Viderman, Serge (1916-1991)

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VIDERMAN, SERGE (1916-1991)

The Romanian-born French physician, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst Serge Viderman was born on September 15, 1916 in Rimnic-Sarat, near Bucharest, and died in Paris on November 3, 1991.

The third of four brothers, he was born into a relatively affluent family; his father was a forestry agent. After his secondary education, without prospects owing to the numerus clausus against Jews, he decided to go to France to join his eldest brother, who had established himself as a doctor there. He arrived in Rouen in 1934, at the age of eighteen, and entered medical school, perhaps less out of any sense of vocation than of lack of interest in the second career option then available to gifted Jews: the legal profession.

With the outbreak of the war, he finished his studies and, after escaping imprisonment for resistance activities, he took refuge in Grenoble, in the free zone, where he rejoined his brother and his family and enrolled in the bachelor's program in philosophy at the university. In 1943 he was forced to flee again, this time to Paris, where he lived under a false identity until the Liberation.

After the Liberation he became a naturalized French citizen, but, in need of money, he accepted a job in Fribourg (Switzerland) at the National Office of Immigration. Based on the conclusions of his medical examination, "displaced persons" were directed toward either France or the United States. It was here that he met his future wife, Michèle, who came from Burgundy; the couple had three daughters.

As soon as he was able, Viderman returned to France and settled near Poitiers, where the mayor of a small administrative district was in need of a doctor and was offering lodging. Unenthusiastic about being a country doctor, he then moved to settle near Rouen as a generalist in order to be closer to Paris and the practice of psychiatry.

He came into renewed contact with his compatriot Béla Grunberger, who recommended his own psychoanalyst, Sacha Nacht; like both of the other men, Nacht was a Romanian Jew. Viderman entered analysis with Nacht in the spring of 1952, and after another move, this time to the Paris suburbs, in 1955 he found a job as a psychiatrist at Villa-des-Pages clinic, in Le Vésinet, which was headed by two doctors named Leulier; this enabled him to cut his first teeth as a practicing psychiatrist.

His name did not appear on any of the lists of "students in training" that were fought over by the two rival factions of the schism of 1953, but his performance in his degree course was brilliant enough for him to be entrusted, in 1956, with writing, under Nacht's direction, an important article entitled "Aperçu sur l'histoire de la littérature psychanalytique" (Outline of the history of the psychoanalytic literature) for the second volume of La Psychanalyse d 'aujourd 'hui (Psychoanalysis today), published by the Presses Universitaires de France. In this article he painted a broad historical picture that equally embraced child analysis and psychosomatic theories, and he showed no hesitation in approaching the contemporary era, with Nacht ("Nacht's work stands out for its precision and clear organization"), Maurice Bouvet (whose report on object relations he cited as one of the "studies full of promise that have been published in France in recently years"), Daniel Lagache, whose "substantial report" on transference was noted, and Jacques Lacan, "who has published works written in a singular style, the obscurity and preciosity of which are detrimental to his thinking" (Viderman also rebuked Lacan for failing to cite Henri Wallon, in whose works "he had nevertheless found the clearest part of his inspiration").

Esteem for Viderman was confirmed by his election to membership in the Société psychanalytique de Paris (SPP; Paris Psychoanalytical Society) in December 1957. After Bouvet's death in 1960, Viderman was immediately accredited to take over his training analyses; unsurprisingly, he was elected to permanent membership in the society on October 18, 1960. At this time he left the clinic at Le Vésinet and settled definitively in Paris as a psychoanalyst.

Viderman's position within the institution was always that of a "critic" in the true sensea position, moreover, that was congruent with the theoretical and clinical views he elaborated over time. He felt close to those who were attempting to open up the SPP to the outside, particularly to the analysts of the Société française de psychanalyse (French Society of Psychoanalysis), which would become the Association psychanalytique de France (Psychoanalytic Association of France), but also, whatever reservations he may have harbored about Lacan, with regard to what he perceived to be lively elements within the Lacanian movement. For example, in 1967 he wrote for L'Inconscient, the revue founded by Piera Aulagnier, Jean Clavreul, and Conrad Stein. Although he was one of the founders and, from 1973, codirectors, along with Christian David and Michel de M'Uzan, of the general section of the collection "Le fil rouge" (The red thread) published by the Presses Universitaires de France, he also long maintained close ties with René Major and Dominique Geahchan in the meetings organized by their group, Confrontation, from 1974.

In 1978-1979 he tried, although in vain, to promote a "second degree program," known as Cursus B, alongside the traditional curriculum for the training of analysts within the Institut de psychanalyse de Paris (Paris Institute of Psychoanalysis). In 1979 he cosigned the summons issued to the institute by Robert Barande, Dominique Geahchan, René Major, Michel Neyraut and Conrad Stein to try to annul expulsion orders judged to be illegal and voted for in June, against members who refused to pay their membership fees in protest. Finally, in 1980 he found himself alongside Geahchan, François Roustang, Jacques Sédat, and Stein, among the promoters of the foundation of the Collège des psychanalystes (Collegium of psychoanalysts), which aimed to situate itself "outside of the traditional structures of psychoanalytic societies."

These stands taken in relation to institutions were not arbitrary, but rather closely linked to the ideas Viderman promoted; these ideas first appeared in fully developed form in his book, La Construction de l 'espace analytique (Construction of the analytic space; 1970), which marked a real turning point in the thinking of many analysts in the French psychoanalytic community. His ideas incited lively discussions that for a time seemed to take precedence over the usual administrative quarrels. They were viewed as subversive by adherents to a dogmatic psychoanalysis that was dependent upon a certain Freudian scientistic ideal, and conducive to the exercise of a will to codify, whose sterility and absurdity Viderman underscored.

His description of the space in which an analytic relationship (which is always an invention in partnership) is born, flourishes, and fades away, is based on a radical putting into doubt of the existence of any external "truth" that could be found in its integrity and could transcend the protagonists in the relationship. The person of the analyst and the counter-transference here have a dimension that renders practice less assured and less reassuring. Interpretations do not "construct" the subject's history, but rather "construct" a probability that cannot pretend to be an "objective historical truth." Needless to say, this calling into question of pseudo-certainties was taken for what it was: a relativization of the "power" of those who pretended to legislate in their own name, a caution against the abuses of force in producing meaning.

Book after book, Viderman deepened his explorations, for example with Le Céleste et le Sublunaire (The celestial and the sublunar; 1977), or Le Disséminaire (The disseminary; 1987), where he pursued his task by dismantling the illusionsextremely similar illusions, in the last analysis, because they are linked to the same sociocultural sourcesthat inspired the thinking of Freud, Marx, and Einstein, all of whom believed in the existence of a rigorous determinism, a law that orders the tangible world and the psyche alike. For him, the path was cleared in process, with the passage of the person who walked it.

Viderman did not live to see the publication of his last book, De l 'argent en psychanalyse et au-delà (Money in psychoanalysis and beyond). It could not be fitted into the publication schedule at the Presses Universitaires de France until shortly after his death, on November 3, 1991, of a cancer that had gradually distanced him from all activity other than writing. It is an incomplete book, not revised with Viderman's characteristic meticulousness, for those close to him had tried, in vain, to get it printed before time ran out, as they knew it was fated to do. Death, moreover, is a constant presence in this work, which gives the sense of a testament, but in reality completed the approach Viderman had begun twenty years earlier. His way of emphasizing our fear of nothingness and the "illusory conjuration" of it represented by money reveals the contours of a meditation on human destiny as well as on the psychoanalyst's place in this process; the book attests to the abiding presence of the philosophical reflection that filled the first years of his training.

As Michel Neyraut wrote in his 1991 obituary for Viderman, printed in Le Monde : "Out of the humanist, the thinker, the linguist, the gourmet, the sage, and finally, the psychoanalyst, which was dominant in him? It depended on whether you were asking about a passage from Homer, the bouquet of a Médoc, a translation of Vialatte, or simply the meaning of a wordhe, who came from Romania and had learned his French out of Anatole France!"

Alain de Mijolla

See also: Nacht, Sacha; Société psychanalytique de Paris et Institut de psychanalyse de Paris.


Neyraut, Michel. (1991, November 7). Nécrologie de Serge Viderman. Le Monde.

Viderman, Serge. (1970). La construction de l 'espace analytique. Paris: Denoël.

. (1977). Le céleste et le sublunaire. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

. (1987). Le disséminaire. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

. (1992). De l 'argent in psychanalyse et au-delà. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.