Infirmerie Spéciale des Aliénés de la Préfecture de Police

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In 1928, Lacan begins clinical training at Paris Police Special Infirmary for the Insane (L’Infirmerie Spéciale de la Préfecture de Police), under the supervision of Gaëtan Gatian de Clérambault, whose unconventional style of teaching will exert a lasting influence on Lacan.

Later he would say that "My only real master in psychiatry was Gaëtan Gatian de Clérambault."

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Having decided to go into medicine, Lacan trained to become a doctor. The formative episode in his medical education was the period he spent as a medical student at the special Infirmary for the Insane of the Police Prefecture during the academic year 1928-9. It was here that he fell under the influence of the eccentric psychiatrist Gaetan Gatian de Clérambault. Clérambault was a student of ‘erotomania’ and a self-proclaimed expert on the mechanics of paranoia who lived alone with the wax figurines which he used to pursue his passion for Arab draping, ‘the art and manner of pleating and folding fabrics, knotting them, causing them to fall voluptuously alongside the body, according to ancestral custom.’[3] As a psychiatrist he adopted a strictly organicist approach to mental illness, resisted psychiatric reform and believed in incarcerating his patients, in whose personality and welfare he showed little interest.

Although Lacan spent only a year at the special Infirmary, it would appear that he fell completely under Clérambault’s spell and adopted his ideas. Eventually Lacan would acknowledge Clérambault in his Ecrits as his ‘sole master in psychiatry’, but the influence first became visible in a 1931 article entitled ‘Structures des psychoses paranoïaques’. In this article Lacan put forward his own modified version of Clérambault’s theory of paranoia and supported the systematic internment of those deemed to be insane. He also appended to it a footnote indicating an almost slavish devotion to Clérambault. ‘This image,’ wrote Lacan, referring to a particular expression in his article, ‘is borrowed from the oral teaching of our master M.G. de Clérambault to who we are indebted for the entirety of our method and material, and to whom, to avoid plagiarism, we would be obliged to pay homage for every one of our terms.’ Clérambault, who regularly expressed the fear that his ideas were being stolen, was not appeased even by such extravagant terms. Not long after Lacan’s article was published, he broke into a meeting of the Medico-Psychological Society in a fury, threw copies of the article in Lacan’s face and publicly charged him with plagiarism.[4]

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