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Brother Beast: A Personal Memoir of David Cooper1

Stephen Ticktin

...continued from page one

It cam from a somewhat unexpected quarter in September of that year.
A meeting was being organised in Portugal to see if it might be possible to form a European network of alternatives to psychiatry. David was invited to speak. I accompanied him and it proved wonderful in the next few weeks to meet so many comrades from all over the continent who were struggling, in their own way, against psychiatric oppression.

We were introduced to Franco Basglia, whose extroverted personality, and 'democratic psychiatry' contrasted so much with David's personal reserve and 'anti-psychiatry'. Also Robert Castel, the Parisian sociologist, who had just published a book entitled Le Psychoanalysme which consisted of a radical critique of psychoanalysis. Two very nice French sociology students, Nicole and Dominique (who eventually became long-standing friends) urged David to come and live in Paris. They promised him opportunities of work. After some persuasion on my part we drove back to Paris with them to begin the contact. There we met Felix Guattarri and Gilles Deleuze who had together written a cause celebre the year before entitled L'Anti-oedipe (Anti-Oedipus). David commented to me at the time that he thought Gilles Deleuze, in particular, to be extremely intelligent.

The Portugal conference eventually proved to be the forerunner of the meeting in Brussels in Jan/75 which launched The International Network Of Alternatives To Psychiatry (Resseau Alternatif A La Psychiatrie). Mony Elkaim, a very congenial and energetic Belgian psychiatrist offered to act as a co-ordinating secretary. The developments in Italian psychiatry were seen to be very much in the forefront of things --David decided to move to Paris, and at that point I decided to return to Canada. I was virtually penniless and still not fully qualified as a doctor. I was sad to leave David. The year we had spent together meant a great deal to me --- living and travelling together. But I felt that he was now embarking on a new (and, as it turned out, last) phase of his life, and he needed to make a fresh start. I was glad to have acted as part of the bridge which ultimately got him from England to France.

About six months later he wrote to me in Canada (I had by now started my psychiatric training), saying that he had met a wonderful woman, had fallen deeply in love with her, and was experiencing a 'joie de vivre', the likes of which he had not known for years. I was so glad for him. The woman turned out to be Marine Zecca, at the time a young psychology student. They lived, loved, and worked together in Paris for the remainder of David's life.

When I returned to England in 1978 as a qualified physician I embarked on a course of studies with the Philadelphia Association and, at the same time, completed my psychiatric training. I got in the habit of visiting David once a year, and although I enjoyed seeing him very much, I knew little, in detail, of his last years in France. In the first few years he completed the manuscript he'd been working on when I left him. This was eventually published as The Language of Madness.

It was a refreshing and most readable book and reflected the new experiences and thoughts he'd had while living on the continent. It seemed that he'd moved on dialectically from 'anti-psychiatry' to what he called 'non-psychiatry'. In addition, he taught for a while at the University of Vincennes. He gave seminars, wrote articles and pamphlets, and introductions to other people's books. He continued his activity in the International Network, and attended their annual meetings. For the past six years, he and Marine had been involved in a research project looking into the health needs of people in France, Italy and North Africa. His next book, which he was working on with Marine just prior to his death, was to incorporate the results of their investigations, as well as new developments in his own thinking during that time. As well, several years ago, along with Jacques Derrida, and several others, he helped set up The International College of Philosophy.

I remember meeting David in Brussels in May/82 at a meeting of the International Network (it was as a result of this meeting that The British Network of Alternatives to Psychiatry was formed). It seemed to me, at that time, that France suited his consciousness much more so than England,although he commented to me that the problem with Paris was that it had too many artists and too many intellectuals. But, ironically enough, his own prodigious mind required that sort of soil. Each year I would watch his library grow, and, at the end, the small flat was literally walled with books. As much as he hated to admit it, David was himself a First World intellectual. And again, ironically, France seemed to have tempered his political outlook. The revolutionary rhetoric of the 60's and early 70's gradually evanesced (before this his letters would usually begin 'Dear Beast' and end 'For Love and Revolutions'), and he spoke, in his last years, in a much more moderate way of practical reforms and concrete situations or work.

In the English-speaking world there has been little written about David in the past ten years. An article in "Openmind" several years ago by Ron Lacey is the only thing that immediately springs to mind. His books are getting progressively more difficult to find in the commercial bookstores. When his name came up in the psychiatric circles I moved in there was usually one consultant or another making some derogatory comment to the effect that he was 'mad' or 'psychotic'. This annoyed me very much as I knew him not to be. He once told me that each of the books he wrote seemed to coincide with something he'd left behind. With Psychiatry and Anti-psychiatry it was Shenly Hospital and the British NHS. With The Death of the Family it was his own nuclear family. With the Grammar of Living it was England for Argentina; and with The Language of-Madness it was England for France. It now seems that with his last book (still to be titled and published), he has left the world and all of us behind. But he will be remembered, for his spirit is still very much with us, and he will be missed for both his intellectual achievements and the person that he was.

...return to page 1


"Brother Beast: A Personal Memoir of David Cooper"
by Dr. Stephen Ticktin.
originally published in Asylum Magazine for Democratic Psychiatry, Vol.1 No. 3



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