Aimée with Schreber

Conceiving the Aimée case as a clinical example of the paranoid structure permitted Lacan to take a certain distance from her acute delusional urges. Yet it also alerts us to the structure common to Aimée and Schreber, allowing the one to be studied with the help of the other.

Lacan constructed his study of the case of Aimée with the help of his patient´s writings. In both cases the writings remain in the foreground. This indicates a certain difficulty from the outset. The construction of a clinical case is not independent of the theory put into play in its analysis. And the psychoanalytic theory of libidinal fixations that Lacan used in this doctoral thesis restricted him to the domain of the following concepts: the “fraternal complex”, “secondary narcissism” and “homosexual object choice”. Consequently, it is not difficult to find, in the texts in question, psychotic disturbances that belong to the imaginary register. But the symbolic system that position them remains more difficult to find –a fact which does not prevent one from considering the delusional person as himself a delusional metaphor taking the place of the missing phallic metaphor.

Lacan himself has shown the inadequacy of using an imaginary conception in the study of psychosis. By placing the concept of foreclosure in the place of méconnaissance, Lacan indicated the passage from the imaginary to the symbolic in the causality of psychosis. Conceptualizing the name of the father on the basis of its symbolic prevalence, Lacan explained the constitution of psychosis in other than purely imaginary terms. The concept of foreclosure plays a signifying, causal role in the production of the structure. In so far as phallic meaning is the effect of the inscription of the signifier of the name of the father, its lack produces a hole, altering the structure. In Lacan’s doctoral thesis the absence of this formalization makes the lack of the signifier of the name of the father and of the phallic signification irreparable.

The point already constitutes a difference between the two cases. In the analysis of President Schreber, Lacan stresses the paternal complex, as had Freud himself, in the causality of psychosis. On the other hand, the case of Aimée lacks development in this direction. Nevertheless, Lacan’s analysis of psychosis continued, including a study of the real in his introduction to President Schreber’s Memoirs.

His suggestion that enjoyment can be localized in the place of the Other also appears in the analysis of the Aimée case. In taking these considerations into account one can again take up the three registers in the analysis of the case: the imaginary axis in the appearance of doubles, the symbolic in the fact that the delusional metaphor comes to replace the missing paternal metaphor, and the real in the invasive enjoyment that finally pushes Aimée to pass to act of murder.

Analysis of the case

Lacan formalized the stabilization of Schreber’s delusion in what he calls “Schema I”. Although this schema specifically describes Schreber’s delusion, the points of reference given by Lacan allow us to tease out an analysis of Aimée. It is, however, first necessary to introduce an essential difference between Schreber and Aimée in the evolution of their illness.

Schreber’s Memoirs, which constitute the basis of both Freud’s and Lacan’s analysis, was written during a period of delusional stabilization. This delusional metaphor produces a certain pacification for the patient. Its collapse led Schreber to an irreversible state. He finished his days in a psychiatric asylum, completely insane.

In Aimée’s illness one finds a different development. The onset of her psychosis produced a delusional progression right up to her passage-to-act. The delusion subsequently disappeared all of a sudden. Roudinesco recounts Aimée’s history permitting us to establish the fact of a relative stabilization which, despite her madness, allowed her to remain with friends and without the need for re-hospitalization:

In this superb episode, reality seems composed of the stuff of novels. In 1941, the authorities decided no longer to feed the inmates of asylums, who were judged to be too expensive in war time. Hundreds of madmen were thrown into the streets without any resources. Aimée shared their fate. Dismissed from Sainte-Anne, where she held a post as assistant librarian, she was received in the countryside by her second sister. After the Liberation, she made the acquaintance of some wealthy Parisians who kept a country home in the village where she was staying. She became their cook, and since the appreciated her talents, they invited her to follow them to their home in Boulogne. Beside her stove, she continued to write under the impetus of a religious inspiration. At the end of her life, she would plan to write an essay on the women of the Bible. At times, she would experience mystical crises in which she felt persecuted. Despite her madness, she would not commit another violent act and would never be reincarcerated.[1]

Her son, Didier Anzieu, said that after her final discharge from hospital

she led a life finaly free after twelve years of confinement. She worked actively to make up for the two meagre pensions that were left to her by my father and the P.T.T. She dedicated herself to charitable works, where she was greatly loved and sometimes also easily offended. Until her decline, she maintained and insatiable intellectual curiosity. At eighty years of age, she had untaken to write a long poem, classical in structure, on the women of the Bible. [2]

The period analyzed by Lacan included, especially the one that preceded and prepared her for the passage-to-act. One can see that her turn towards mysticism is an expression of her old delusion.

Writing continued to occupy an important place in her life. In fact her studies and writings allowed her to lead a stable life for seven years, and, after the discharge from the asylum her writings helped to make readmission unnecessary. Indeed, the rejection of her novel Le détracteur by Flammarion had marked the beginning of a series of aggressive acts which had preceded her passage to act of murder in the first place.

If one takes the SchemaI again, the first question one must ask is what sustained the imaginary after the onset of the psychosis. In Schreber’s case Lacan stresses the fact that he always maintained a relationship with his wife. In SchemaI this presents itself in the form, “He loves his wife”. In the case of Aimée, however, one finds a certain loosening of her affective relationships. She left her husband, distanced herself from her family and remained reoccupied with her intellectual work and the persecutions which threatened the life of her son. Lacan undelines the manifest discordance between the central place of his child in her delusional preoccupations and the real interest she had for the child himself. In fact she abandoned him, leaving him in the care of her sister, and, when the child fell ill, did not attend to him. This is an indication of the distance between the real child and the child of her delusion. On the other hand, her relationship with her own mother is presented differently. Aimée regretted having left her mother and considered that she ought to stay close to her. The delusional link which existed between this two women, even if a little imprecise in its description, seems the only orientation for Aimée: the line of the imaginary identifications, which corresponds to antecedents of the Lacanian conception of the mirror stage, and the place Lacan named “the position of the creator”.

On the side of the imaginary identifications, one finds the line e-i sustained by her ideal of being a woman of letters, a famous woman with a degree of social success. The women she dreams of being is linked to a certain “homosexual erotomania” that produces, on the one hand, a metonymic proliferation of persecutors or doubles, which also translate into her effort to attain a feminine ideal. It is this effort which leads her to write and supplies a certain temporary imaginary to her symbolic lack.

Taking what we have already outlined concerning the imaginary into account, we might reconsider three elements remarked on by Lacan in Schema I: the Creator, the creature and the created.

The foreclosure of the name of the father results in the place of the law remaining vacant. In Schreber’s delusion this manifest itself in the multiplicity of gods, the hierarchy of kingdoms, which disintegrate into unannexed identities and culminate in the fact that God “is foreclosed from any other aspect of the exchange”.[3] This means that God is completely incapable of understanding the living being and that he has withdrawn so far off into space that his words only appear to Schreber spelt out. The hole in the place of God himself who must guard the order of the universe gives evidence in Schreber’s delusion of the hole in the symbolic, which constitutes the foreclosure of the name of the father,

Jacques-Alain Miller has emphasized that in confronting the lack of the name of the father the subject puts himself in the place of the ideal, so as to take the place of this lack. This results in his own incarnation in the place of the guarantor of the order of the universe. [4] Thus, in the place of the primordial symbolization one finds the liegen lassen, the creature left “in the lurch”, that is, the foreclosure of the name of the father, which on Schreber’s part involves the effort to sustain, with his own words, the created. He thus situates himself in the place of the ideal, one not regulated by the law.

In reality the position of the “guarantor of the order of the world” enables the patient to establish his own limits to enjoyment. The psychotic raves about a knowledge that allows him to create his own law as a substitute for the lack of the paternal law. For Aimée the place of “guarantor of the order of the world” is occupied, in a delusional Schreberian style, in the mission she must accomplish. During the period she refers to as “access to dissipation”, [5] she believed it to be her “duty among men” because of an indeterminate mission: “She would approach chance passers-by. Entertain them with her vague enthusiasm… many times she was lurked into hotels, where, whether she liked it or not, she had to carry out her mission”. [6] She confessed to having a great curiosity for the thoughts of men.

In a commentary on a case presentation at Sainte-Anne Hospital, Eric Laurent emphasized that Aimée positioned herself as “the woman whom men lack” during this period. In directing towards men, one by one, it could be supposed that she was looking to situate herself in the place of “the exception” which permits the construction of the universal for men. Lacan calls this trait “Don Juanism”, which includes the idea of an effort to keep an account of one’s enjoyment.

Lacan included this strange approach in what he called her “altruistic idealism”. [7] She believed she was destined to be a sort of apostle who protected men from the war. “However, she knew that she was to be somebody in the government, exercise an influence, guide the reforms”. [8] This “altruistic idealism” combined with “the passionate idealism” in the platonic love she addressed to the Prince of Wales, but on its reverse side –it is she who is protected by him from persecution by Pierre Benoît. She locates her delusional erotomania here, in that the protection she received from the Prince of Waled translated as the Other taking its enjoyment from her. But the enjoyment also remains attached to the mission she must accomplish. In fact, the process that results in her passage-to-act situated this mission as an index of her enjoyment. Lacan indicates that “despite the acute urges of anxiety, the delusion, once lifted, did not translate itself into any reaction of delight for more than five years”.[9]

In her final years she began to feel “the need to do something”. This need translated into “the feeling of a lack in the unknown duties that she related to the commandments of her delusional mission”.[10] With the publication of her writings she aimed to force her persecutors to retreat. In the last eight months before the murder she felt the need “for direct action”, which increased with the rejection of her novel. At the moment when she could no longer place herself as “guarantor of the order of the world” –her writings were rejected and she lived in perpetual and imminent fear of the murder that would strike her son– “direct action” meant to liberate her from the unmasterable kakon which had surfaced in her. In fact, her passage to act includes the three registers: the imaginary, she became demoralized through the murder she committed (on the side of mortified narcissism); the real, in the indeterminate need from which she tried to liberate herself; and finally, the symbolic, in her effort to produce a symbolization in the real.

* Publicado en “Analysis” No. 5, Australia, 1994, pp.35-39.


  1. E. Roudinesco. Jacques Lacan & Co.: A history of psychoanalysis in France, 1925-1985 (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1990), 120
  2. D. Anzieu, Une peau pour les pensées (Paris: Glancier-Guénaud, 1986), 13.
  3. Jacques Lacan, “On the question preliminary to any possible treatment of psychosis” in Escrits: A Selection, 204.
  4. See Jacques-Alain Miller, “Sept remarques de Jacques-Alain Miller sur la création”, La Lettre mensuelle (no. 68, April 1988), 9-13 and Jacques Lacan, “On the question preliminary”, passim.
  5. Jacques Lacan, De la pychose paranoïaque dans ses rapports avec la personnalité (Paris: Seuil, 1975), 228
  6. De la pychose paranoïaque, 167.
  7. De la pychose paranoïaque, 166
  8. P. 167.
  9. P. 170.
  10. P. 171.