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Life and Death of the Dead Father:
André Green Obituary

by Rosine Jozef Perelberg

One of the giants of psychoanalysis has died. André Green has shaped the landscape of the discipline over the last 60 years; he published over 30 books and numerous papers in the main psychoanalytic journals, leaving descendants throughout the continents. His work has been honoured over decades by friends, colleagues and students, as numerous conferences have been organised around themes that he opened up to psychoanalytic reflection.

André Green was born in 1927 in Egypt the fourth child of a Jewish Sephardi family. His mother’s family had been in Egypt since the 15th century, probably escaping from the Inquisition. Green lived in Egypt for the first 19 years of his life, with frequent family trips to France because of his sister’s health. His father died when he was 14 years old and his mother when he was 22. In 1946 he went to Paris to study medicine, attracted already by psychiatry. In 1953 he passed the psychiatry exams and designates this as the year when he was born (Green, 1994 p. 47). He did not link himself to the traditional psychiatric settings in Paris, but established links with St Anne, with its unique characteristics at the time, a place of multidisciplinary encounters between psychiatrists, psychologists and anthropologists. There he was highly inspired by Hery Ey who was there from 1925 to 1965. In 1956 he started his four year analysis with Maurice Bouvet. After Bouvet’s death he had an analysis with Jean Mallet and later Catherine Parat. He followed Lacan’s seminars for a period of 7 years.

In 1965, after completing his training as a psychoanalyst, Green became a member of the Paris Psychoanalytic Society (SPP), of which he was the president from 1986 to 1989. From 1975 to 1977 he was a vice president of the International Psychoanalytical Association and from 1979 to 1980 a Freud Memorial Professor at University College London.

Francois Duparc (1996) underlines the two threads that permeate Green’s thought: on the one hand the relevance of the paternal derived from Lacan’s work; on the other hand the concern with the maternal connected, in different ways, with the work of Winnicott and Bion.
Green conducted a masterful and scholarly dialogue with philosophers, scientists and anthropologists over his life time. There are numerous gems of thinking to be found in his work, such as the link between the pleasure of life and the return of the repressed, or the phenomenon of irradiation (retroactive reverberation- anticipatory annunciation) in analytic listening. Major themes of his work are centred on a theory of affects, a theory of representation and of language, the work of the negative (with its constellation of concepts such as the dead mother, death narcissism, white psychosis, and negative hallucination), narcissism and borderline states, the objectalising function, thirdness, and a metapsychological theory of temporality. In addition, there is all Green’s work on applied psychoanalysis.

In many of his papers Green also referred to technique in psychoanalysis. In one of the chapters that has not been translated from the French edition of La Folie Priveé ( On Private Madness), Green discusses the silence of the analyst and distinguishes between a silence that is facilitating and deadly silence. This was very important at a time when French analysts were known for their silence. Green gives an account of a patient who tells him: “There is only one analyst who speaks in Paris, and I just happen to have him!” (pp. 68-71).
Green characterizes the analytic situation as psychoanalytic association. The setting only has value as a metaphor for another concept (such as dreams, the incest taboo, parricide, maternal care etc.). The patient is required not only to say everything that comes to mind, but also not to do anything.

Green points to the shift in Freud’s thinking in his 1920 paper Beyond the Pleasure Principle. From then on, transference is not only in the service of pleasure, but also concerns the repetition of unpleasure. The change from the topographical model of the mind to the structural model indicates the shift from a movement based on desire towards a focus on the discharge of the drives into action. The analyst now faces not only the unconscious desires, but also the drives themselves.

Green suggests that in certain schools of thought, where the analysis is restricted to the interpretation of transference, there is a limitation of the analytic task that is prejudicial to the freedom and spontaneity of discourse, and represents a return to suggestion. In the analytic process the analyst is confronted by the fundamental experience of distress (hilflosigkeit) in the patient. The analyst’s counter-transference is receptive to the traces left by these infantile experiences. By inviting the patient to abandon the control mechanisms, the analytic situation may revive the traumatic situation.

It is the link between sexuality and pleasure that forms the foundation of the sexual in psychoanalysis. One is talking about psychosexuality, the complexification of the psychic organisation which aims to find the object susceptible to obtain satisfaction. The erotic dimension of the mother/infant relation, Green suggests, has disappeared in a great deal of contemporary literature, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world where, under the influence of Melanie Klein, the emphasis has been on the destructive drives.

Green’s contribution to a theory of thinking lies in the articulation of his study of the negative The negative hallucination of the mother and of the mother’s body creates the condition for the activity of thinking itself, as well as the capacity to symbolise. The negative hallucination of the mother is, therefore, a pre-condition for thought. The dimension that separates Green from both Winnicott and Bion, and brings him back towards Freud, is the relevance of the mother’s body and of sexuality. Green’s conceptualisation of the mother of the “framing structure” is also the erotic mother, the mother that, Freud argues in Outline of Psychoanalysis, is the first seductress of the infant through the care that she gives him and her general attitude in relation to him.

André Green was one of the most important psychoanalytic thinkers of our times and has created a Greenian theory of psychoanalysis (Kohon, 1999). This theory includes Freudian metapsychology, but pushes psychoanalytic thinking further towards a theory of psychotic configurations and a theory of that which has not reached representation, or is unrepresentable. Thinking is related to absence, and also to sexuality. The Greenian psychoanalytic framework may be viewed as a theory of gradients, where the total theory is more important than any one of its parts (Perelberg, 2005). Any of the terms may represent the whole, but it is the whole that needs to be looked at.

For me some unforgettable of conferences that also provided opportunities for personal dialogue with André include the 1995 Freud Museum conference on Affect, that took place at the French institute ( published in the British Journal of Psychotherapy); the 1997 Anglo-French Colloquium in Brighton (organised by Haydee Faymberg and Anne-Marie Sandler), the series of seminars on Freud at UCL in 1998; the dialogue with Daniel Stern organised by Joseph Sandler at UCL and published in the book entitled Clinical and observational research: the roots of a controversy, (Karnac, 2000); the 2004 Colloquium at Cerisy (organised by Francois Richard and Fernando Urribarri), the only time in which the famous castle offered a conference on a living psychoanalyst; the 2006 conference on the Dead Father, in Columbia (organised by Lila Kalinich and Stuart Taylor). André Green could draw the masses to these encounters. The dialogue on the Unity and Diversity of Contemporary Psychoanalysis, an open day organised by the Société Psychanalytique de Paris in January 2006 and also published as a book , attracted 900 participants in la Maison de la Chimie. In the summer of 2009 André Green offered a weekend seminar in Paris on the concept of the death instinct when he spoke for some nine hours over the weekend to an international audience of invited psychoanalysts. His drive seemed endless and he was ready to accept many of the invitations that poured in from around the world.

I have so many memories of André, in so many different locations and countries. I particularly loved the days in Cerisy. Over the period of four days he had an hour dialogue with each of the participants. On that last morning the sun broke through the clouds, after four days of relentless rain. We had all met in the main hall to listen to him – he was supposed to speak about his thoughts about the numerous presentations over the long weekend. He said that he felt moved and fulfilled, that his work had found resonance in our own work. We should now enjoy the sun and go into the garden… I don’t think there was a dry pair of eyes at that moment in the audience.

This is just one illustration of the light and the warmth he also gave to us.

London, 29th January 2012


Duparc, F (1996) André Green, Paris: PUF
Green, A (1994) Un Psychanalyste Engagé Paris : Calmann Levy
Kohon, G (!999) The Greening of Psychoanalysis : André Green in dialogues with Gregorio Kohon in Kohon, G (Ed) The Dead Mother ; The Work of André Green London : Routledge
Perelberg, R.J. (2005) (Book Review) . Idées directrices pour une psychanalyse contemporaine. 2002. 400 pp. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 86:207-213.

André Green's page on Wikipedia

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