45 €


1856 pages
(dont 424 de facsimilés)
557 images
Format : 16,7 x 21,6 cm
Reliure souple
ISBN : 978-2-37367-012-7
Date de parution : 14 nov. 2017
(1re éd. 2007)

Édition établie et présentée par
Sandra Alvarez de Toledo

Avec des textes de Michel Chauvière,
Annick Ohayon, Anne Querrien, Bertrand Ogilvie,
Jean-François Chevrier



The untopicality of Fernand Deligny

Sandra Alvarez de Toledo 

“I loved the asylum. Take the word as you wish: I loved it, as it is highly likely a lot of people love someone, decide to live a life with that someone. It was indeed a vast innumerable presence, yet of which the unity was an evidence.” Deligny was twenty years old – he was born in 1913 – when he visited for the very first time the asylum of Armentières, set between Lille and Bergues, his native town. The asylum became his island, both the place for a second birth and for a definitive inner exile, the condition for writing, the institutional and spatial model for his future attempts. In the early eighties, in the midst of a debate on sectorization [1] and the closing down of psychiatric hospitals, he wrote an “Éloge de l’asile” (“Praise of the asylum”). He does not collaborate to the challenging of the “great confinement”. The burning issue of a new distribution of powers between the administration, psychiatry and justice, on the background of the questioning of the law of 1938, is no concern of his. Whether the insane person should or shouldn’t retain his rights is of no interest to him. For it is, on the contrary, his profound irresponsibility which interests him, as his inability to assert these rights and the imprecision on his status as aperson. Deligny’s life, his work, his commitment itself are bound to his refusal to be the sole owner of anything, starting with oneself. Thus, his perception of the asylum and of what he does not call insanity is both philosophical and poetic.

Therefore, would it not be paradoxical to publish his Œuvres, to deliver, as an imposing volume, what he would have had none of? To claim him anauthor, while, at the end of the sixties, he took hold of autism seeing it as a model for an anonymous form of existence, a discredited form of existence, relegated at the margins of everything therefore, according to him, subject to nothing, impervious to the “symbolic domestication”. To celebrate his name while he investigated a language without a subject, a language of the infinitive, which would have gotten rid of the “oneself”, of the “myself”, of the “he”. A language of the body and of the agir [2], both concrete and contorted, repetitive in a ritornello-like way, cultivating opacity for fear of being understood or poorly understood. Deligny’s work is precisely the image of a process of detachment from oneself and from the One, through the work of writing and the indefinitely restarted research on a specific common, targeting the acts of violence of the course of history.

Deligny has in common with the intellectuals of the second half of the XXth century their refusing fixations about identity and their metaphorical thinking of discontinuity: to the terms shape-shiftings, derivations, rhizome or systems proliferation, he prefers “detours”, “landmarks”, “chevêtres” [3] or “the adorned”. Such a vocabulary stems from an experience of space lived through psychotic symptoms. When in Armentières he already takes advantage of the mazelike topography, of the spaces with a weak legitimacy, of the cellars, attics and holes. Whichever the project might be, he always begins by choosing a territory he both wants wide (or even extending as far as the eye can see: the Cévennes) and complex. The asylum, La Grande Cordée [4], the Cévennes attempt, are networks: antidotes for the concentration of powers and identities, a way to avoid being targeted. The detour is an alternative to the post-surrealist romantic “drifting”. The route is lengthened yet limited, it retains within its loops the reference to a place. Chevêtres refers to these landmarks where a body meets some object or some place met before, instead of loosing itself in the infinite of a thinking too wide and of sensations too intense. The “adorned” points at the idealized, aesthetic vision of such an apprehension of space.

By definition, Deligny’s experiences are frail and fleeting, and such they need to stay so they can stay alive. They stem from ruptures which, as it pleases him to believe, are the fruit of circumstances. Deligny combines Henri Wallon’s favourite phrase (“Opportunity makes the thief”) with the poetic attraction of chance, thus turning the idea of circumstance into a genuine slogan, against the logical relation of cause and effect. To characterize the educator as a “creator of circumstances”, ready to welcome the unknown, from which new configurations will stem. The network of autistic children is not one attempt only but several: dealing with maps, shooting films, organizing “dwelling areas” are tries; tries interrupted or started again when close to failure or sclerosis. Deligny sees in them “breaches”, “finds”, “clearings”: euphemism is one of his favourite stylistic devices. The second one being the metaphor. The raft points at the heterotopy, which, thanks to their know-how and their vigilance, was cobbled up by the unconventional characters who followed him around in his adventures: Gisèle and Any Durand, Jacques Lin, Guy and Marie-Rose Aubert (to name only the closest ones). It also points at a form of reduced epic, almost farcical, sometimes burlesque, so far away from these works he admires, works by Conrad, Melville, Cervantes, Stevenson. The great ship of the asylum is already a raft; just like the Centre d’observation et de triage [5] in Lille, formerly a bourgeois mansion. Whichever the shape and scale, the image covers the existential reality of what François Tosquelles calls the “mending device”. In this expression the craft connotation is precise. Deligny’s critique does not tackle the material, spatial and social structure of the institution, but the integration of abstract norms which come and hinder invention, the “mass of possibles” and efficiency. His reflex of “evasion” is more a strategy than a mere avoidance behaviour, a strategy consisting in taking advantage of both the opponent’s weakness and the institutional confusion in order to subvert rules and have the administration confront its own corruption.

His rejection of specialities (another form of fixation about identity) is motivated by the same concern for efficiency. Taking advantage of the disorder brought along by the war, he drastically changes the organization chart of the asylum (rather than its hierarchy: his most solid ally being the chief physician Paul Guilbert) and enthrones wardens as “educators”. These are former workers or craftsmen: Deligny makes the most of their know-how, physical resistance and availability. He mistrusts corporations and their allegiance to technique and pre-constituted knowledge. The official grounds for his suspension from the C.O.T of Lille have to do with the long criminal records of the supervisors (former or unemployed workers, activists, trade unionists). He encourages the irony of the “close presences” – such is the circumlocution he uses to name the non-educators responsible for the autistic children – when dealing with academic or strictly technical approaches. As a definition for this standpoint, he uses the ambiguous expression “popular initiative”. Such an expression points at a collective type of event while the issue is the one of the “milieu”, of the social origin shared by the supervisors and children. His project is not revolutionary: “The only thing I say is that a raft is not a barricade and that it takes all kinds to re-make a world”.

He is himself the reflection of this un-definition. While he never stops writing, trying to be published, it is also never to stay put, to stay clear of ideological hijacking, to remind one that research always finds the researcher beyond (or below) the image, to which he is fastened, on the moving and frail field of experimentation. He dissociates himself from the author of Graine de crapule [6], promptly characterized as a “libertarian educator”, but never ceases to address social workers in a language he intentionally makes strange, widening the gap between the text and its addressee, thus making room for questions left without an answer. In September 1976, he writes to Louis Althusser: “In our activity, what is the object? Some child or other, a “psychotic” subject? Most certainly not. The real object, which needs to be transformed is us, us here, us close to these “subjects”, who, strictly speaking, are hardly subjects, which is exactly why THEY are here.” He turns the perspective of specialized education upside down, takes the camera away from the child and trains it on the educator, and more generally on “the-man-we-are”.

At the end of the thirties – he then teaches special classes – and in the early forties, he still, yet loosely, affiliates himself to modern educational methods. These began with Heinrich Pestalozzi’s making “a creative work of oneself” taken from Fichte’s idealism of action and, more precisely, from the concept of Selbsttätigkeit (self-activity, meaning both an activity produced by oneself and an activity on oneself). Deligny’s presence is marginal in an history, which addresses “normal” children capable of being socialized. His vocation has to do with “backward, maladjusted, deficient, delinquent, in moral danger, retarded, vagrant, etc., etc.” children (Adrien Lomme), later with autistic children, for whom the psychological reference to autonomy is of no relevance. The expression “Help them, not love them” sums up his critique of the post-war “ideologies of childhood” (Pierre-François Moreau), the discrepancy between his approach both ironic and melancholic and the idealistic Christian stand of the educational revival. The network created to welcome and train the adolescents of the Grande Cordée is but a pretext to give rise to new events, to ward off the pathogenic ground rather than generate true vocations through work. Playing or drawing, which are also cardinal points for the new educational methods, can have no hold on “de-symbolized” children or adolescents. When it comes to the reconstruction of a body, the sensation of the gesture taken into the unproductive agir, “for nothing”, seems to him a surer guarantee than the acquisition of social conducts. He sees very early cinema as a tool to be put in the hands of the adolescents of the Grande Cordée: he imagines a film without film, a pen-camera, passing from one place to the other as the emblem for a common project. He entrusts autodidacts with the cartography of the lignes d’erre [7]. Despite their graphic appeal, these transcriptions are impermeable to the status of work of art, whether primitive or conceptual. One can easily imagine, in a few decades (or centuries?), a research worker facing these documents; he would most probably see in them the print of naive, slightly hallucinated, practices, rustling under the great discourses on insanity of the XXth century.

Deligny’s exclusive domain is writing, directly connected to the life he shares with the children, at a distance. He avoids the pastoral image of the teaching specialist. He takes up all genres: the chronic, the essay, the short story, the tale, the poetic prose, the scenario. Except for one: the novel. The failure of Adrien Lomme is a small tragedy, which will never be repeated. He cultivates the image of a self-made man, which he isn’t. He hides his academic career, truth be told rather short: the career of an anti-establishment student living in the Lille Bohemia of the early thirties, of a poetry lover with a passion for avant-garde cinema. He reads a lot yet he is never one of these enthusiast readers for whom reading turns into a second life. He has a few favourite books (Moby Dick and Don Quijote); he has read everything ever written by Conrad and owns his complete works. As time goes by, oddly enough, poetry (Michaux, Ponge, Artaud) gives ground. He reads detective novels (Simenon and John Le Carré). When reading ethology (Fabre’s Entomological souvenirs, Lorenz, Karl von Frisch) he rediscovers the pleasure of “stories”. Biology is of a greater interest to him than psychology. He has a preference for Henri Wallon’s texts over works written by Foucault, Deleuze or Guattari. It seems that his dealing with works of social sciences is more intuitive than analytic: he reads with great attention Leroi-Gourhan, Lévi-Strauss or Clastres, yet only skims through Heidegger, Marx, Althusser or Lacan. He drills in their texts, locates what could be useful to him; he argues about selected excerpts while never taking the whole body of the text into account. His reading of La Boetie’sDiscourse on Voluntary Servitude is precise but, as always, oriented by his own obsessions. Wittgenstein’s character is as interesting to him as his work. He poses and casually tackles scholarly texts; he rarely names his sources, quotes from memory and in no particular order.

In 1980, he publishes a text entitled “Ces excessifs” (These excessive ones). According to him, intellectuals have firm believes; they assimilate the thinking of others. He has intellectuals confused with ideologists. When choosing the asylum, he means to disown his belonging to the class of the intellectuals petit bourgeois. He claims the educator to be a craftsman, a manual worker. Some of his texts are borderline obscurantists. His refusal to comprehend, to him a synonymous for assimilate, “similarize”, is the foundation for a massive rejection of psychoanalysis. His father is killed and reported missing in 1917; the child Deligny becomes a war orphan. He places his first autobiography, Le Croire et le Craindre (The Believing and the Fearing) under the sign of the unknown soldier. He cultivates the idea of anonymity rather than anonymity itself. At the beginning of the seventies he becomes a role model character; he is then almost sixty; his writing shows a distance to these utopias (anti-psychiatry, therapeutic communities, return to nature) of which he is seemingly the emblem;Graine de crapule and Les Vagabonds efficaces (The Efficient vagabonds) are still read and credit him with a certain authority; he has remained a communist while claiming his antihumanism and critique of the institution; he keeps his distance with the fusional, talkative leftism of the post May 68 period. His stance both puzzles and interests intellectuals; they call on him, they appeal to him, they confront their theories to his “field”, their discourses to his respect for silence. By him they confirm the failure of the frontal critique of powers and knowledge; in these days of Psychanalysmand Anti-Oedipus, they put the foundations of his rejection of psychoanalysis to the test; question his “unabsorbable” (Althusser) thinking of a non-subject individual, existing beyond the reach of ideology; measure their own political and institutional ambiguities in the light of his refusal to compromise himself in any way.

His writing comes and confirms his suspicion with regard to discourses. He favours short forms. Aphorism is his core; after Graine de crapule, he adapts it to the whole set of his essays. His paragraphs are short, parted by long blank spaces which serve as the scansions of a thinking expressing itself out-loud, with its stressing, its recurrences, its ellipsis and repetitions. Digressions seep in his texts in several ways. As early as the sixties, he almost systematically uses the dictionary and etymology as references: not to remind of the true meaning as much as to unfold it, to veer the text off course, to articulate different thoughts and quantity of anecdotes building the legend of his character, his novel and the novel of the network. Fragments of autobiography are associated, they arise; they are the sign of a constant psychic activity, of the permeability of speculative thinking to the image – any image –, to these small units Deligny names “bits”, “shavings”, “debris”, in reference to the human in remains and to the fragmentation of autistic perception.

Such are Deligny’s activity and styleboth on the look-out for circumstances and taken into a state of permanency which is necessary to him. Geographically, his trajectory is divided into three zones and corresponding moments: the asylum of Armentières and his activities in Lille within the frame of Sauvegarde de l’enfance [8] ; the Grande Cordée, the first episode of which took place in Paris, the following throughout the east and south-east of France; the hamlet of Graniers, in the Cévennes, where he lived for thirty years and which he never moved from, from 1968 until his death. He never left France, spoke no language except his own, showed no regret whatsoever for the experience of that strangeness. He looked for it, the strangeness, elsewhere. At the asylum and in the communist party. He joined the communist youth in 1933 and remained faithful to the party until his death (he gave his very last interview, in July 1996, to L’Humanité[9]). First an activist, in the context of his activity as an educator in Lille, then after the war during the Grande Cordée (of which all members but one were communists), he became, in the sixties, and stayed from then on, a more distant fellow traveller. His texts at that time show how deeply he was haunted by a fear of ideologies. The thinking of the common is an antidote for the “social”, which he now defines as the promotion and “spreading of privileges”.

In the early sixties history walked out on him while he walked out on history. The moment coincides with the end of the Grande Cordée and, symbolically enough, with Henri Wallon’s death: amongst the uncompromising communists of the association, he was the only one who ever accepted Deligny’s independence, his “very, very much lacking communism”. He is torn between a deep-rooted rejection of anticommunism and a profound disagreement with the ideological conditioning of the party. At the same period, he gives up on taking care of adolescents and begins, away from any institutional apparatus, researching the possible forms of a non-verbal language. In 1966 meeting Janmari, an “acute encephalopathy patient”, turns him away for good from commitment and history, and finds him at peace with himself. The deep autism of that kid [10], his uncompromising withdrawal from language yet his charisma awaken in Deligny a calling probably no other child would have been able to awake. He sees in “Victor of the Aveyron’s twin brother” the sign for the permanency of the species, for a “humaine nature” without lacks, released from the bullying reciprocity of desire; he sees in him an innate individual, a stranger to the anguish of death.

Deligny’s entire work is haunted by the trace. He follows it, from one experience to the other, in small touches. He never looks for the object of the trace (which has disappeared). The human, the remaining, is but a trace. It runs about his work as the line, the writing or the image. When it wears away, it is to be caught again, indefinitely, in an endlessly renewed present, always there. The infinitive marking is the accomplished form of such a permanency, referring to no other thing, to no Other. L’Enfant de citadelle (The Child of citadel) an authentic performance with its twenty-six versions and its two thousand five hundred handwritten pages, brings together self-fiction, freed from anamnesis, and the absorption of history in a trace without an end or an addressee.


This collection is published a little over ten years after Deligny’s death, at a time when all his books (except for Graine de crapuleLes Vagabonds efficaces, and the very last aphorisms, Essi – Et-si-l’homme-que-nous-sommes – What-if-the-man-we-are – and Copeaux – Shavings) are out of print. It brings together, for the first time, the essential of his work: fromPavillon 3, his first book, which came out during the Second World War, to the different texts about image published in the eighties. It closes (as an invitation) on a few handwritten pages of his last and monumental attempt,L’Enfant de citadelle. Throughout these 1850 pages, Deligny remains what he was, a school teacher, an educator, an intellectual without an assigned discipline, an inventor.

Time and an incomplete knowledge of his work have determined a certain misunderstanding: there would be the educator Deligny, an activist for“Sauvegarde de l’enfance” and a communist, and the more speculative Deligny, the “poet of autism”, finding refuge in the Cévennes, sheltered away from institutional struggles. Such a discrepancy is far too superficial; it is due both to the hermetism of disciplines and to the survival of prejudice against “art” as an institution or an aesthetic field. Another fact explains it, a fact which was accepted and acceptable in the seventies but which our times reject: Deligny deals with autism yet he is no psychiatrist; and even worse, maybe, he shelters autistic persons yet has no intention to cure them. About him they said that “he organized the life of the autistic”. Circumlocutions (silence, vacancy of the language, etc.) merely compensate for our difficulties to reconsider the frontiers between what is normal and what pathological. Deligny’s concern was always to “take sides” with children (or adolescents), to make sure they would stay away from jail or from the psychiatric hospital, they would be protected from pain, from the inhumanity of reclusion. To adopt their point of view rather than the one of the educational, medical or legal authorities. To define an adaptive environment rather than a set of abstract rules. To chose inventiveness over philanthropic compassion, over the narcissism of the “margins” celebrated in the sixties by an intelligentsia, which was both deeply urban and a long way from realities. Yet, there should be no underestimate of his institutional strategy at the C.O.T of Lille or during the Grande Cordée. Likewise, there should be no reinterpreting his attempts in the forties, as he tends to do it himself, in the light of his rejection of language.

“Diaries of an educator”, published in the first issue of the journalRecherches founded by Félix Guattari, is the very first sign for this disavowal of history. The chronology of the narrative is broken, the episodes dealing with the asylum, the war and the communist party are fragmented through the text and absorbed within a perception with no reference to space and time, made irrelevant by the experience of insanity and death. This text serves as a prologue to the collection. Deligny wrote it in 1966, at the psychiatric clinic of La Borde. He was then fifty-three; he had already spent thirty years of his life with backward and maladjusted children and adolescents, he was to spend thirty more years with autistic children. 


A chronological presentation of his work has the advantage to arrange a complex material made of texts, articles, issues of journals, drawings, maps, photographs, films. Profusion is the sign for an experimental type of work aiming for the gesture and the activity rather than the object itself. The collection consists of five parts. The first part, “Asylums”, revolves around ten years of activity and publishing. First a school teacher in special classes in Paris, Deligny became an educator, in Armentières, during the war. He was then commissioned by the Arsea (Association régionale de sauvegarde de l’enfance et de l’adolescence) to take over the supervision of a project for the prevention of juvenile delinquency, then over the first C.O.T in Lille. He immediately stands out for what Michel Chauvière called his “triple dissidence”: regarding the educational system, the method for the recruitment of educators and the division of labour between accredited institutions. His first book, Pavilion 3, is published in 1944. The educator made writer has not found his style yet; his writing has not decided between a poetic prose saturated with metaphors and spoken language. His attempt to write for delinquent, epileptic, psychotic adolescents is awkward; yet it needs to be seen as a testimony on the asylum confinement in the working-class background. The social and populist novel of the thirties – to which Deligny’s short stories have certain similarities – brushed aside the picture of human misery the “voices from down below”, which have nothing to claim for, neither labour force, nor ability to struggle, nor moral right.

The publishing of Graine de crapule, in 1945, turned the spotlight on this educator, whose voice was heard both against “Sauvegarde de l’enfance”and against the paternalistic “protectional” (Dominique Youf) spirit of the edict of 1945. The previously unpublished preface (1955), originally meant for the first new edition of the book, shows Deligny’s reluctance for these aphorisms, which made him famous. He criticizes his own paradoxical “phrases”; the text presents us with a frail character, haunted by his social origins and by a sensitivity to literature, which, according to him, estranges him from the common people. He urges the educator to “hunt the sentences [...] for the deft petit-bourgeois”, for the “good willing charlatan”. Les Vagabonds efficaces, a chronicle of his staying at the C.O.T of Lille, was published three years after Graine de crapule, in 1948. The indictment against a society of judging and confining is violent, outraged by the discrepancy between the extreme poverty of the “slums” and the institutional abstraction. Deligny warns the first educators against normalization and the grip of moral standards, which come and hide the social cause for delinquency. Les Vagabonds efficaces strengthens his reputation as an educator/writer, which was no small event at the time. The tales collected in Les Enfants ont des oreilles (Children have ears) published in 1949 by the Chardon Rouge, a short-lived publishing house founded by Huguette Dumoulin, remind the reader of his past as a school teacher, as a distant believer in new educational methods. The layout, the use of drawing, shed new light on the character: on his grinding imagination, on his siding with things “discarded” (the anti fairy tale). The facsimile reproduction shows the originality of such a small object. We have deemed it more significant than Puissants personnages (Potent characters) (published three years earlier), a kind of troubadour tale or fantasy, a palliative reverie of little substance, according to Deligny himself. 

La Grande Cordée

The second part is named after the association founded in 1948. WithLes Vagabonds efficaces, Émile Copfermann, a publisher for François Maspero, reissued three articles by Deligny describing the experiment as seen from different angles. We publish them again choosing Copfermann’s preface over several other prefaces, written for the institutional journalsSauvegarde de l’enfance and Rééducation and which seemed to us both taking a narrow perspective and more technical. During that time, Deligny wrote very little. He devoted his time to ensuring the survival of the association, coming up against the prevailing sector of maladjusted childhood, against the prevalence of “diagnostic and prognosis” (Annick Ohayon), against the planned inertia of the National Health Service. The first stages of the Cold War weaken the Communist Party, of which all the founders of the Grande Cordée are members. In 1955 he leaves Paris for good. Thus begins a ten year-long unsettled period of his life. The accurate account of Huguette Dumoulin, a central member of the association, as well as Deligny’s correspondence with Irène Lézine, an uncompromising communist and Anton Makarenko’s biograph, have made it possible to piece together the stages of the rural “diaspora” of the Grande Cordée; as well as the parallel stages of the writing of Adrien Lomme, Deligny’s only book to be published in the fifties/sixties and his sole novel. His struggling with the mastery over fiction and over the distance, which bounds him to the characters, explain his giving up on the genre. Exposing the approaches of specialized education and of the “psychiatric myth” is way too bitter of a project to be objectively taken into account; yet, somehow in the style of Pavillon 3Adrien Lomme will remain a fictionalized chronicle of backwardness in the French countryside after the war, and of the helplessness of the care structures, whether private or public.

The Centres d’entraînement aux méthodes d’éducation active (Ceméa)were, just after the Second World War, one of the tools in the hands of these “other policies” (Pierre-François Moreau), which replace state policies when it comes to education, culture and mental health. The Ceméa provide Deligny with their network and logistics, offer to make the Grande Cordéeknown. They identify with his projects, turn his character into one of the emblems for their program. The few documents and commentaries which we have gathered sum up a certain frame of mind: the cult of the group, of the body, of outdoor life, of friendship; workshops, manual activities, the struggle for the improvement of the living conditions of the mentally sick, Jean Vilar, the Theatre in Avignon… The histories of Deligny and of theCeméa have crossed paths. Yet he shares their Christian humanism, no more than he adopts Anton Makarenko’s thoughts on the new man. “He had no strong belief in collective action”, said of him Jacques Ladsous. 

Legends of the raft

The third part and its six hundred pages are central to the collection. They recount the most experimental, most inventive years of the network of autistic children. After shooting Le Moindre Geste (The Slightest Gesture), Deligny is invited by Jean Oury and Félix Guattari to spend two years in La Borde. He feels ill at ease in the “concerted and spoken universe” (Anne Querrien) of the clinic. He takes charge of the first three issues of the Journals of the Fgéri (Fédération des groupes d’études et de recherches institutionnelles), graphically cobbling objects together with great inspiration (starting with the fourth issue, in which he takes no part, the Journals turn into a series of activist chatter). These journals, confidentially published on the fringe of the review Recherches, are his sole collaboration to the “groupist” agitation of the years 1967-1968, which revolved around Félix Guattari and the institutional psychotherapy. The second issue is important for a text, “Non-verbal language”, which expresses the still hesitant conceptual and practical methods of the network of autistic children yet to come.

The three next books, Nous et l’Innocent (We and the Innocent), the three Cahiers de l’Immuable (Record papers of the Immutable) (fully reproduced in facsimile) and Le Croire et le Craindre, published between 1975 and 1978, owe their existence to Isaac Joseph. Nous et l’Innocent is Deligny’s first book since Adrien Lomme, and the first out of four to be published by Emile Copfermann in François Maspero’s collection “Malgré tout”. Deligny has broken away for good with social activism. He has been living in the Cévennes, near Monoblet, since 1968. He begins a new attempt with autistic children, around Janmari, and sets out for his crusade against language. He invents a spatial device, customs, a cartography, a language. The Cahiers de l’Immuable provide us with a real-time chronicle of the network, giving great importance to layouts and photography. Isaac Joseph invites different interlocutors, places Deligny’s thinking back into the heart of the intellectual discussions around psychiatry. Around that time, Renaud Victor directs Ce Gamin, là. The success of the film adds to the “advertising” of the network and relaunches debates on taking care of autism in the field of social work.

Relentlessly, Deligny goes on writing. Isaac Joseph sorts out, structures, pieces together scattered texts, excerpts from letters and interviews. He draws from it Deligny’s first autobiography, Le Croire et le Craindre. His touching postface shows him struggling with the author’s contradictions. He is one of the few to consider him a writer and to replace him in a contemporary history of philosophy and literature (Deleuze, Duvignaud, Hermann Hesse); at the peak of the “hijacking” of alternative experiments, he calls for him to save social workers. As a prelude to Le Croire et le Craindre, we publish for the first time a short text – found in Joseph’s archives – which clarifies the meaning of the two words of the title, “believing” and “fearing”, while introducing the main themes of the following decade. Two years later, the publishing of I Bambini e il Silenzio by Spirali (a publishing house directed by Armando Verdiglione) links Deligny to the Lacanians and to the Italian anti-psychiatry. That same year, the collection is published in French: Les Enfants et le Silence (Children and the Silence) contains (just like the italian version) a series of articles written for the journal Spirali and the full reissuing of the texts of les “Cahiers de l’Immuable/3”. At the same time, he is published in Spirals (the French branch of Spirali) together with John Cage, Noam Chomsky, Jean Oury, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute, Philippe Sollers, Thomas Szasz, François Tosquelles… We wish we could have reissued some of these texts. We had to give up on that idea for lack of space. For the same reason, we had to postpone the publishing of an original text written around the same time (1978), “Quand le bonhomme n’y est pas” (While the fellow is not around”) [11], which confirms the natural affinity of Deligny’s thinking with Lacan’s views when dealing with the notion of the real. 

L’agir et le faire

Between 1978 and 1983, Deligny publishes seven books. We kept three of them, successively issued by Emile Copfermann for Hachette, in the collection L’Echappée belle: Les Détours de l’agir ou le Moindre geste,Singulière ethnie and Traces d’être et Bâtisse d’ombre [12]. Together withProjet N (Project N [13]), a film directed by Alain Cazuc, these three books make up the fourth part. Since they were pulped a few months only after their publishing, we consider them to be an original material. This trilogy concentrates the most speculative part of Deligny’s thinking. He backs it up on ethnology (Lévi-Strauss and Clastres) and on the critique of ethnocentrism to reassert (concerning autism and in relation to the concentration camps he never mentions directly) his rejection of discrimination between “living human and non-human species” (Lévi-Strauss). To articulate “the acknowledgment of deficiency and the thinking of a human nature” (Bertrand Ogilvie). Finally, to call upon the eternally revived presence, rather than the return, of a pacified yesteryear, a luminous time of stones and traces. In his postface to Traces d’être et Bâtisse d’ombre, under the influence of Heidegger and Jean Giono, Jean-Michel Chaumont places Deligny’s yesteryear on the side of tradition (and not of the ancestors), on the side of an abstract non-personified time.

In 1980 is published Traces d’I (Traces of I [14]). Jean-Michel Chaumont is the author of the first hundred and twenty pages, the first of the two parts the book is composed of. Deligny’s texts deal with the very themes, which were already tackled in the “Hachette trilogy”. We have favoured the coherence of the trilogy, thus meaning to pay tribute to Emile Copfermann’s work as a publisher. That same year, he published a fourth book for Hachette: La Septième face du dé (The Seventh face of the dice), a bizarre self-fiction, which Roger Gentis saw as a metaphor for the “psychotic unthinkable”. Despite the peculiarity of the narrative, despite the clues he offers between the lines to his obsessive fear of the disappearance of the father, we chose not to reissue this text. Going back to the setting of the asylum, diving again in a form of writing both narrative and realistic, would have loaded down the structure of the collection.

Between 1980 and 1985, Deligny wrote four more essays. Some are more important than others, none have been published before. These areL’Arachnéen (The Arachneous), Lointain prochain (Distant neighbour) holding in itself Lettres à un travailleur social (Letters to a social worker),Les deux mémoires (The two memories) and Acheminement vers l’image(On the way to image), which we publish in the fifth part of the collection. “L’Arachnéen” (or, possibly, the a-conscious being) carries out the metaphor for the network according to an ethologic definition: a complexform, of an innate and ritualized nature, acted without it wanting to be, anti-utilitarian. According to Deligny, quoting Vladimir Jankélévitch, it procedes from the intervision. The themes (acting, wanting, power) are akin to the ones of Singulière ethnie; its visionary approach anticipates the one developed in Traces d’être et Bâtisse d’ombre. The situation withLettres à un travailleur social is of a different nature. Deligny does not recognize himself in the issues social workers have to deal with. He defines himself as “a poet and an ethnologist”. He summons up Wittgenstein, the philosophy of facts, of the tacit, of the unmentionable. He uses again the metaphor of the asylum: “asyling the individual”, he claims, rather than “mothering the subject”. Once again, he targets psychoanalysis, its comfort and its subjection to the norm of language. “Praise of the asylum” and “A for Asylum”, two complementary essays (published in 1999) are in the same vein.

Ce qui ne se voit pas (What one cannot see)

The fifth and last part of the collection is made up of two original texts and of a little known film entitled Fernand Deligny. A propos d’un film à faire(Fernand Deligny. About a film to be made). Deligny is moving towards a thinking of the image-trace, recorded in the memory of the species, a “vera iconica freed from the hold of the look” (Jean-François Chevrier). He is old. His thinking is both more and more abstract and more and more ethereal. He writes “Camérer” [15] (for which there are several versions) andAcheminement vers l’image, a highly central essay, which sets his reflection in tune with the views of great contemporary directors such as Marguerite Duras, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, to whom the image occurs only if touching on the real, which is inseparable from the reality of political facts, therefore from a body of relations of power. The essay, which had never been published before, unveils a “modern” Deligny, occupying a history of the image beginning with the avant-gardes, taking sides. He quotes Jean Epstein. It appears that he loved Man Ray’s cinema, while he was always thought exclusively on the side of the Russians or of Bazin’s ontology. Yet, to him, the image will always be somehow childlike, somehow primitive. The way it appears has to do with reminiscence, with the infraverbal, with the silent dazzle of the magic lantern.

We could have published a second original text (Les Fossiles ont la vie dure [16]), which further develops the themes contained in Acheminement vers l’image. But rather we chose to combine with it the extravagant “illuminations” of the Contes du vieux soldat et de belle lurette (Tales of the old soldier and ages ago), written around these years, likewise never published before. Deligny wrote around twenty tales, or even more if we regard as tales a great many parable-like short stories. Accompanied by his “tribe” (the spider, the ball and chain, the Maritorne, the Norwegian sailor, etc.) the old soldier of the Tales sets out in search of his native town, where a “reserved job” is awaiting him. The themes developed in the essays are also central to these tales, but in a hybrid and invented genre, which could be qualified as the genre of the “commonplace fantastic element”. Forty years after Les Enfants ont des oreilles, Deligny’s same empathy for things discarded, his same taste for a Chaplin-like burlesque, the same dream of the eternal return, are just as noticeable.

The collection of Deligny’s works ends with about twenty handwritten pages of the Enfant de citadelle. The small handwriting is fine and cursive, hastened by time and the pressure of memory. It addresses “who-reads-me”, possibly the mother, Louise, who died in 1950 and whose soliloquy (“Louise was the others [...] Louise was countless…”) has filled and swept through the child during their imaginary staying at the citadel Vauban. Around her, a theory of characters arising from the war, from the asylum, from the childhood years in Bergerac and from the adolescence in Lille. The manuscript is left unfinished. It is not the last one. Shortly before his death, the old educator, sitting in front of the window in his room in Graniers, writes his very last aphorisms, Essi and Copeaux (recently published).


Excluding L’Enfant de citadelle, Deligny leaves behind around three thousand original pages. What are these pages ? Essays, narratives, scenarios, plays, tales, letters. There were not all worth publishing. The correspondence is way too vast. We had access only to the letters dating from the fifties, at the time of the Grande Cordée. Deligny says very little of himself. It all looks like his private life interested him (or interested the addressee) in as much as it held in a few factual comments: so-and-so came, so-and-so left, so-and-so was born; we are doing fine or poorly, we are poorer by the day, or are glad that we received the film camera. Indeed, he sees correspondence as following his intellectual interactions: with Louis Althusser, Jacques Nassif, Isaac Joseph, Jean-Michel Chaumont, Marcel Gauchet (who was the only one he never met in person). His correspondence with Émile Copfermann, his publisher, with Françoise Dolto or with other doctors handling the children who stayed in the Cévennes, is hardly more detailed. He regularly writes to the parents of the children, talks about each child with great precision and keeps on defending his “positions” (this is one of the contradictions brought up by Isaac Joseph: “the man without convictions” is really a convert). Therefore, the correspondence is a precious complement to his texts, but we lacked the room to publish it. (The one with Althusser is particularly rich, although we only have Deligny’s letters at our disposal).

We do not intend to deliver Deligny’s “Complete Works”; we offer a sort of substantial breviary. Images take up a lot of space. They reflect the interest Deligny always had for them, not that much as “objects” (he is not an “art-lover”) but rather as medium for experimentation. Whenever he can, he tries his hand at drawing, at typographic techniques and layout. He carries through the making of the Cahiers de la Fgéri himself, takes care of the Cahiers de l’Immuable with Isaac Joseph and Florence Pétry. Following Michaux, his investigating the line, the stroke, the layout, proceeds from an experience of deconditioning. At the end of the fifties, he discovers, during his drawing sessions with Yves G., the possibility to contain, using the line, the never-ending monologue of the psychotic. The idea progressively drifts to the development of the “lignes d’erre” he considers his main invention. Deleuze and Guattari will place them at the very origin of the concept ofrhizome. The Cahiers de l’Immuable/1 begin with cartography: the reproductions are paired with Deligny’s allusive captions. According to him, the point is to “see” and not to understand. This transcription system is coded yet decipherable. Most of the maps have been lost. We have gathered a few of the ones which survived: their graphic qualities reveal the share of enactment and of sublimation of a practical experience intending to exorcize language.

Deligny is also interested by photography, seen as an another trace. For it fixes the image without objectifying it. It calls for legends. Just like the maps, it allows him to “see”, from a distance (he does not visit the dwelling areas). Four films have been directed about Deligny’s attempts; they are part and parcel of his work. They had to be shown, for their value as documents, but also as films, using a form which would conjure up as much as possible their own form, their narrative progression, their rhythm, the editing, the respective functions of the sound and of the voice, the text of the voice. Le Moindre Geste is a plastic sort of film, a film invaded by the presence of Yves G.’s body and by the one of the landscape of the Cévennes. The complexity of the editing and the great diversity of the focal distances called for a dense and turbulent type of layout, with bright whites and dense blacks. The character’s monologue physically sticks to the images; the text, transcribed word by word, is in itself a memorable moment. Ce Gamin, là is as linear and silent as Le Moindre Geste is baroque and noisy. The avatars of fiction are followed by the peace and quiet of an idealized document, focused on Janmari. The image is only slightly contrasted; it shows an absorbed type of lyricism and is constantly held by Deligny’s voice. Project N, which was commissioned by the INA (Institut National de l’Audiovisuel), is, of the four, the only classic colour documentary. The layout highlights a few descriptive sequences, which turn the film into a very precious tool for the analysis of the way of life of the network. The layout for A propos d’un film à faire is made up of two different registers, which correspond to the respective use of black and white (for the bits of fiction) and of colour (Deligny sitting at his desk, delivering his last thoughts on the relations between language and image). As the four films unfold, the image “which is not seen”, “not taken”, recedes into the imagination and the memory of the writer-storyteller, so it can better return to the folds and the strokes of the writing of L’Enfant de citadelle.


Texts and films are preceded by introductions, which come and situate them into Deligny’s trajectory. Together with the first authentic chronology of his work, with an exhaustive bibliography, with an iconography both documentary and interpretative, they retrace the biography of a character. While never trying to undo the share of legend he voluntarily kept alive, these introductions re-establish some of the historic facts, on the background of which his action and work come to light. What is at stake in this collection is to display an activity, which was constantly held by imagination, by the faculty for adaptation of a thinking, which had to deal with situations of emergency (“pulling through insane children”) and a body of literary objects and images. The whole work bears the sign of this double demand. The collecting of his texts does not reveal the existence of a “great” writer. Deligny gave up early on becoming one. For entering literature was not compatible with dedication to work, with the daily risks of care, whether institutional or not.

Deligny risked experimentation and failure. Time, waiting for a right image (or for a right situation: his ethics of “circumstances”) sum up his searching for a way of being. In the sixties, he offers alternatives to the cult of the collective and of freedom of expression, in which he sees the hypostasis of the psychological, consumerist subject: this “other”, whose “difference” is flattered so we can put aside our distress at not being ourselves and whose words are preciously collected so we can better conceal the inhumanity of our liberal society. His propositions at the time voluntarily go against the tide of history. He criticizes democracy (he has it that “deliberation reproduces more institution”) and human rights. He puts forward his “singular ethnos”, as a tool for reflexion and not as a model. In the practical activities of the network, he uses art, which he characterizes as a gesture for nothing and as a memory of forms. At a time of deterritorialization and non-place, he restores the notion of territory; yet a territory unrelated to identities, a place for living, for finding one’s way around space, for experiencing one’s body and estrangering the other. Against the libertarian illusion of May 68, he offers to restore the principle of authority: an authority based on acknowledgement and efficiency. Deligny was a man of order, as Jacques Allaire presented him. Therefore, Deligny’s topicality is his permanent untopicality: the landmark of the human allows him to think and act ahead of his time.

Such stands come from a critique of language, which lead Deligny to live with autistic children. He justified his refusing any form of interaction through the word or the look (what Geneviève Haag, a specialist of infantile psychosis, called the “rencontre dans le regard” (“encounter in the look”), supposedly able to initiate the resumption of a relationship and the stabilization of the body axis) by situating the real above everything, in a constellation of hallucinated perceptions, arising without correspondence in the subconscious. Such an approach could develop only with the observation of acute autistics, suffering from such severe disorders that the very access to the word was jeopardized for good. Children came back calmer from their staying in the Cévennes : every single family, without an exception, acknowledged it. The relief of Janmari’s sufferings, the very fact he could live not his life but a life, are written between the lines of this book. 


Translated by Émilie Chevrier 


[1] Sector psychiatry or sectorization refers to the administrative organisation which handles mental illness and the distribution of care structures dealing with mental health. The policies of sector psychiatry made it possible to develop care “beyond the walls”.
[2] Deligny opposes the unproductive acting (l’agir) to theproductive doing (le faire), building nouns out of infinitives. 
[3] Deligny uses the word “chevêtre”. Its first meaning is “roof-headers”, yet it also evokes “l’enchevêtrement” (entanglement). 
[4] The name of the association “La Grande Cordée” is inspired by a bestseller written by Roger Frison-Roche, a mountaineer and journalist, published in 1941 and entitled First on the Rope (Premier de Cordée). 
[5] In the “Centres for observation and selection” underage delinquents were to go through a medico-psychological examination before their fostering in shelter care facilities. 
[6] The metaphor « Graine de » (seed of) has no strict equivalent in English. A literal translation would be “Ruffian in the making”.
[7] Lines of wander. “Erre” does not exist in French. Deligny invents it from the verb “errer”, (to wander), thus playing with the homophony of this word with “aire” (area), “ère” (era) and “air” (air). 
[8] “Sauvegarde de l’enfance” (Safeguard of childhood) is the abbreviated name for the “Regional associations for the safeguarding of childhood and adolescence” created under the Vichy administration during World War II in France. 
[9] L’Humanité is the main French communist newspaper. It was founded in 1904. 
[10] Ce Gamin, là will be the title for Renaud Victor’s film (1975) with Janmari, the autistic child, in the lead role. Putting a comma, instead of a dash, between “gamin” (kid) and “là” (there), Deligny stresses the distance (“là”) which separates the child from the person pointing at him. 
[11] The word “bonhomme” has a double meaning in French. It refers both to the childlike stick-figure and to the subject. 
[12] The translations for these three titles could be The Detours of the acting or The Slightest Gesture, Singular Ethnos, Traces of Being and Shadow Construction.
[13] N for “Nous” (Us).
[14] “I” for “Y” (location adverb), but also for Immutable. 
[15] “Camérer” does not exist in French. Deligny invents the infinitive from the word “caméra”, assuming that the verb should be derived from the tool rather than the object (film-filmer).
[16] “Avoir la vie dure” means “having it rough”; but “dure”, in French, is also reminiscent of “durée”, a long period of time, which plays with the idea of the fossil. In English, Fossils have it rough only translates the first meaning. 

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