). New Haven-London: Yale University Press. (Original work published 1985)

. (1987). Some alterations of the ego which make analyses interminable. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 68 (1), 9-20.

. (1989). Beckett and Bion (Juliet Mitchell, Trans.). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 16 (2), 163-170.

. (1979). The sound image of the self. International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 6 (1), 23-36.

Kaës, René. (1994). Les voies de la psyché, hommage à Didier Anzieu. Paris: Dunod.

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