Automatism, Surrealism, and the Making of French Psychopathology: The Case of Pierre Janet
Wednesday January 25, 2017
3647 Peel street, Room 101
This paper explores the intellectual influences behind poet André Breton’s classic articulation of a “pure psychic automatism” in the 1924 Surrealist Manifesto. It questions the widespread view that Breton based his conception of the Surrealist method on Sigmund Freud’s “talking cure” and shows that he was in fact highly influenced by Pierre Janet, a prominent turn-of-the-century psychopathologist whom Breton had read and annotated as a medical student. Why then did Breton, in his mythical love affair with Freudianism, systematically silence his indebtedness to the Janetian model of the mind? To examine this question, we turn to a little-studied theme: Janet’s increasing distance from Spiritism and psychical research. In seeking to establish his discipline within a medical framework, Janet erected barriers between the new psychological sciences and such seemingly “extra-scientific” fields. In so doing, he placed himself at odds with other members of the intellectual community who saw in the automatic manifestations of the mind a source of exalted creativity.