Delay, Jean (1907-1987)

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DELAY, JEAN (1907-1987)

Jean Delay was a psychiatrist and writer, a professor of medicine in Paris, and a member of the Académie française and the Académie de médecine. He was born on November 14, 1907, in Bayonne and died on May 29, 1987, in Paris. He was the only son of Maurice Delay, a surgeon who went to Bayonne to practice and ultimately became mayor, and Berthe Mihura, a musician, mystic, and cultured woman from an old Basque family. Delay obtained his baccalaureate degree when he was only fourteen and a half, and had to obtain permission from Léon Bérard, minister of education, to attend medical school. He was less than sixteen when he left for Paris to study medicine, and he remained a precocious student throughout his life. He excelled as an extern at the hospital but soon discovered that he had little interest in surgery and enrolled in the university's literature department. Georges Dumas, who held the chair of psychopathology at the Sorbonne, introduced Delay to psychiatry.

In 1928 Delay was an intern, the youngest doctor in the Paris hospital system, and in 1939 he joined the staff of the Sainte-Anne Hospital, where he worked with Henri Claude and Maxime Laignel-Lavastine. After the Germans deported Joseph Lévy-Valensi, Delay became head of the psychiatry department. He served as an expert adviser at the Nuremberg trials, where he examined Rudolf Hess and Julius Streicher. In 1946, when he was only 38 years old, Delay was appointed to the chair of mental illness and brain diseases and later held the Charcot chair until 1970, when he retired.

After defending his doctoral dissertation in literature, entitled "Dissolutions de la mémoire" (1942), which was influenced by the work of Pierre Janet, he became part of the great tradition of French psycho-pathology through such publications as Les dérèglements de l'humeur (1946) andÉtudes de psychologie médicale (1953). Upon the departure of Henri Piéron, he became director of the Institut de Psychololgie at the University of Paris.

Delay was chair of the first International Congress in Psychiatry held in Paris in 1950 and was elected member of the Académie de médicine in 1955. His neurological training is reflected in his dissertation on tactile agnosia and other work published in this area. He coined the term "neuroleptic" and introduced the use of reserpine into psychiatry. His interests extended to the use of antidepressants, and he completed his research on mescaline by studying LSD and psilocybin, which he referred to as "oneirogenics." He was also involved in the discovery of Largactil, used in psycho-pharmacology. In 1960 he chaired the first Congrès de médicine psychosomatique (Congress of Psychosomatic Medicine).

Édouard Pichon introduced him to psychoanalysis before the Second World War during a brief training analysis. Delay retained a nuanced, nondoctrinaire attitude toward Sigmund Freud's work. During the Occupation, the psychoanalysts John Leuba, Georges Parcheminey, Jacques Lacan, and Marc Schlumberger worked in his department; after the war Jacques Lacan and André Green had a psychoanalytic practice there. His department also hosted Jacques Lacan's Wednesday seminars (from November 18, 1953, to November 20, 1963) and Friday seminars, until it was decided that they were no longer appropriate. He remained suspicious of the "quacks of the unconscious" and what he considered poorly managed psychoanalysis. Delay was elected to the Académie française in 1959.

Throughout his life Delay maintained a literary career, his work initially being published under the pseudonym Jean Faurel (La cité grise [1946], Les reposantes [1947], Les Hommes sans nom [1948]). His two-volume work on André Gide, The Youth of André Gide (originally published in 1956-1957), soon became famous. Jacques Lacan, in "Jeunesse de Gide, ou la lettre et le désir" (1966), wrote, "Jean Delay extends this ambiguity by locating the effect within the soul, at the very place where the message is formed." He also worked on a historical reconstruction of his mother's family in the four volumes of Avant-mémoire (1979-1986).

In a final homage to Delay at the Académie fran-çaise, Jean Dutourd wrote, "In the case of Jean Delay, who knew everything, who had explored medicine's most hidden pathways, the philosophy of the past, and even madness, we do not have the feeling we are talking with a contemporary but with one of those immense gluttons for knowledge who made the Quattrocento and the sixteenth century so amazing. Nor was he contemporary in his behavior. In his courtesy, his refinement, and his kindness, he was the kind of gentleman one might have found in Balthazar Castiglione, and an 'honest man' as well."

Claude Delay

See also: France; Narco-analysis; Sainte-Anne Hospital.


Delay, Jean. (1946). Les dérèglements de l'humeur. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

Delay, Jean. (1947). Les reposantes. Paris: Gallimard.

Delay, Jean. (1953).Études de psychologie médicale. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

Delay, Jean. (1956). Aspects de la psychiatrie moderne. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

Delay, Jean. (1960). Discours de réceptionà l'Académie française c . Paris: Gallimard.

Delay, Jean. (1963). The youth of André Gide (June Guicharnaud, Trans.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Abridged.)

Delay, Jean. (1971-1986). Avant-mémoire. Paris: Gallimard.

Lacan, Jacques. (1966). Jeunesse de Gide, ou la lettre et le désir. In hisÉcrits. Paris: Seuil.

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Delay, Jean (1907-1987)

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