Pichon, Édouard Jean Baptiste (1890-1940)

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Édouard Pichon, physician in Parisian hospitals, linguist and psychoanalyst, was born on June 24, 1890, at Sarcelles, just outside Paris, and died in 1940 (he was buried on January 23, 1940).

Originally from Burgundy, Pichon was the son of a notary public at Sarcelles. The family was marked by illness: diabetes on his father's side and acute articular rheumatism on his mother's side, from which he, like his sister, would also suffer. Cardiac complications, also shared by his sister, handicapped him throughout his life and were the cause of his death at the age of fifty.

His uncle, Jacques Damourette, who suffered from epilepsy and tuberculosis, also lived in the family home and introduced his nephew to grammar. Over a period of thirty years they worked together on Des motsà la pensée [From Words to Thought], a seven-volume essay on French grammar, as well as a volume of tables and articles for the Revue de la Philologie Française [Review of French Philology].

Pichon was a brilliant student, with a special affinity for literature, but, on his father's recommendation, he enrolled for medical studies. At university he met and befriended Théophile Alajouanine. In May 1910, he passed the examination enabling him to become an extern in Parisian hospitals and in 1914 he qualified as an intern under Lereboullet. Louis Aragon, whom he met in the hospitals at this time, described him as "a great pale horse of a man with the typhoid-colored mustache of a thirteen-year-old." He was a lover of obscene songs and linguistics, and kept a notebook where he scrupulously noted all the expressions he heard.

He was a medical officer in the army during World War I and was awarded the Military Cross in 1916. It was during this period that his heart condition first appeared. He became seriously ill, was often hospitalized and handicapped by illness, the inevitable consequences of which were known to him. In 1924 he qualified as a medical doctor after presenting a thesis on "Progressive rheumatic heart disease and its treatment." In 1925 he was appointed clinical director for infantile medicine, first as an assistant at the Saint-Louis Hospital, then, in June 1931, physician to the Parisian hospitals, a prestigious title in which he took great pride.

Through Alajouanine he came to meet Adrien Borel and then René Laforgue, who introduced him to Eugénie Sokolnicka, with whom he began an analysis that lasted from 1923 to 1926. His clinical experience convinced him of the solid bases of psychoanalytic theories and he consistently defended psychoanalysis while hoping to "Frenchify" it. Along with the Sainte-Anne group of psychiatrists and the Minkowskis, good friends of his, he was one of the founding members of L'Évolution psychiatrique (Psychiatric Evolution) and its review in 1925, as well as of the Société psychanalytique de Paris in 1926 (of which he was several times president), and the Revue française de Psychanalyse (French Review of Psychoanalysis), going on to become its first general secretary (1927 to 1929).

In 1927 he married Hélène Janet, Pierre Janet's daughter. He tried in vain to organize an encounter between Freud and his father-in-law.

A highly talented man, a brilliant polemicist, a fervent Catholic, a supporter of the death penalty and medical and "national" psychoanalysis, he applied in 1927 to become a member of the Ligue de l'Action Française (a right-wing anti-Semitic organization). He believed that Catholicism was a factor in maintaining social order, in opposition to the Jewish or Protestant spirit. Seeing that "the Pope is becoming a Protestant," he approached Charles Maurras, the leader of Action Française, to join.

Some hundred or so articles bear witness to his medical and psychoanalytic activity in the field of childhood, psychosis and, of course, linguistics, which remained the strong point in all his thinking. In his article dated 1928, "Position du problème de l'adaptation réciproque entre la société et les psychismes exceptionnels" [Positioning the problem of reciprocal adaptation between society and exceptional psychisms], he abandoned the strict organicist definition of mental illness in favor of the theory of degeneration in terms of a failure to adapt, and delinquency. He crossed swords with Marie Bonaparte, whom he accused of denying the responsibility of the individual. Opposed to the man he ceremoniously referred to as "Monsieur Freud," and Princess Marie Bonaparte, he fought against "Laienanalyse" (lay analysis) and tried to use language to combat the internationalism of psychoanalysis. In 1927 he proposed to translate "libido" with the word "aimance" and the Es (id) with "inframoi" (infra-self).

In three conferences dating from 1937, entitled "Á l'aise dans la civilization" [Civilization and the contented], in response to Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents, he defended, not without humor, the values of the manly man and the womanly woman, fought against feminism, and theorized on "How thought takes flesh." Praising the merits of Descartes, Roland Dalbiez, and Madame Borel-Maisonny, a specialist on language disorders, he criticized the arbitrariness of the sign in Ferdinand de Saussure, explaining the latter's error by the fact that he was anchored in the traditions of a country that lacked linguistic unity.

In two articles co-authored with Jacques Damourette and in his report to the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA) in Paris in August 1938 entitled "La personne et la personnalité vuesà la lumière de la pensée idiomatique française" [The person and the personality viewed in the light of idiomatic French thought], he studied the different forms of negation. The paper stressed the value of the notions of "scotomization"a concept forged with Laforgue and criticized by Freud and "foreclosure," which was to become one of the bases of Lacan's theory.

In 1938, when Lacan's article on the family appeared in the Encyclopédie française, he responded in polemical tone in the Revue française de Psychanalyse with "La famille devant Lacan" [The family before Lacan]. Recognizing the intelligence of Lacan who had read Karl Marx, he criticized him for his Germanism and his use of jargon, but acknowledged the importance of the discovery of the "mirror stage."

In his Journal for August 23, 1945, Laforgue wrote: "Pichon was schizophrenic like his mother and uncle before him, and I knew it. This explains why I always tried to mount a vigilant guard at the demarcation line between reality and madness. But at the end of the day Pichon was the only person I could bring my patients' dreams to when I could not understand them and for whom they seemed to be familiar. With good reason." And when the time came, Jacques Lacan did not fail to salute "the lateÉdouard Pichon who, both in the indications he gave concerning the birth of our discipline and those that guided him through the darknesses of people, demonstrated a power of divination that we can only explain in relation to his practice of semantics" (Écrits, p. 258).

Jean-Pierre Bourgeron

See also: Congrès des psychanalystes de langue française des pays romans; France; Linguistics and psychoanalysis; Psychoanalysis and pediatrics; Psychopathology of Failure; Revue française de Psychanalyse ; Scotomization; Société psychanalytique de Paris et Institut de psychanalyse de Paris.


Moreau, Daniel. (1980).Édouard Pichon, médecin, psychanalyste, linguiste: vie et oeuvre: contribution à l'histoire du mouvement psychanalytique français. S.1., s.n.

Pichon,Édouard. (1928) Position du problème de l'adaptation réciproque entre la société et les psychismes exceptionnels. Revue Française de Psychanalyse, 2, 1, 135-170.

. (1938) La personne et la personnalité vuesà la lumière de la pensée idiomatique française. Revue Française c de Psychanalyse, 10, 3, 447-461.

. (1939) La famille devant Lacan. Revue Française de Psychanalyse, 11, 1, 107-135.

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Pichon, Édouard Jean Baptiste (1890-1940)

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