Dr. Elena Vogman | Freigeist-Fellowship of the VolkswagenStiftung

Madness, Media, Milieus. Reconfiguring the Humanities in Postwar Europe

Monoblet, November 1976. Background Map and Tracing. In: Fernand Deligny, L'arachneen et autres textes.
Blida, 1953-1956. Frantz Fanon with the Medical Team.

Institutional psychotherapy is the act of setting up all kinds of mechanisms to fight, every day, against all that could turn the whole collective toward a concentrationist or segregationist structure.

— Jean Oury

Media form and transform our milieus, from geopolitical landscapes to our most intimate environs. As spaces in-between those milieus mediate, shape and design our psychic and imaginary spaces, they condition the possibilities of our movements and our expectations. They offer a realm of experimentation, in which a particular construction of the future is continuously reinvented. In this sense media also mediate temporal milieus envisioned as spaces in-between: milieus of negotiation between present and future, between memories and lived events.

This project studies a series of media and milieu practices initiated in different settings of Institutional Psychotherapy since the 1940s. It examines efforts to produce environments, institutions, and milieus that would facilitate processes of psychological therapy and healing, in particular by psychiatrists and activists such as François Tosquelles, Gisela Pankow, Jean Oury, Anne Querrien, Ginette Michaud, Fernand Deligny, Frantz Fanon and Félix Guattari.

Institutional psychotherapy was an eminently political movement, originating during the German Occupation of France, when between 40,000 and 80.000 patients* fell prey to a policy of extermination geared towards the mentally ill promoted by the Nazi State and silently endorsed by the Vichy Regime. Resisting this form of physical and political violence during the war, and consequently turning its attention to the institutional and social problems that shape mental health issues, the practices of institutional psychotherapy operated at the intersection of environmental, medical, cultural and social dimensions. It instituted a radically horizontal collective of patients, workers, and doctors, and developed media-therapeutic processes, that aimed to transform the inner and outer milieus of psychic illnesses.

Media produce and modify milieus: This is the overarching hypothesis that is reflected in three individual sub-projects (see ‘People’). With recourse to a wide range of unpublished documents, images, and films, the project explores how these milieu-constructing experiments were realized through an intense, multifaceted use of media, social and aesthetic practices: the collective production of periodicals, films, animations, and maps, the performing of plays, the exhibiting of works, produced in collaborations between patients and artists, as well as the establishment of workshops and ateliers. By drawing on intensive archival work, the project foregrounds not a conventional history of ideas, but rather a constellation of scientific and media-historical case studies, developed on the basis of concrete practices, their material processes and their attendant theoretical constructs. 

Moreover, the project posits the constitution of a ‘migrant work’ (Tosquelles) and its theory contending that such practices have evolved from the exigency of specific local circumstances and the involuntary displacements resulting from war and political persecution. The practitioners, compelled by these circumstances, consistently migrated, engendering a continual transformation of their reflections. The study delves into the subsequent evolution of these discourses and practices, emphasizing their newfound relevance in contexts extending beyond Europe. One focal point is the utilization of collective and media-milieu practices in the setting of the Blida-Joinville clinic in Algeria by Frantz Fanon. Here, Fanon pioneered a decolonization of clinical techniques, concurrently formulating concepts that elucidate the nexus between colonial violence and madness. Another case study examines the pioneering work of Brazilian doctor Nise da Silveira, the founder of the Museum of Images from the Unconscious, who integrated aesthetic practices into psychiatric treatment, particularly for patients diagnosed as psychotic. While her work aligns temporally with Institutional Psychotherapy, it uniquely situated image production at the core of its clinical method, taking a radical stance against any form of medicalized approach.

Analyzing these experimental psychiatric techniques and their contexts as primary sources for now-canonical theoretical and philosophical texts, the project also provokes and critically challenges the epistemic ground of our humanities, politicizing the way this fragile foundation came to be constituted and the forces which contributed to it. 

Bueltzingsloewen, Isabelle von. 2009. L’Hécatombe des fous. La famine dans les hôpitaux psychiatriques français sous l'Occupation. Paris: Flammarion

Castelli, André. 2012. L'abandon à la mort... de 76000 fous par le régime de Vichy suivi de Un hôpital psychiatrique sous Vichy (1940-1945). Paris: L’Harmattan

Lafont, Max. 2000. L’extermination douce. Lormont: Le Bord de l'Eau

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