Barnum in Paris

P. T. Barnum is alive and well — and Living in Paris…

Sous la direction de Jacques-Alain MILLER. L’Anti-Livre noir de la psychanalyse.

Février 2006. Paris: Le Seuil, 286pp. ISBN 2-02-085774-X

This Spring (No. 2157, 9-15 March 2006) the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur published an angry letter from a  woman clinical psychologist, C. Biessy, who had been using the Rorschach projective ink-blot test „for over 15 years“  and who claimed how precise and accurate it was once you had at least ten years of „clinical“ experience. We’re a long way away, she concludes, from  augury by examination of chicken entrails. The publication of this
letter in 2006 (and, of course, the fact that it was published!) may serve to illustrate the slumbering quality of at least some areas of French psychiatric and/or psychological medicine. No wonder freudo-lacanians are still so thick on the ground and so visibly enraged by the publication last September of Le Livre noir de la psychanalyse by the young publishing house Les Arènes.

It is evident that neither the French clinical psychologist nor the Readers‘ Letters editor of  the Nouvel Observateur could have been aware of the extra­ordinary detailed study of the famous (or infamous) „projective“ test carried out, with  methodological, empirical, and devastating accuracy, some four years earlier in the United States by James M. Wood, M. Teresa Nezworski, Scott O. Lilienfeld, and Howard N. Garb.Their joint study was simply entitled What’s Wrong With the Rorschach? Science Confronts the Controversial Inkblot Test. In July 2003 the journal Skeptical Inquirer magazine published excerpts chosen by the authors from their book (available on <>). The title of the Skeptical Inquirer excerpts — „The Rorschach Inkblot Test, Fortune Tellers, and Cold Reading“ — reveals what the scientists will demonstrate in detail — the various „simple tricks“ which closely ally the Rorschach user (however innocent) with the palm or tea-leaves reader (however innocent). In a section called „The Barnum Effect“ the authors note that vague statements relating to personality derived from the responses to the ink blots

[. . .] applied to almost all people. Following the eminent researcher Paul Meehl, psychologists now call such personality statements „Barnum state­ments,“ after the great showman P. T. Barnum who said, „A circus should have a little something for everybody“ (he’s also credited with, „There’s a sucker born every minute“).

With his usual forensic flair, Frederick Crews wrote a playful and incisive review „Out, damn blot!“ published by the New York Review of Books on July 15, 2004. This also seems to have escaped the notice of the French. The heydays of the Rorschach Test (according to Lilienfeld) were the 1940s and 1950s and its decline as a reliable informative projective test waned with the beginning of serious empirical scientific investigation of its nature and pretensions and the manner of its administration. Nonetheless, as late as 1970 in the fourth edition of the Oxford University Psychiatric Dictionary (Hinsie & Campbell), the Rorschach is still described as: “ [. . .] used to obtain a picture of the subject’s personality, but also [. . .] as an aid in problems of differential psychiatric diagnosis and prognosis.“ (p. 760). As we now know, this latter attribution was more an aspect of the „cross-my-palm-with-silver“ version of the test. Rorschach (a Swiss psychiatrist, dead by the age of 39) had no time for follow-ups or long-term evaluations of his Freudian-based understandings of human responses to certain „images“, themselves acclaimed for their apparent „neutrality“ concerning the patient and examiner.

The seeming power of the Rorschach to convince even clinical psychological practitioners in France today is a good place to open this review of the strange response by the Lacanians, led (or rounded up by) Lacan’s son-in-law, Jacques-Alain Miller. This book, under the imprint of the distinguished Parisian house Le Seuil (which published the excellent Le Dossier Freud by Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen and Sonu Shamdasani in January 2006) is without doubt the most vacuous piece of sheer twaddle ever published by them. It is, in fact, SO TRULY AWFUL that I most strongly recommend it to all and sundry who may have entertained the idea that something was lacking in the attacks launched on psychoanalysis by Le Livre noir de la psychanalyse. This book will convince them that, whatever was lacking, there must have been enough present to create „panic response“ in the contributors.

Much was lacking in Le Livre noir . . ., and, sometimes, deliberately, so as not to tread too heavily on the sensitive (if not by now arthritic) Freudian toes. To no avail, as it turned out (and as I had warned the editor, Catherine Meyer, a year ago) — the  French Freudians were a touchy and readily irascible bunch, and led by the Lacanians, would prove even more recalcitrant. Which they did. Which they have! And which they are continuing to do!  Nonetheless — or perhaps because of this editorial caution — Le Livre noir de la psychanalyse was the publishing triumph of 2005, going into five print runs before the year was out! In a sense, despite its immense commercial success, Le Livre noir . . . was an occasion manquée.There was SO MUCH that had been investigated and proven about Freud’s frequent abuse of the truth, that it was evident that, even in France, the time had at last come to tell the public the truth behind the mythology of the solitary reliable hero, inventor of a „new science“ –psychoanalysis. It is not known whether the young Swiss enthusiast Rorschach was as voluntarily duplicitous as Sigmund Freud, or whether, like that equally short-lived Berlin acolyte, Karl Abraham, he really credited the powers of psychoanalysis (Abraham once wrote to his mentor that psychoanalytic treatment could discover „the psycho-sexual roots of the hay-fever“  — See Abrahams’s letter of August 9, 1912, or Wilcocks, 2000, p.10). At all events, much has been gained by this premier airing of the closet; one merely hopes that serious investigative work will continue. The book (edited by Catherine Meyer and Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen) spent far too much time on Lacan’s various „readings“ of Freudian cases or theories and far too little on empirically demonstrable lies and deceptions.

Having said that, there is more than sufficient critical material in the book to arouse the interest of the diligent reader. Some names are missing from the Index of Le Livre noir —  that of one of the leading English neurologists, Ray Tallis (who had written for The Times Higher Education Supplement a scathing review of Elisabeth Roudinesco’s biography of Jacques Lacan entitled „The Shrink from Hell“ — reprinted in The Raymond Tallis Reader, Ed. Michael Grant, 2000: Palgrave); Jacques Bénesteau, the author of Mensonges freudiens; Histoire d’une désinformation séculaire, 2000: Mardaga); and mine. Given Tallis’s international reputation, given that Bénesteau’s study was awarded the prize by the Société française d’histoire de la médecine in 2003 for the best historical medical research in French in that year, and — on a far lesser note — that my own books on Freud’s deceptions have been favourably cited from Australia to Finland, there would appear to be something not academic, not scholarly, not critical about these three absences. And, indeed, there is!

And here we come to the lamentable fact that in France politics is an instrument of abuse, of silence, of  defamation, and is readily employed against those whose researches have clearly demonstrated the unpalatable truth about patient diagnosis, patient care, patient moral and medical support — whether about Lacan, or about Freud, or about the whole stifling jungle engulfing almost any psychiatric enterprise in French hospitals or clinics. This review should, ideally, be an honest report on the material in the book under consideration and not a politically charged rebuke denying the validity that may be in the arguments of L’Anti-Livre noir de la psychanalyse. Yet that book itself, under the general editorship of Jacques-Alain Miller, is precisely that – a volume that refuses to address the many anti-Freudian criticisms of the Livre noir.

This may sound alarmist, or the exaggeration of an opponent, but the fact remains that NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THE CRITICISMS addressed by the over 40 international experts who contributed to the Livre noir  is addressed by the (uniquely) lacanian respondants of L’Anti-livre noir. Their chosen response seems to be „ATTACK!“ – never mind the accuracy of the criticisms. It is almost as if the general editor, Jacques-Alain Miller, has returned despite himself to the world of magical thinking so familiar from our childhood — „If we attack forcefully, the anti-Freudian revelations will go away!“ The attack is mounted on three fronts: (1) The contributors to Le Livre noir are all „T.C.C.“ advocates. The initials stand for Thérapie Cognitivo-Comportementale  or cognitive behavioural therapy. We are offered a cartoon version of what this may be with many memories of Skinner and pigeons! (2) The attack on those critical of Freud began well before the September 1st release of Le Livre noir and were the consequence — in April 2005 (!) — of the trial for „diffamation“ brought against Elisabeth Roudinesco by Jacques Bénesteau who claimed that his book, Mensonges freudiens, had been wrongly described as „anti-semitic“ or as containing „camouflaged anti-semitic passages“. This is not the case. But it was sufficient for the Freudo-Lacanians (including Mme Roudinesco) to turn the hearing in the 17ième Chambre correctionnelle of the Palais de Justice into a media-circus event where no attention whatever was given to the historical record of Freud’s misdeeds unearthed by Bénesteau’s scrupulous research.

Incidentally, the press reporting of this „affaire“ was a travesty of what honest journalism should be — and the leading French dailies — Libération, Le Monde, L’Humanité — all decided to treat the case as an „Extreme Right-Wing“ attack on an innocent researcher (Mme Roudinesco). Their reasons for acting in this way (apart from the „feeding-frenzy“ that occasionally overcomes journalists) seem to have stemmed from two divergent but related ideas (both  mistaken) A : That if a person employs a lawyer to handle his plea who is known to have represented Right-Wing parties in earlier actions, then – by a kind of generalized culpability („guilt by association“) the client is held to share the „Right-Wing“ views of his lawyer’s previous clients! B. That Freud is known as a Jew and as one of „progressive“ socio-political tendencies, and that therefore anyone who publishes material critical of his reputed honesty and/or utility is ipso facto a member of, or an ally of, the French Extreme Right-Wing. (Incidentally, the notion of Freud as a „socio-political progressive“ of Left-wing persuasions is no more than another of those adolescent wish-fulfillment fantasies of 1968. The man who cheered the Kaiser’s victories was hardly a  Viennese Bertrand Russell.)

Therefore — & much was made of this fact — no „journal de gauche“ should ever mention the existence of Bénesteau’s book, however accurate, valuable, and worthwhile its historical and medical findings! I, personally, find this apparent consequence irrelevant to the issue of the value of the historical research, and immoral as a position to be knowingly adopted by intelligent Parisian journalists (as was the case when Mme Ursula Gauthier of Le Nouvel Observateur informed me that her journal would NEVER even refer to Bénesteau’s book until he publicly distanced himself from his Right-Wing friends! I replied that my position as a follower of the journalistic morality of George Orwell made it difficult for me to accept her good faith.) The reader of this notice will have observed that so far no mention has been made of any discoveries (such as those of the Australian clinical psychologist, Malcolm Macmillan, having to do with Freud’s inadequacies as a physiological scientist and as a liar concerning his recommendations for intravenous cocaine injections) or indeed, of those of Frederick Crews and Allen Esterson or Frank Cioffi. Nor will such devastating discoveries – many of them reported in Le Livre noir – ever be mentioned in the so-called „Anti-Livre noir“ dreamt up in a moment of dire panic by Jacques-Alain Miller when it dawned on him that the game was -at last! – up and that the Lacanians must now fold their tents and slink away.

They won’t, of  course! And this recalcitrance of theirs leads me to the third front of the Lacanian attack that I mentioned earlier. This also preceded the publication date (September 1, 2005) of Le Livre noir. It was a further gesture of politico-military bullying which was extremely effective (given the natural moral cowardice of  the average University professor) and it was this: Every potential contributor to Le Live noir de la psychanalyse had to formally withdraw his name from any contribution previously made to the trilingual web site <> (also known as INFC – the International Network of Freud Criticism). Our site (the site on which you are now reading this piece) was loudly rumoured in Paris by Lacanian activists to be supported by the Catholic Church, to be the product of the Scientology movement, to be funded by Extreme-Right-Wing parties. As a member of some years‘   standing now, I am happy to confirm that none of these statements is true; and furthermore, that we count among our senior psychiatric staff, members of Amnesty International imprisoned during the existence of Communist East Germany for protesting the unethical treatment of political prisoners.

One might think — or innocently imagine or surmise — that such good-hearted left-wingers as your average Lacanian „psy“ would be only too happy to acknowledge this state of affairs. Not a bit of it! Aren’t these people (that is, us) the ones who criticized Freud and then Jacques Lacan? How COULD they seriously be for the improvement of mankind — medically and socio-politically — if they refuse to recognize the deep insights of Sigmund Freud and the brilliant inventions of the later master of the psychotropic cadenza Jacques Lacan? I notice that I have given no indication of the organization of the book, of its various parts and its several contributors (every one a devout Lacanian). It appears to be in four distinct parts. Part One (the longest — and it has the largest selection of authors) is simply entitled „Coups d’Epingle“ and includes at least two pieces (one by the now notorious Sophie Bialek) against the reliability and objectivity of the various governmental INSERM reports. Part Two, „L’Enjeu de la société“ is in fact an extended essay by Yves Cartuyvels on Le Livre noir. Part Three, entitled „Ponctuations“ has more essays critical of the T.C.C. techniques. And the last Part, „Les Réflexions d’une philosophe“ has two essays by Clotilde Leguil-Badal respectively entitled „Etre ou ne plus être“ and „Sur le cognitivisme.“ I find it difficult to say anything meaningful about any of these four parts.The reader will have to decide whether he/she has purchased a lemon, or a juicy rebuttal to Le Livre noir. Just remember that it was conceived and written BY Lacanians FOR Lacanians. And it may not help their survival.

But, as I said, buy this book! Read this book! It will tell you far more than I can about the present state of psychological understanding in France. Those not quite persuaded may appreciate the penultimate paragraph of  Professor Raymond Tallis’s review of the English translation of Roudinesco’s biography of Jacques Lacan:


His lunatic legacy lives on in places remote from those in which he damaged his patients, colleagues, mistresses, wives, children, publishers, editors, and opponents — in departments of literature whose inmates are even now trying to, or pretending to, make sense of his utterly unfounded, gnomic teachings and inflicting them on baffled students. Aleister Crowley, the 20th-century thinker whom Lacan most resembles, has not been so fortunate in his afterlife.



Leland E. Hinsie & Robert Jean Campbell. Psychiatric Dictionary (Fourth Edition). New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.

Raymond C. Tallis, „The Shrink from Hell,“ The Times Higher Education Supplement, October 31, 1997, p. 20. Reprinted in The Raymond Tallis Reader (Ed. Michael Grant). Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave, 2000, pp. 284-288. (For younger readers, Aleister Crowley was a self-confessed English Satanist of the early 20th Century.)

Robert Wilcocks, Mousetraps and the Moon: The Strange Ride of Sigmund Freud and the Early Years of Psychoanalysis. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2000.

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