Fernand Deligny International Conference, With, Around and From the Endeavors

Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro / Dynamic Base
Rio de Janeiro, August 25-28, 2016

Since the publication in France in 2007 of the Works of Fernand Deligny (1913-1996), we have witnessed an important rediscovery of the author and his work. For more than fifty years, Deligny worked with children and young people on the margins, considered “maladjusted” by medical, legal and social circles. During those decades, his practice and his thinking became more precise –especially after his encounter with mute autistic children at the end of the 1960s. In Brazil, the reception of Deligny has grown more intense in recent years, including in the study of the subjectivity of cartography, but also through an exhibition of maps produced in Cévennes at the 2012 São Paulo Biennial, a videoinstallation inspired by his work at the 2014 Biennial, and with the publication of the first translation into Portuguese of his texts in October 2015.

The aim of this conference is twofold: on the one hand, to reconstruct and present to the Brazilian public Deligny’s major experimentations –practices that touch on mental health, philosophy, anthropology, institutional politics, art, and other areas that were constantly theorized by Deligny. On the other hand, the aim of the event is to open these same practices up to contemporary problems that affect us directly.

This reconstruction is formed along a triple axis. First, to present Deligny’s first experiences (1938-1965). During this pivotal period, the world witnessed the definition and application of the statute, created under German Occupation, of the notion of “maladjustment” –a notion encompassing various categories of the mentally ill and delinquent. Although situated within large public institutions, Deligny sought through a set of experimentations to strip the instituted space of its usual functioning.

Secondly, we propose the reconstruction and analysis of the experience with mute autistic children in the network created from 1967 onwards in Cévennes, in the south of France. Deligny’s project, summarized in the formula “living in close presence of autistic children,” was not to create a therapeutic or social rehabilitation institution, but rather an attempt to live in common with radically different individuals. To this end, he developed a series of devices and practices over more than two decades: the writing of Deligny, the cartography made by the different adults who lived with the children and which aims to describe their trajectories, gestures and attitudes, and, finally, the use of the film camera. These practices, relying on the structuring effects of certain devices, had an anthropological, clinical, aesthetic, and political dimension, while not allowing themselves to be defined solely by any of these aspects. There is, in fact, a very particular inversion of perspective in Deligny’s method: it is not a matter of looking at these children from a strictly psychiatric point of view, but rather from an anthropological one; of taking them not as “abnormal” or “handicapped,” but as a “way of being” that is specific to them. In this sense, through a constant investment and reinvestment of space and territory, the clinical work is dispersed across a series of activities whose objective is to build a favorable environment for the particular way of living that these children possess. In other words, it is a matter of providing them with an environment through which they can exercise their own normativity. The difference between these individuals who are not structured by language and other so-called “normal” subjects, who are structured by it, is taken, then, not as a qualitative difference –which would allow an adapted/inadequate, normal/abnormal, able/disabled distinction– but as a difference of “structure.” The observation of this difference is what allowed Deligny to develop a critique of language and its assimilative function, as well as of the Western civilized subject.

Third, we propose to investigate Deligny’s thought and its position in the specific constellation to which it belongs. In order to understand its singularity and its interconnections, it is important to define Deligny’s interlocutors, with whom he maintained a more or less direct relationship, so that we can understand the position of his thought in the contemporary debate.

In what concerns the anthropological reception of the problem of psychosis, the relationship between Deligny and Claude Lévi-Strauss is fundamental and allows for an open discussion of anthropology in general; in this way, we can grasp a lineage in which Deligny’s thought is inscribed in a line passing through Rousseau, La Boétie and Montaigne, but also Pierre Clastres and the paleontological debate with André Leroi-Gourhan.

As far as philosophical and political debate is concerned, Louis Althusser was an essential interlocutor. Deligny constantly drew on the notion of “ideology” as defined by the French philosopher (who also served as a pivot for Deligny to return to the development of political and historical issues and work through his position in relation to communism). Furthermore, it was Deligny’s first philosophical reception by way of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari that made possible his posterior reception – while showing the Deligny’s profound influence on the latter thinkers.

Of great interest too is the clinical debate: the complex and ambiguous relationship Deligny maintained with Jacques Lacan, Lacanism and psychoanalysis, for it was precisely from psychoanalysis that Deligny borrows much of his vocabulary: the very notion of “subject,” for example, is defined by Deligny with psychoanalytic categories. This distance and tension defines Deligny’s relationship with the anti-psychiatric movements and with institutional psychotherapy, and marks his brief stint at the La Borde Clinic between 1965 and 1967, where he maintained a workshop.

Finally, one could invoke other interlocutors in an effort to reconstruct this place of “acted philosophy”: through his relationship with cinema (François Truffaut, Chris Marker and André Bazin), with materialist psychology and the critique of the notion of “maladaptation,” aiming to approach it from a socio-political point of view and not from a biological or naturalizing one (Henri Wallon and Louis Le Guillant), and with ethology (Konrad Lorenz and Karl von Frisch).

Following a broader contextualization of these questions, we will open the floor to studies centered around the figure of Deligny. His thought is based around the concept of “human” and is a radical critique of all forms of “humanism” and any other reflection aimed at defining man, forging images that individuals must more or less adhere to, and to which they are supposed to virtually cultivate: iconic, imposing, essentialist and definitive images. For his part, Deligny proposed to think of the “human” as a refractory and marginal concept that interrupts and pierces every imagined similarity between individuals. The concept of “human,” far from being a new category capable of defining man, always appears in an insoluble tension with a certain image of man –of the “man-who-we-are. However, this reflection is constantly related to concrete and material practices without which it would be meaningless.

And it is this aspect in particular that arouses interest for legal studies, because Deligny’s work interrogates the notion of “norm,” provides elements for critical reflection on institutional forms, and, above all, guides debates on the status of the “human,” also making possible an important critical debate concerning the field of human rights.

We believe that these practices and reflections may serve as inspiration for a series of institutional, juridical, political, clinical, artistic, and methodological issues that concern the present-day study of subjectivity, in a context in which the notion of “maladaptation” sometimes takes other names, but continues to regulate a series of discourses in which efficacy and utilitarianism are even more present watchwords.

Thus, for the first time in Brazil, we have proposed to hold a conference in which the work and thought of Deligny will be taken up by scholars, researchers and readers from various academic backgrounds, as well as artists and clinicians whose practices today refer directly or indirectly to the thought of Deligny.

Program of the Fernand Deligny Meeting, Rio de Janeiro, 2016

Videos of the Meeting

August 25, 2016

August 26, 2016

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