Letter addressed to “Monsieur le Medecin Expert”, signed by Michel Mourre, dated 23 April 1950. 3 p. [Paris, France] 1950; 21 x 15.5cm; carbon copy typescript signed in ink.

Here is a unique document from the pre-pre-history of the SI. Some Context: The founding action of the Internationale Lettriste (and the cause of its break from Isou’s Groupe Lettriste) was its disruption of Charlie Chaplin’s 1952 Paris press conference. Serge Berna was one of the signatories to the tract (’Finis les pieds plats’) distributed at that event.

Two years earlier, as a member of the Lettrists, Berna alongside Michel Mourre had co-authored another, more incendiary text. This text, denouncing religion, was delivered by Mourre (dressed in a Dominican monk’s habit, and with full clerical tonsure) from the pulpit of Notre-Dame Cathedral during the 1950 Easter Sunday mass. This so-called “Notre Dame affair” resulted in the arrest of Mourre, and his being declared insane by a court-appointed psychiatrist.

Mourre described the process in his book ‘In Spite of Blasphemy’. “At the Sante [prison] a psychiatrist and former specialist in psychiatric hospitals was preparing to assist justice with his soul-plumbing apparatus… He began by making me talk about Jean-Paul Sartre, then about Heidegger, then about Saint Thomas, and included an “imposition” on Leibnitz in his anxiety to find the flaw, the crack in my mind, the crack which he would eventually bring to light, broaden, deepen so as to produce a splendid 200-page report on it crowned with a certificate to prove me insane. The point was not so much to discover if I was mad or not, but to make me myself admit that I was…”

The uproar caused by the outlandish report produced by this psychiatrist, Robert Micoud, and it’s verdict of insanity created a second, greater scandal – and finally after 11 days in custody Mourre was released.

And so to this letter.

It was written by Mourre on 23 April 1950 – just 2 days after his release, and is addressed to “Monsieur le Medecin Expert”. On reading it soon becomes evident that this is the psychiatrist Robert Micoud. The letter is delightfully sarcastic, and since as far as we are aware it has never been seen in English translation – it is presented below:

“Mister Expert Doctor,

Unlike Henri Jeanson [1] who, without consideration for your eminent office, wrote to you: “I do not have the horror of knowing you”, I do have the honor and very great pleasure to have met you in the circumstances which we both know.

The Press has given great publicity to our single encounter, with all bemoaning that I had fallen into the clutches of the staunchest recruiting officer for the prison of St. Anne [2].

 

This is unfair, and I want to bring you the account of my sympathy and my gratitude in the case – where your opponents were likely trying to oust you from the position you hold with such brilliance and, even worse, send you to the Special Ward of the Jail in my place.

 

I more than anyone relish a fine wit, so, far from saying that your intervention and expert assessment could have caused me harm, I myself proclaim that I owe it to you that I have been so quickly returned to civilian life.

 

It was clear that, in order to stifle an affair where some of its members did not play the best role – for example the Swiss [Guard] who injured a young man of 20 with a blow of his halberd, in the Temple of He who rebuked Peter for having used violence against the imperial soldiery – it was of the utmost urgency for the Church to pass me off as insane.

 

A modest 10-line report would have sufficed for this: you, with your great professional conscientiousness and your highly-tuned sense of humour, you have wished to do more and better.

 

And thus was born this admirable piece of bravura where “sonorous parachute-drops” along with “The Sartrean viscosity” and “shamefully admitted ortho-sexuality” [3] did me so much good by arousing in my favour – and against yours – the reaction of the public to whom I owe my freedom.

 

I apologise for all the trouble that your courageous stance has caused you.

 

In all of this, I regret but one thing, that the final decision of the experts was not directed towards a different remedy: what fine evenings we could have spent together, sitting on twin beds in a stuffed cell in St. Anne, discussing the Infinite, the inscrutable ways of Providence and the fragility of human reason … particularly that of some psychiatrists.

 

Yours Faithfully, Mr. Expert Doctor

with the assurance of my complete esteem,

 

Michel Mourre”

 

 

[1] A French writer and journalist, who was a “satrap” in the College of Pataphysics.

 

[2] Parisian asylum located in the 14eme arrondissement.

 

[3] Greil Marcus provides more quotes from this report on p.283 of “Lipstick Traces” (Harvard, 1989). Amongst them: “ideational fugacity”, “nose-diving neologisms

image(1)(1)

image(2)(1)

image(3)(1)

Advertisements