The Case of Aimée, or Self-punitive Paranoia: 1932: Jacques Lacan

by Julia Evans on January 1, 1932

Aimée is the central case of Lacan’s 1932 doctoral thesis: ‘Paranoid psychosis and its relation to the personality’.

‘The Case of Aimée, or Self-punitive Paranoia’ Jacques Lacan published in 1932: Available here

The English translation of the central case of Lacan’s doctoral thesis has omissions.  p213-226 of Cutting, John (ed.); Shepherd, Michael (ed.) (28 November 1986). The Clinical Roots of the Schizophrenia Concept: Translations of Seminal European Contributions on Schizophrenia. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. Further information available: here or Preface and Introduction (The Clinical Roots of the Schizophrenia Concept): 28th November 1986: John Cutting & Michael Shepherd


– Publication & availability

– Reference to Sigmund Freud’s texts for the First Part: case of Aimée

– Comments on the case by Jacques Lacan from

i) From ‘Presentation on Psychical Causality’ 28th September 1946 (Bonneval) : Jacques Lacan

ii) On my antecedents: 1966? : Jacques Lacan

– – Bice Benvenuto & Roger Kennedy’s commentary on ‘Aimée’. An extensive commentary is given by Bice Benvenuto & Roger Kennedy in ‘The Works of Jacques Lacan: An Introduction’ (see endnote [ii]) and quotes from this commentary follow below.

References are given at the end

- Publication:

The 1975 Seuil collection is partially translated in three parts:

1)  ‘The Case of Aimée, or Self-punitive Paranoia’ Jacques Lacan [1932].

This translation of the central case of Lacan’s doctoral thesis has omissions and covers p149-205 of the 1975 Seuil publication and is published: p149-205 of Cutting, John (ed.); Shepherd, Michael (ed.) ‘ The Clinical Roots of the Schizophrenia Concept: Translations of Seminal European Contributions on Schizophrenia': 28 November 1986. (see endnote [i])) Available for downloading from here.

The preface to this translation (1986) is as follows:

Jacques Lacan (1900-81)

Jacques Lacan is regarded as the father of French psychoanalytical thinking. He trained in mainstream psychiatry and his doctorate thesis was supervised by Gaétan de Clérambault. After the Second World War he became a cult figure in French intellectual circles, mixing Freudian ideas with social comment. As with many French intellectuals, he founded an ephemeral one-man movement with many followers, who have dwindled sharply since his death. The following extract from his thesis contains one of the clearest expositions of a psychogenic psychosis, the life history of the patient whom he calls Aimée, after the heroine of her own romantic autobiography, which is described affectionately and with insight. The ‘case of Aimée’ stands as a sensitive and understandable rendering of the links between a certain personality and a certain psychotic development.

Title: The case of Aimée, or self-punitive paranoia

Author & date:  J. Lacan (1932)

From: Second Part, Le cas Aimée ou la paranoia d’auto-punition, of ‘De la Psychose Paranoiaque dans ses Rapports avec la Personalité. Le François: Paris

2)  ‘The Problem of Style and the Psychiatric Conception of Paranoiac Forms of Experience’ Jacques Lacan [1933]. P383-388 of the 1975 Seuil edition.

(Translated by Jon Anderson: p4-6 of Critical Texts 5(3), 1988. I have as yet been unable to locate a copy of this text. I would be grateful for help in locating it. Please contact Julia Evans: )

3)  ‘Motives of Paranoic Crime: The crime of the Papin sisters’ Jacques Lacan [1933-1934] Available here.  This article first appeared in Le Minotaure 3-4 (Dec. 1933) and was reprinted in p389-398 of the 1975 Seuil edition.

(Translated by Jon Anderson: p7-11 of Critical Texts 5(3), 1988. I have been unable to locate a copy of this translation.  I would be grateful for help in locating it.)

Published in French as:

‘De la psychose paranoïaque dans ses rapports avec la personnalité, suivi de Premiers écrits sur la paranoïa’ (1932): Jacques Lacan: Published: Paris: du Seuil, 1975

- Reference to Sigmund Freud’s texts for the First Part: case of Aimée

Sigmund Freud ‘Some Character-types met with in Psychoanalytic work’ (1916) Standard Edition 1957 p332-333 also in Penguin Freud Library Volume 14: Art and Literature p317-319. An excerpt available here or Self-punishment paranoia: Comments by Freud (1916)

- Comments on the case by Jacques Lacan from

i) From ‘Presentation on Psychical Causality’ : 28th September 1946 (Bonneval) : Jacques Lacan

Published Écrits : 1966 : Jacques Lacan : Information and availability here

Time-line: This presentation was given on September 28, 1946, at the psychiatric conference held in Bonneval. It was published in [Evolution Psychiatrique Xll, I (1947): p123-65, and in] a volume entitled Le Problème de Ia psychogenèse des

Névroses et des psychoses (“The Problem of the Psychogenesis of the Neuroses and Psychoses”), by Lucien Bonnafé, Henri Ey, SvenFollin, Jacques Lacan, and Julien Rouart (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1950), p23-54

Quote from Presentation of Psychical Causality

: p137-138 English Écrits, pp167-168 French Écrits : This is why, in an anthropology that takes the register of culture in man to include, as is fitting, the register of nature, one could concretely define psychology as the domain of nonsense [l’insensé], in other words, of everything that forms a knot in discourse – as is clearly indicated by the “words” of passion.

Let us follow this path in order to study the signification of madness, as we are certainly invited to by the original forms that language takes on in it: all the verbal allusions, cabalistic relationships, homonymic play, and puns that captivated the likes of Guiraud [P. Guiraud, “Les formes verbales de l’interprétation délirante,” Annales médico-psychologiques LXXIX, 5 (1921) : 395-412]. And, I might add, by the singular accent whose resonance we must know how to hear a word so as to detect a delusion; the transfiguration of a term in an ineffable intention; the fixation [figement] of an idea in a semanteme (which tends to degenerate into a sign here specifically); the lexical hybrids; the verbal cancer constituted by neologisms; the bogging down of syntax; the duplicity of enunciation; but also the coherence that amounts to a logic, the characteristic, running from the unity of a style to repetitive terms, that marks each form of delusion – the madman communicates with us through all of this, whether in speech or writing.

It is here that the structures of the madman’s knowledge must reveal themselves to us. And it is odd, though probably not coincidental, that it was mechanists like Clérambault and Guiraud who outlined them best. As false as the theory in which these authors included them may be, it made them remarkably attuned to an essential phenomenon of such structures: the kind of “anatomy” that manifests itself in them. Clérambault’s constant reference in his analysis to what he calls, with a slightly Disfoirus-like term, “the idiogenic,” is nothing but a search for the limits of signification. Employing a method involving nothing but comprehension, he paradoxially manages to display the magnificent range of structures that runs the gamut from the so-called “postulates” of the delusions of passion to the so-called basal phenomena of mental automatism.

This is why I think that he has done more than anyone else to support the hypothesis of the psychogenesis of madness; in any case, you will see what I mean by this shortly.

Clérambault was my only master in the observation of patients, after the very subtle and delectable Trénel, whom I made the mistake of abandoning too soon in order to seek a position in the consecrated spheres of professorial ignorance.

I claim to have followed his method in the analysis of the case of paranoic psychosis discussed in my thesis; I demonstrated the psychogenic structure of the case and designated its clinical entity with the more or less valid term of “self-punishing paranoia.”

This patient had caught my interest because of the impassioned signification of her written productions, whose literary value struck many writers, from Fargue and dear Crevel, both of whom read them before anyone else, to Joë Bousquet, who immediately and admirably commented on them, [In the first issue of the journal entitled ‘14, rue du Dragon’ (Paris: Cahiers d’Art)] to Éluard, who more recently published some of them in a collection of “involuntary” poetry. [Paul Éluard, ‘Poésie involontaire et poésie intentionnelle’ (Villeneuve-les-Avignon: Seghers, 1942)] It is now well known that the name,Aimée, with which I disguised her identity, is that of the central figure in her fictional creation.

If I assemble here the results of the analysis I did of her case, it is because I believe that a phenomenology of madness, which is complete in its terms can already be seen to emerge from it.

The structural points that prove to be essential in this analysis can be formulated as follows:

(a) The succession of female persecutors in her history repeated almost without variation the personification of a maleficent ideal, and her need to aggressively strikeout at this ideal kept growing.

However, not only did she constantly seek to curry both favor and abuse from the people to whom she had access in reality who incarnated this stereotype, but in her behaviour she tended to carry out, without recognising it, the very evildoing she denounced in them: vanity, coldness, and abandonment of one’s natural duties.

(b) She presented herself, on the contrary, as upholding the completely opposite ideal of purity and devotion, which made her a victim of the schemes of the being she detested.

(c) We also note a neutralisation of the sexual category with which she identified. This neutralisation – which was confessed in her writings and take at least as far as sexual ambiguity, and perhaps as far as imagined homosexuality-is coherent with the Platonic nature of the classical erotomania she manifested toward several male personifications, and with the prevalence of female friends in her real life.

(d) The latter was characterized by an indecisive struggle to achieve an ordinary existence, all the while maintaining ideals that I will call Bovary like, without intending anything disparaging by the term.

Her older sister’s progressive intervention in her life then little by little enucleated her completely from her place as wife and mother.

(e) This intervention effectively released her from her familial duties.

But as this “liberated” her, her delusional phenomena were triggered and took shape, reaching their apex when, with the help of their very impact, she found herself completely independent.

(f) These phenomena appeared in a series of spurts that I designated as fertile moments of the delusion, a term that some researchers have been willing to adopt.

Part of the resistance I encountered to people understanding the “elementary” nature of these moments in a thesis on the psychogenesis [of paranoia] would, it seems to me, be mitigated now due to the more profound work on the subject that I did subsequently – as I will show shortly, to the extent to which I can do so while providing a balanced presentation.

(g) It should be noted that, although the patient seemed to suffer from the fact that her child was taken away from her by her sister – who even struck me as bad news in the one meeting I had with her – she refused to consider her sister as hostile or even harmful to herself, on this account or any other.

Instead, with a murderous intent she stabbed the person with whom she had most recently identified her female persecutors. The effect of this act – once she realized the high price she would have to pay for it in prison-was the implosion of the beliefs and fantasies involved in her delusion.

I tried thus to delineate the psychosis in relation to all of her earlier life events) her intentions, whether admitted or not, and, lastly, the motives, whether perceived by her or not) that emerged from the situation contemporaneous with her delusion – in other words, in relation to her personality (as the title of my thesis indicates).

This seems to me to bring out the general structure of misrecognition, right from the outset. Still, this must be understood correctly.

Assuredly, one can say that the madman believes he is different [autre] than he is. Descartes said as much in his sentence about those who believe “that they are arrayed in gold and purple robes,” where he conformed to the most anecdotal of all stories about madmen; this also seemed to satisfy the authority on the matter who wrote that the phenomenon of bovarism, adapted to the degree of his sympathy for his patients, was the key to understanding paranoia.

However, apart from the fact that Jules de Gaultier’s theory concerns one most normal relations of human personality – namely, its ideals-it should be noted that if a man who thinks he is a king is mad, a king who thinks he is a king is no less so.

This is proven by the example of Louis II of Bavaria and a few other royal personages, as well as by everyone’s “commonsense,” in the name of which we justifiably demand that people put in such situations “play their parts well,” but are uncomfortable with the idea that they really “believe in them,” even if this involves a lofty view of their duty to incarnate a function in the world order, through which they assume rather well the figure of chosen victims.

The turning point here lies in the mediacy or immediacy of the identification and, to be quite explicit, in the subject’s infatuation.

ii) On my antecedents: 1966? : Jacques Lacan

p65-57 of Écrits, The first complete edition in English: translated by Bruce Fink: Norton & Co: 2002: Quote from p51-52: Quote

It stems from the work of Gatian de Clérambault, my only master in psychiatry.

His notion of “mental automatism,” with its metaphorical, mechanistic ideology, which is assuredly open to criticism, seems to me, in its attempt to come to grips with the [patient’s] subjective text, closer to what can be constructed on the basis of a structural analysis than any other clinical approach in French psychiatry.

I was sensitive to the hint of a promise that I perceived in it due to the contrast between it and the decline that could be seen in a semiology that was ever more bogged down in assumptions related to rationality.

Clérambault achieved, through the quality of his gaze and the biases of his thought, a sort of recurrence of what has recently been described for us in a figure that dates back to the birth of the clinic. [See Michel Foucault’s ‘Naissance de la clinique’: Paris: PUF: 1963 or The birth of the clinic : New York, Pantheon: 1973]

Clérambault was very familiar with the French tradition, but it was Kraepelin, whose clinical genius was of a higher caliber, who trained him.

Oddly enough, but necessarily, I believe, I was thereby led to Freud.

For faithfulness to the symptom’s formal envelope, which is the true clinical trace for which I acquired a taste, led me to the limit at which it swings back in creative effects. In the case included in my dissertation (the case of Aimée), there were literary effects – of high enough quality to have been collected, under the (reverent) heading of involuntary poetry, by Éluard.

The function of ideals presented itself to me here in a series of reduplications that led me to the notion of a structure, which was more instructive than the account the clinicians in Toulouse would have provided, for they would have lowered its price by situating it in the register of passion.

Moreover, the sort of gust effect that, in my subject, blew down the screen known as a delusion as soon as her hand touched, in a serious act of aggression, one of the images in her theatre – who was doubly fictitious for her since she was also a star in reality – redoubled the conjugation of her poetic space with a gulf-like scansion.

This brought me closer to the stage machinery of acting out [passage à l’acte] and, if only by confining myself to the all-purpose word “self-punishment” that Berlin-style criminology offered through the mouthpieces of Alexander and Staub, I was led to Freud.

The way in which a knowledge [connaisance] is specified on the basis of its stereotypy, and also of its discharges, providing evidence of another function, [seemed to me to] lead to an enrichment which no academicism, even that of the avant-garde, could have turned away.

Perhaps it will be understood that by crossing the doorstep of psychoanalysis, I immediately recognized in its practice knowledge-related biases that are far more interesting, since they are those that must be eliminated in its fundamental listening.

End of quote.

Further information on Clérambault and Kraepelin available as follows:

Psychoses of passion : 1921 : Gaétan Gatian de Clérambault or here

Dementia Praecox : 1896 : Emil Kraepelin or here

Écrits : 1966 : Jacques Lacan : Information and availability here

- Bice Benvenuto & Roger Kennedy’s commentary on ‘Aimée’

The following are quotes from Bice Benvenuto’s & Roger Kennedy’s commentary on this case which is available here.

Further information The works of Jacques Lacan: an introduction : 1986 : Bice Benvenuto & Roger Kennedy or here.

Quote from Introduction, p19, of Bice Benvenuto and Roger Kennedy’s book (1986) – see endnote [ii].

In chapter 1 we give a detailed account of the major themes of his thesis, which was on the relation between paranoid psychosis and the personality. Although an academic work addressed to traditional psychiatry, the thesis also marked Lacan’s break with it and his entry into psychoanalysis. We thought it worthwhile to present the thesis in some detail, as it was Lacan’s only detailed case history. However, one must say that it is not the record of a psychoanalytic treatment. One can detect his dissatisfaction with the limits of traditional psychiatry, and see how he tried to fit Freud into the clinical picture, but he was still confined within psychiatric parameters. Thus one has no account of individual sessions, and little interpretation of detailed clinical material, such as one can readily see in Freud’s case studies. On the other hand, the move from psychiatry to psychoanalysis is a common one for those who find psychiatry intellectually limiting and emotionally deadening, and one can see in the thesis an attempt to acknowledge the individuality and the complexity of the human subject. It marks an important moment of transition in Lacan’s intellectual biography.

Chapter One: First Works (1926-1933): p31

Lacan’s first articles were published between 1926 and 1933 while he was training as a psychiatrist. Most of them were written in collaboration with other authors, and were on neurological and psychiatric topics. They culminated in his major work of this period, his doctoral thesis ‘Paranoid psychosis and its relation to the personality’ (1932), which was based on observations of several patients, but which concentrated on the details of one female psychotic, whom he called Aimée.

…  It is Lacan’s first publication as sole author (Structure of paranoiac psychoses 1931a[iii]) that one can see the beginnings of an original contribution and hints of later preoccupations with structure and language. … (p32) He added that his research had convinced him that no psychical phenomenon could arise completely independently of the subject’s personality. …

Lacan elaborated a number of these ideas in the thesis (1932, op. cit. p351) which is of interest for several reasons. … it contained some original ideas which laid the basis for his subsequent work and to which he returned. While not a psychoanalyst, Lacan used some analytic concepts in his account of his patient Aimée at a time when Freud was not well-known in France. He also raised issue which are still being debated about the nature of mental disorders.

Lacan’s intention I the thesis was to show that his patient’s psychosis could be understood as the reaction of her personality to events in her life, and involved conflicts within her personality. The case study demonstrated the purely psychological sources of the psychosis: that is, that it (p33) which was had a psychological meaning which involved intelligible connections between her psychotic symptoms and the events of her life, and that these psychological sources were enough to explain psychosis. Such an approach had already been developed by a few German psychiatrists, notably Bleuler and Kretschmer, and of course Freud; by Meyer in America; and to some extent by Janet in France. But it seems that Lacan’s thesis was the first French attempt to interpret a psychosis in terms of the total history of the patient – that is, by bringing to light as much detail as possible about her background, including her conscious and unconscious intentions. The thesis included a selection of Aimée’s copious writings, which were produced at the height of her psychosis, and virtually stopped when it abated.

After an introduction, Lacan discussed the concept of personality, and ultimately put forward his own notion, (p34) which was based on three parameters: the subject’s history, his image of himself, and his social relations. This notion implied firstly, that the subject had a comprehensible psychological development in time, a ‘lived history’, which followed a definite pattern and was based on structures common to everyone; secondly, that the subject had a consciousness of himself as someone who thought, spoke and had intentions. This also included the more or less ‘ideal’ images that he had of himself; and thirdly, they influenced that the subject was not isolated, but was affected by others, and his conduct and values. This fact could produce various tensions and conflicts between the subject and others.

Lacan then reviewed in great detail contemporary ideas on the aetiology of paranoid psychosis, comparing psychiatrists like himself, who considered that – with the exception of psychoses with obvious organic causes, such as severe drug abuse – they could be explained as reactions of the personality; with psychiatrists who thought that they were determined by an organic process. … Lacan also discussed the possible contributions of organic causes in general, rejecting them as non-essential in the case of Aimée.

Next he gave the details of Aimée’s case history. We have had to piece together the details of the case from different parts of the thesis as his presentation was detailed and complex, interweaving the various aspects of Aimée’s personality and her psychotic reactions.

From page 34 to 37 is a detailed description of her history.

P37 describes what struck Lacan of the gap between Aimée’s words and her habitual ice-cold tone.

From page 37 to 41 is the history of her symptoms or psychoanalytic history.

P41 outlines how Lacan relates the evolution of Aimée’s delusions to certain events in her life and to the conflicts in her personality.

P42 how Aimée’s delusional system broke down when she moved from the delusional idea to the act

P42 How the symbolic meaning in the delusion is related to the existence of several persecutors and the absence of a real relationship between them and Aimée.

P43 how her ideal became her persecutor, externalized as symbols, and led to her act.

P43 ‘It was as if the paranoid structure had accomplished another of its purposes – the carrying out of self-punishment by the law – and that the wish behind the delusions was one of unconscious self-punishment, probably in order to deal with her enormous guilt over her attitude to her child because of her desire to live a free and liberated life. For this reason, Lacan suggested that Aimée’s psychosis merited a separate clinical category with a good prognosis ‘self-punishment paranoia’ (paranoia d’autopunition), a term which owed its origin to Freud’s concept [iv] of those who are ‘criminals from a sense of guilt’. Freud described how certain criminal acts give relief to subjects who suffer from oppressive feelings of guilt before the crime. He also described how children can be quite often naughty on purpose to provoke punishment, and then are quiet and happy after the punishment.

P43-46 Bice Benvenuto & Roger Kennedy’s conclusions.

[i] p149-205 of Cutting, John (ed.); Shepherd, Michael (ed.) (28 November 1986). The Clinical Roots of the Schizophrenia Concept: Translations of Seminal European Contributions on Schizophrenia. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. Further information available: here or Preface and Introduction (The Clinical Roots of the Schizophrenia Concept): 28th November 1986: John Cutting & Michael Shepherd

[ii] Benvenuto, Bice, Kennedy, Roger. The Works of Jacques Lacan: An Introduction. London, Free Association Books, 1986  Chapter I available to download here. Further information: Introduction (The works of Jacques Lacan: an introduction): 1986: Bice Benvenuto & Roger Kennedy or here

[iii] p227 of Benvenuto & Kennedy, J. Lacan, 1931a, Structures des psychoses paranoiaques, in Semaine des Hôpitaux de Paris, Juillet, p437-445

[iv] Sigmund Freud ‘Some Character-types met with in Psychoanalytic work’ (1916) Standard Edition 1957 p332-333 also in Penguin Freud Library Volume 14: Art and Literature p317-319. An excerpt available here or Self-punishment paranoia: Comments by Freud (1916)

Further references:

Bice Benvenuto & Roger Kennedy: Chapter 1: First Works: 1926-1933 (The works of Jacques Lacan: an introduction)

The Case of Aimée, or Self-punitive Paranoia: 1932: Jacques Lacan

The essential disorder underlying schizophrenia and schizophrenic thought : 1927 : Eugene Minkowski or here

Psychoses of passion : 1921 : Gaétan Gatian de Clérambault or here

Self-punishment paranoia: 1916: Sigmund Freud

Confabulatory delusional states : 1911 : Ernest Dupré & Jean Logre or here

The prognosis of dementia praecox: the group of schizophrenias : 1908 : Eugene Bleuler  or here

Further texts:

The works of Jacques Lacan: an introduction : 1986 : Bice Benvenuto & Roger Kennedy or here

Preface and Introduction (The Clinical Roots of the Schizophrenia Concept): 28th November 1986: John Cutting & Michael Shepherd or here

Écrits : 1966 : Jacques Lacan : Information and availability here

Psychoses of passion : 1921 : Gaétan Gatian de Clérambault or here

Self-punishment paranoia: Comments by Freud (1916) : available here

Dementia Praecox : 1896 : Emil Kraepelin or here

Further relevant posts from:

Jacques Lacan : here

Ordinary Psychosis : here

Case studies from life – historical figures : here