Room 404
Francesc Tosquelles. The Politics of Madness

Francesc Tosquelles (1912–1994) studied in Catalonia in the years leading up to the Spanish Civil War and worked as a psychiatrist on the Republican front during the conflict. At the end of the war, he took up exile in France, where he became a pioneer of institutional psychotherapy, developing an approach that was aware of the political dimension of the psyche and was decisive to the La Borde clinic’s project, later pushed forward by Jean Oury and Félix Guattari. Tosquelles is among the most important Spanish contributions to twentieth-century psychiatry and his figure resonates across the era’s artistic and intellectual production.

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Room 404

Francesc Tosquelles (1912–1994) studied in Catalonia in the years leading up to the Spanish Civil War and worked as a psychiatrist on the Republican front during the conflict. At the end of the war, he took up exile in France, where he became a pioneer of institutional psychotherapy, developing an approach that was aware of the political dimension of the psyche and was decisive to the La Borde clinic’s project, later pushed forward by Jean Oury and Félix Guattari. Tosquelles is among the most important Spanish contributions to twentieth-century psychiatry and his figure resonates across the era’s artistic and intellectual production.

Francesc Tosquelles, influenced by his own experience as an exile and prisoner in the concentration camp of Septfonds, vindicated the figure of the foreigner in the sphere of psychiatric theory and practice, constituting a nucleus of critical reflection around exile. His work led to the discovery of connections between reforms around mental health that occurred with successive Mancomunitat governments, the Regional Government of Catalonia and the Second Republic, as well as innovations which in France fostered the emergence of institutional psychotherapy and industry psychiatry, thereby tracing a line between the Republic and exile.

On 9 January 1940, Tosquelles arrived at the Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole Psychiatric Hospital and began participatng in the most emblematic development of institutional psychotherapy, whereby therapeutical practices and socialisation through cultural activities resulted in a radical transformation. He set out from a destabilisation of the individualist bourgeois “self” to knit a collective “us” that reinforced the idea of community. For the first time, the economic and social dimension of psychiatric disorders was structured and assessed — along this line, the pain and despair characterising the works of Julio González and José García Tella evoke the traumatic condition distinguishing exile.

The Saint-Alban Hospital welcomed and protected figures from French resistance, including persecuted writers such as Paul Éluard and later Tristan Tzara, who both carried out an exercise of attentively listening to the voice of madness while inside. Once the war was over, Éluard published Souvenirs de la Maison de Fous (1943–1945) and Tzara Parler Seul (1945–1948), the first edition of which was illustrated by Joan Miró. Jean Dubuffet also became interested in the Saint-Alban therapy community, drawing from it to create numerous works such as Compagnie de l’Art Brut. The involvement of Georges Canguilhem and Frantz Fanon, the latter a key figure in decolonial thinking around Négritude and the psychopathology of colonisation, cemented the hospital as a bastion of political resistance.

The three film reels Tosquelles presented at the 4th International Congress of Psychotherapy, held in Barcelona in 1958, were entitled Documents on Saint-Alban Hospital (The Hospital’s Transformation. Sociotherapy-Ergotherapy-Parties) and constituted a living document of the assembly-based and transformative atmosphere in Saint-Alban during that period.

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