Laforgue, René (1894-1962)

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LAFORGUE, RENÉ (1894-1962)

René Laforgue, French psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, was born on November 5, 1894, in Thann, Alsace, then under German control, and died in Paris on March 6, 1962. He was the first president of the Société psychanalytique de Paris (Paris Psychoanalytic Society).

His mother, Eugénie Heitzmann, came from a large family that lived in the Vosges. His father, Joseph, a copperplate engraver for a cloth manufacturer, was an illegitimate child. Laforgue studied at the Collège de Thann, in Forbach, and in Fribourg, then with Franz Oppenheimer, a physiologist from Berlin. In 1913, while working with Oppenheimer, he came across a copy of Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams. During the First World War he was mobilized in the German army and barely escaped death in the Carpathian mountains.

In 1919 Alsace again became French and Laforgue concluded his medical studies as an intern at the Hoerdt Psychiatric Hospital, where he studied under Professor Pfesdorff. In 1922, in Strasbourg, he defended his dissertation, "Étude sur l'affectivité des schizophrènes du point de vue psychanalytique." That same year he married Paulette Erickson, whom he met at the Theosophical Society.

He arrived in Paris in 1923 and went to work at the Sorbonne with Professor Henry on the physiology of sensation. He began a short analysis with Eugénie Sokolnicka. He then worked at the Sainte-Anne Hospital as an assistant. After being put in charge of psychoanalytic consulting under Henri Claude in place of his analyst, he and Edouard Pichon wrote an article for the October 20, 1923, issue of Progrès médical entitled "De quelques obstaclesà la diffusion des méthodes psychanalytiques en France" (Certain obstacles to the diffusion of psychoanalytic methods in France). That same month he wrote to Freud for the first time. The following year he met him in Berchtesgaden. With Freud's support he was unanimously elected a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society in 1925.

He was a co-founder, and co-editor with Angélo Hesnard, of the review L'Évolution psychiatrique, the first issue of which appeared in April 1925. Freud discussed Laforgue's article "La Schizonoïa," a critique of Otto Rank's theory of birth trauma and his concept of scotomization, which was nearly indistinguishable from repression.

Laforgue was the first president of the Société psychanalytique de Paris (Paris Psychoanalytic Society), which he helped found in November 1926. He remained president until 1930. He edited the medical section of the Revue française de psychanalyse with Angélo Hesnard from its inception in 1927. Marie Bonaparte was responsible for the non-medical section. Together with René Allendy he wrote La Psychanalyse et les Névroses (Psychoanalysis and the neuroses), published by Payot in 1924. In 1931 he published L'Échec de Baudelaire, apsychoanalytic study of the poet's neurosis.

During the 1930s, Laforgue trained a number of students: Juliette Boutonier (Favez-Boutonier), Françoise Marette (Dolto) and her brother Philippe, Georges Mauco, the publisher Bernard Steele, the actor Alain Cuny, André Berge, and John Leuba, whom he supervised. These students regularly got together at Laforgue's home in the Var, where they formed the "Club des piqués," as they referred to themselves. After the war he psychoanalyzed Jacques Donnars and Ménie Grégoire.

In 1938-1939 Laforgue separated from Paulette Erickson and married Délia Clauzel. He was mobilized in 1939 as a military doctor in the French army.

In November 1940 he asked to become a member of the Berlin Institute and announced that he intended to found, in Paris, a French section of the Psychotherapy Society run by Professor Matthias Göring, with whom he corresponded until 1943. His request, which was repeated in 1941, did not materialize. His earlier membership in the International League against Anti-Semitism hardly inspired confidence among the Nazis. In 1941 he published Psychopathologie de l'échec (Psychopathology of failure), written around 1937, but without the chapter on Hitler. He destroyed the book during the Occupation and only one copy was given to Jean Rostand and is presumed lost. In 1942, at his home in the Midi, he provided protection for Jews and escapees from the German work camps. In 1944 he obtained authorization to publish a new edition of Psychopathologie de l'échec, for which he was reproached after the Liberation.

In 1945, following accusations by John Leuba, Laforgue was tried for collaboration. The case was dismissed for lack of evidence (the attempt to work with Göring was unknown at the time), but the separation between Laforgue and his colleagues at the Société psychanalytique de Paris continued to worsen.

In 1946 Psyché, created by Maryse Choisy, was the first psychoanalytic review to reappear after the war.

Laforgue contributed several articles and participated extensively in the preparation of the Dictionnaire de psychanalyse et de psychotechnique, published as a supplement to the review. His position against scientism and his spiritualist interests are confirmed here. But the idea of a form of psychopolitics based on applied psychoanalysis found little interest among his former colleagues and students. At the 1950 International Congress of Psychiatry, he claimed that in sixty percent of cases a rational technique would result in the elimination of nearly two thirds of the sessions then customary in analysis. After the 1953 split of Société psychanalytique de Paris and his resignation, Laforgue joined the Société française de psychanalyse (French Psychoanalytic Society).

He went into "exile" in Morocco, where he had traveled regularly since 1948, from December 1956 to 1959. There he founded the Institut de psychanalyse de Casablanca (Casablanca Institute for Psychoanalysis). Jean Bergeret, Jean Callier, and Monique Foissin, future members of the Société psychanalytique de Paris, began their training at the Institute.

At the end of his life, Laforgue was close to Father Bruno and hisÉtudes carmélitaines, and reproached psychoanalysts for the sectarianism, akin to religious fanaticism, that divided the various professional societies. The specialist of the neurosis of failure was soon forgotten by the members of the society he created when he died, March 6, 1962, following surgery.

Jean-Pierre Bourgeron

Works discussed: Psychanalyse et les Névroses, La ; Psychopathologie de l'echec.

Notions developed: Failure neurosis; Scotomization.

See also: Allendy René Félix Eugène; Berge, André; Bonaparte, Marie León; Choisy, Maryse; Claude, Henri Charles Jules; Congrès des psychanalystes de langue française des pays romans; Dolto-Marette, Françoise; Embirikos, Andreas; Évolution psychiatrique, L' ; Favez-Boutonier, Juliette; France; Freud, Oliver; Hesnard, Angélo Louis Marie; International Federation of Psychoanalytic Societies; Leuba, John; Mauco, Georges; North African countries; Psyché, revue internationale de psychanalyse et des sciences de l'homme (Psyche, an international review of psychoanalysis and human sciences); Sainte-Anne Hospital; Schlumberger, Marc; Second World War: The effect on the development of psychoanalysis; Société psychanalytique de Paris and Institut de psychanalyse de Paris; Sokolnicka-Kutner, Eugénie.


Freud, Sigmund, and Laforgue, René. (1977). Correspondance Freud-Laforgue, préface d'André Bourguignon. Nouvelle Revue de psychanalyse,15, 235-314.

Laforgue, René. (1931). L'Échec de Baudelaire. Paris: Denoël & Steele; Geneva: Le Mont-Blanc.

. (1941). Psychopathologie de l'échec. Marseille: Les Cahiers du Sud.

Laforgue, René, and Allendy, René. (1924). La Psychanalyse et les Névroses (2nd ed.). Paris: Payot, 1950.

Lilamand, Martine. (1980). René Laforgue, fondateur du mouvement psychanalytique français, sa vie, son œuvre. Certificat d'études spéciales de psychiatrie. Créteil: Université de Paris.

Further Reading

Mijolla Alain de. (1988a). "Psychoanalysis and psychoanalysts in France between 1939 and 1945", Int Forum Psychoanalysis, 12, 136-156, 2003, Stockholm.

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Laforgue, René (1894-1962)

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