Revue Française de Psychiatrie et de Psychologie Médicale

N° 88. September 2005
49 pages
ISSN 1289-2130
ISSN (online) 2270-7522



Looking death in the face

On the morning of Saturday, November 17, 1934, Dr. Gaëtan Gatian de Clérambault, at that time Chief Physician of the special police detention centre, committed suicide at his home in Malakoff. Jacques Lacan later referred to him as his principal mentor in the field of psychiatry. Press headlines at the time built up this event beyond reason, and triggered a campaign against this famous psychiatrist, while some of his friends and colleagues tried to defend his reputation. Thus Dr. Logre pointed out "Clérambault has committed suicide. A psychiatrist who goes mad, that is really a mystery!" […] We do not know whether the suicide of a normal man is an act of madness." He thus denounced the atmosphere of mystery surrounding both the special detention centre and his mentor, saying he was "a man who lived alone, surrounded by wax dolls". In fact, Clérambault set a theatrical scene for his suicide. He placed his armchair opposite a mirror, sat down and then shot himself in the mouth. He had devoted considerable energy to analysing visual situations, paying particular attention to descriptions of hallucinations; as an artist and teacher of the drapé style at the Fine Arts Academy, and as a photographer who left a legacy of pictures of draped, veiled women. It was this same man who decided to end a life devoted entirely to his passion for vision – and some might say he relished his ultimate face to face encounter in the mirror.

Page(s): 13-15