I, Little Asylum
88 pp., 5 x 8 in, 1 b&w illus.
- Published: October 10, 2014
- Publisher: Semiotext(e)
A lyrical account of a childhood spent in a castle disguised as a psychiatric clinic, written by the daughter of Félix Guattari.
A moment later, Lacan is chattering with me, and giving me some crayons to draw with.
—from I, Little Asylum
Founded in 1951 and renowned in the world of psychiatry, the experimental psychiatric clinic of La Borde sought to break with the traditional internment of the mentally ill and to have them participate in the material organization of collective life. The clinic owed much of its approach to psychoanalyst and philosopher Félix Guattari, who was its codirector with Jean Oury until 1992. In this lyrical chronicle of a childhood at La Borde, Félix Guattari's daughter Emanuelle Guattari offers a series of impressionistic vignettes drawn from her own experiences.
As a child whose parents worked in the clinic, Emanuelle Guattari (“Manou”) experienced La Borde—which is housed in a castle in the middle of a spacious park—as a place not of confinement but of imagination and play. She evokes a landscape that is surreal but also mundane, describing the fat monkey named Boubou her father kept at the clinic, interactions between the “La Borde kids” and the “Residents” (aka, the “Insane,” feared by the locals), the ever fascinating rainbow-hued “shit pit” on the grounds, and prank-calls to the clinic switchboard. And, of course, there is Félix Guattari himself, at the dinner table, battling a rat, and in his daughter's dreams. Emmanuelle Guattari's tale of childlike wonder offers a poetic counterpoint to the writings of her father and his intellectual circle.
I, Little Asylum has a lovely lightness to it. Memory comes as something both tactile and elusive, with edges of sharpness and pain, rendered in a prose style exquisite and delicate. It is as though the experience of being brought up in strange and interesting circumstance is studied and recollected as though it were in water, refracted, floating freely, infinitely mysterious.