Numéro 3 / avril 2012

The subject's recipe

Maurice arrived at the institute at the age of ten. He is now fourteen. The first thing that he brought up with case workers at the time of his admission were the difficulties that he experienced at school and especially in the schoolyard, where a disorder unbearable for him reigned: there was too much noise, too many children, and in addition he was beaten up by bullies. He also said that he had problems with reading and writing. This is what he said: "Reading and writing, me, e understands nothing, math is easy e already knows."1

He complained enormously about school but agreed all the same to go on the condition that once a week he be allowed to participate in a weekly workshop at the institute while the other students were in class. Although at school his teacher found him to be very studious, Maurice could no longer stand going there: "Does a school without fights exist?" he asked us.

In addition to his difficulties at school, Maurice had trouble expressing himself. He spoke of himself in the third person of the singular with a "he" (il) pronounced "e" (i), for example: "Me e doesn't like school." When we didn't understand him or hear what he said to us, he became upset, saying: "That figures, you're all plugged up." The signifier "plugged" (bouché) comes up often in his speech. We are plugged up, and it is either our fault or "no one cares".

At his admission, Maurice's mother brought up Maurice's language problems. Regarding these, she said that he became upset when he was not understood, but also told us that "it annoys us too when we can't understand him. When I talk to him, he plugs up his ears. Only his twin brother understands him. They have a private language that I don't understand." This amuses Maurice and his twin brother very much. Maurice speaks to us often about this brother and their invented language.


From the moment he arrived, Maurice let us know that he liked stories and he asked us to tell him some at night before going to sleep. He also participated in a "story" workshop where he was principally interested in stories that featured animals.

Animals also appeared in his drawings and in his arts and crafts, particularly the crocodile, his favorite animal, and the bear. He also had a stuffed bear as big as he was named "Choupette" that he never forgot to bring with him. During the workshops, while he drew or did arts and crafts, he told us about the animal world, which he classified into "wild animals" and "non-wild animals". For him, animals were more important than humans: "Humans destroy the earth, they don't respect it, they pollute it and animals die because of them," he explained to us. His wish was to create an association that would come to the aid of sick animals and take care of them, but "not humans because they don't deserve it".

Maurice also liked to tell stories. There were several types. First of all there were the stories in which the world was destroyed and in which humans were dismembered. People would no longer have arms or legs, the world would end, and everything would explode. He made sure we heard in his own name the sound "Mor" that he hears as "death" (mort), which has the same pronunciation in French. He was interested in current events, especially the Iraq war. The previous year, he used to draw weapons and instruments of destruction. During his admission interviews, he told us that he wanted to be a demolition man.

There were also the funny stories, the plays on words such as, for example: "What is the most ferocious animal?" Answer: "the turtle (la tortue), because it twists (il tord) and it kills (il tue)". He often began his stories by saying: "They said that you were and that I was..." but these stories would end up in pieces.

More recently he has started prefacing his stories with: "And if I told you that..." or "Imagine that I told you that..." This would give the following: "Imagine that someone told you that he had a Playstation 2. Will you believe him?" Yes, I told him. "And if it was actually his brother who had one but he would like to have one?" At the end of the story, he told me that he had said to a friend that he had a Playstation 2, that it wasn't true, and therefore that he had lied.

One day he approached an educator and told him: "And if I told you that a boy took something from a store. Will you say that he is a thief?" He finally specified that the boy was him. He also used this formulation when he wanted to ask for something: "Imagine that a boy gave you some money to buy a Game Boy game. Will you buy it?" Shortly afterwards he indicated that the boy was him.

What is he treating with us? What does he verify with us? Do we believe him? Does the Other believe him? He delivers what happens to him with this formulation: "And if I told you that..." We note also that he never responds to our propositions with a "yes", but instead with a "maybe".

The cake workshop

Two years ago, at the request of Maurice and other young people, a "cake" workshop was created at the institute. At first, no one in this workshop knew how to make a cake. We began the workshop with a small meeting in which everyone gave their ideas, the recipe was read, and the ingredients were noted, following which we would go grocery shopping. This workshop served a different purpose for everybody. Last year we even had a treasurer, for example. Maurice wanted us to help him to read the recipe because he claimed to be a bad reader. Once his cakes were finished he never tasted them but instead wanted to sell them.

Maurice began to talk about the idea of becoming a cook. Over the course of the year our cakes had in fact begun to be appreciated, and we proposed the project of opening a bakery. Maurice liked this idea very much. School remained problematic for him, however, and he continued to complain about it every morning and have trouble going there. In these cases he imagined that his stuffed bear was a real bear in order to frighten the educators who woke him up in the morning.

Last September he decided to sign up for a school where there was a cooking section. His mother wanted him to study horticulture; he wanted nothing but to cook. Maurice's mother refused to believe that the cakes from the workshop were not store-bought. At home, she was the one who baked, and one of his brothers was already a baker. It was necessary for us to stand up for Maurice's choice when he approached his mother about enrolling in the cooking section, and she eventually acquiesced. This year, Maruice asked to pursue his workshop at the institute, and he is the one who brings the recipes, either from school or from his mother. He no longer asks that they be sold. What is now important for him is the recipe to be carried out. He follows the written recipe to the letter; he does not try to invent a new kind of cake. Instead, he expresses his creativity by decorating the cake. He makes his cakes all alone, and once a cake is finished he does not eat it and hardly looks at it. The most surprising thing is that he does not do anything with it. When someone marvels at one of his magnificent cakes he responds with a "So what!" and leaves us the cake, which we split after the meal with the other children and educators. Maurice is never present but he knows that his cake will be much appreciated. What is he treating here? What is the function of this workshop for him?He is always present and even if each workshop begins with a "this is dumb", he participates and concentrates on his recipe. Curiously, he has begun to read his recipes alone, even though he has said that he didn't know how to read. As time goes on we have stopped hearing him complain about school or even say that "school is dumb e learns things that e already knows". He continues to tell us stories that seem funny and that have a meaning for him. We don't understand them all but this is normal because we are "plugged up". He has finished the school year with very good notes, and not only in cooking. But for him, this is nothing to get excited about: "it's nothing much", he says. Whether regarding his cakes, his paintings, or his arts and crafts, he always behaves indifferently. For him it's nothing, nothing much. He leaves us his productions. He does not expect recognition but he continues to participate in the workshop to produce his cake. And yet there have been effects, notably regarding school and what he learns. His language has improved and he no longer speaks of himself by saying "e" but "and if I told you that..."

Case reading by Annick Brauman

Maurice, a young schizophrenic, cannot stand either others or knowledge. Spoken more than he speaks, operated by the Other, it is impossible for him to say "I", and he takes refuge in the private language he shares with his twin brother. What is striking in the case account is the way in which he uses his workshops to seize and put into play two versions of orality in order to shelter himself from the Other.

First of all, by means of narration: working from his taste for the stories that he is told, he constructs a formula that allows him to speak of himself in the third person: "Imagine that I told you that he..." This is the formula, the matrix, one could say, of a treatment by which he succeeds in doubling himself and making himself the intercessor that comes between his ego and the Other. This is a sort of oratorical precaution taken with the Other, borrowed from the classic mode of telling a story and that offers him more flexibility (plus de jeu), more "I" (plus de je)2, one might say, in his existence. The cake workshop presents another mode of orality. What is at stake here is deciphering the recipe, making the cake, decorating it, and abandoning it to the Other with no further interest. The clinical vignette signals what is treated here: the execution of the recipe to the letter pushes back the knowledge of the Other. Signification, always in excess in psychosis, is reduced to a code that is outside of meaning. The decoration of the cake and its abandonment to the Other illustrate how this boy has fabricated for himself a unified representative of his body, tied up in a bow, that he can abandon to the voracity of the Other while simultaneously extracting from this Other the enunciation of a prosthesis (suppléance), "to be a cook", that in addition inscribes him in the family history.



1Translator's note: “La lecture et l'écriture moi i comprend rien, le calcul c'est facile i connais déjà.”  In French, the first and third person singular conjugations are pronounced the same way, so it is unclear which pronoun determined the tense.  Maurice says “i” instead of “il” (he), which I have rendered as simply “e”.

2“Je” and “jeu” are homophones.