Psyche & Muse: Creative Entanglements with the Science of the Soul

Anti-Oedipus: Psychology, Dissent, and the "Death of the Soul"

Anti-Oedipus Checklist and Object Descriptions

“One day, perhaps, we will no longer know what madness was … Artaud will then belong to the foundation of our language; and not to its rupture; neuroses will be placed among the forms that are constitutive of (and not deviant from) our society.” Michel Foucault.

Appended to the new edition of The History of Madness in 1972, Foucault’s prophesy about the place of Artaud—and neurosis—in the history of Western civilization reflected the tumultuous upsurge of creativity and rebellion that swept across Europe in the 1960s, carried along in large part by storms of controversy surrounding “the science of the soul.” On the one hand, the sixties witnessed a powerful resurgence of psychology and psychoanalysis. Led by Jacques Lacan, the Surrealists’ erstwhile companion, “the return to Freud” inspired young Marxists, feminists, and cultural anarchists to pursue the possibilities of desire in directions far more subversive than either of their old masters had intended. At the same time new editions of Wilhelm Reich—the radical Freudian renegade of the thirties—came onto the market, often in pirated editions, while Herbert Marcuse won converts on both sides of the Atlantic with the message of “polymorphous perversity.” On the other hand, the cultural revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s drew much of their energy from an equally powerful repudiation of psychology, psychoanalysis, and above all psychiatry. Denouncing the drive to classify and contain “deviants,” grassroots movements across Europe lashed out at the asylum. These were the decades of R. D. Laing and David Cooper in England, Franco Basaglia in Italy, and—last, but not least—Miloš Forman’s film of the Ken Kesey novel, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which swept the Oscars on this side of the Atlantic in 1975.

Published as Madness and Unreason in 1961, Foucault’s controversial history of the asylum did much to inspire figures like Laing and Cooper, but it was also very much a product of the “return to Freud.” In fact, Foucault stood astride—or rather immersed in—both currents in the rising storm of the sixties. The depth of his engagement can be read from the thousands of personal dedications from writers, artists, scholars, militants, and analysts found in the Michel Foucault Library of Presentation Copies, acquired by the Beinecke Library in the fall of 2010. Among the most poignant—and certainly the most colorful—is the dedication from Gilles Deleuze, his wife Fanny, and their two children in Anti-OEdipe [Anti-OEdipus], Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s blazing manifesto against capitalism, the family, and psychoanalysis. “No, OEdipus doesn’t exist,” Deleuze jokes, drawing an arrow across the page to an ensemble of his children’s artwork, resembling for all the world a decapitated father figure drenched in blood.

Anti-OEdipus took shape at the experimental University of Vincennes, created in response to the uprisings of May ’68 in Paris, and it made a profound impact on the generation of students and activists who carried the rebellion into the seventies. This was above all true in Italy, where the slogans of Anti-OEdipus blended with militant cries of Movimento del ’77. Among the rebels was Aldo Piromalli, who fled the country after being committed to an Italian asylum and advertised his plight in comic strips like Psychiatry, or The Death of the Soul. But the most graphic artifact of the underground’s struggle with psyche and muse in these years is a ten-foot scroll recounting Bart Huges’s infamous liberation of “the third eye,” Homo Sapiens Correctus.

—Kevin Repp, Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts

Image: Aldo Piromalli, Psychiatry, or Death of the Soul, Amsterdam: Vrije Vogel Pers, 1977. A tiny fold-out flier, this colorful comic strip expresses Piromalli’s personal frustration, exiled in Amsterdam on pain of incarceration in a mental asylum should he return to Italy. But it also echoes the broader revolt against psychiatric norms and inhuman treatment that ignited social protest across Europe in the sixties and seventies. Here Piromalli objects to the label “schizophrenic” and singles out “brain-slicing operations.” Other frames in the strip portray electroshocks and drug therapy in equally graphic ways.

Anti-Oedipus Checklist and Object Descriptions

Written by Rebekah Irwin

January 29, 2011 at 1:52 am

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