Foreword to I, Pierre Riviere, hav­ing slaugh­tered my mother, my sis­ter, and my brother”

— Foucault, Michel. Foreword.” In I, Pierre Rivière, hav­ing slaugh­tered my mother, my sis­ter, and my brother. University of Ne­braska Press, 1973.

Pierre Riviere's handwriting
Pierre Riviere’s hand­writ­ing

We had in mind a study of the prac­ti­cal as­pects of the re­la­tions be­tween psy­chi­a­try and crim­i­nal jus­tice. In the course of our re­search we came across Pierre Riviere’s case.

It was re­ported in the Annales d’hygiène publique et de m&ea­cute;decine l&ea­cute;gale in 1836. Like all other re­ports pub­lished in that jour­nal, this com­prised a sum­mary of the facts and the medico-le­gal ex­perts’ re­ports. There were, how­ever, a num­ber of un­usual fea­tures about it.

A se­ries of three med­ical re­ports which did not reach sim­i­lar con­clu­sions and did not use ex­actly the same kind of analy­sis, each com­ing from a dif­fer­ent source and each with a dif­fer­ent sta­tus within the med­ical in­sti­tu­tion: a re­port by a coun­try gen­eral prac­ti­tioner, a re­port by an ur­ban physi­cian in charge of a large asy­lum, and a re­port signed by the lead­ing fig­ures in con­tem­po­rary psy­chi­a­try and foren­sic med­i­cine (Esquirol, Marc, Orfila, etc.). A fairly large col­lec­tion of court ex­hibits in­clud­ing state­ments by wit­nesses - all of them from a small vil­lage in Normandy - when ques­tioned about the life, be­hav­ior, char­ac­ter, mad­ness or id­iocy of the au­thor of the crime. Lastly, and most no­tably, a mem­oir, or rather the frag­ment of a mem­oir, writ­ten by the ac­cused him­self, a peas­ant some twenty years of age who claimed that he could only barely read and write” and who had un­der­taken dur­ing his de­ten­tion on re­mand to give particulars and an ex­pla­na­tion” of his crime, the pre­med­i­tated mur­der of his mother, his sis­ter, and his brother. A col­lec­tion of this sort seemed to us unique among the con­tem­po­rary printed doc­u­men­ta­tion. To what do we owe it?

Almost cer­tainly not to the sen­sa­tion caused by the case it­self. Cases of par­ri­cide were fairly com­mon inn the as­size courts in that pe­riod (ten to fif­teen yearly, some­times more). Moreover, Fieschi’s at­tempted as­sas­si­na­tion of the king and his trial and his sen­tenc­ing and ex­e­cu­tion of Lacenaire and the pub­li­ca­tion of his mem­oirs prac­ti­cally mo­nop­o­lized the space de­voted to crim­i­nal cases in the press at the time. The Gazette des Tribunaux never gave the Riviere case more than a brief men­tion, in the main pro­duc­ing the Pilote du Calvados, the Riviere case never be­came a clas­sic of crim­i­nal psy­chi­a­try like those of Henriette Cornier, Papavoine, or Leger. Apart from the ar­ti­cle in the Annales d’hygiène, we have found prac­ti­cally no ref­er­ences to Riviere. And Riviere’s coun­sel, Berthauld, who was later to be­come fairly well known, seems never to have al­luded to his for­mer client in his writ­ings.

Riviere’s case was not, then, a notable crime.” The un­usu­ally full treat­ment in the Annales may be ac­counted for by a com­bi­na­tion of chance cir­cum­stances and gen­eral con­sid­er­a­tions. Probably a doc­tor or some lo­cal no­table in the Caen area drew the con­tem­po­rary Paris ex­perts’ at­ten­tion to the sen­tenc­ing to death on November 12, 1835, of a par­ri­cide con­sid­ered by many to be a mad­man. They must have agreed to in­ter­vene when the pe­ti­tion of mercy was pre­sented, on the ba­sis of the records com­piled for the pur­pose; in any event, they drew up their cer­tifi­cate on the ba­sis of the ma­te­r­ial ev­i­dence with­out ever see­ing Pierre Riviere. And once the com­mu­ta­tion of the sen­tence had been granted, what they pub­lished in the Annales d’hygiène was the whole or part of the dossier on the case.

Over and above these cir­cum­stances, how­ever, a more gen­eral de­bate emerges, in which the pub­li­ca­tion of this dossier by Esquirol and his col­leagues was to have its ef­fect. In 1836 they were in the very midst of the de­bate on the use of psy­chi­atric con­cepts in crim­i­nal jus­tice. To be more pre­cise, they were at a spe­cific point in this de­bate, for lawyers such as Collard de Montigny, doc­tors such as Urbain Coste, and more es­pe­cially the judges and the courts had been very strongly re­sist­ing (especially since 1827) the con­cept of monomania” ad­vanced by Esquirol (in 1808). So much so that med­ical ex­perts and coun­sel for the de­fense hes­i­tated to use a con­cept which had some­what du­bi­ous con­no­ta­tion of materialism” in the minds of the courts and some ju­ries. Around 1835 it looks as if doc­tors rather tended to pro­duce med­ical re­ports based less di­rectly on the con­cept of mono­ma­nia, as if they wished to show si­mul­ta­ne­ously that re­luc­tance to use it might lead ro se­ri­ous mis­car­riages of jus­tices and that men­tal ill­ness could be man­i­fested through a far wider symp­to­ma­tol­ogy. In any case, the Riviere dossier as pub­lished by the Annales is ex­tremely dis­creet in its ref­er­ences to monomania”; on the other hand, it makes very con­sid­er­able use of signs, symp­toms, and the de­spo­si­tions of wit­nesses, and very di­verse types of ev­i­dence.

There is, how­ever, one fact about all this that is truly sur­pris­ing, that while local” or gen­eral cir­cum­stances led to the pub­li­ca­tion of a re­mark­ably full doc­u­men­ta­tion, full not only for that pe­riod, but even our own, on it and on the unique doc­u­ment that is Riviere’s mem­oir, an im­me­di­ate and com­plete si­lence en­sued. What could have dis­con­certed the doc­tors and their knowl­edge af­ter so strongly elic­it­ing their at­ten­tion?

To be frank, how­ever, it was not this, per­haps, that led us to spend more than a year on these doc­u­ments. It was sim­ply the beauty of Riviere’s mem­oir. The ut­ter as­ton­ish­ment it pro­duced in us was the start­ing point.

But we were still faced with the ques­tion of pub­li­ca­tion. I think that what com­mit­ted us to the work, de­spite our dif­fer­ences of in­ter­ests and ap­proaches, was that it was a dossier”, that is to say, a case, an af­fair, an event that pro­vided the in­ter­sec­tion of dis­courses that dif­fered in ori­gin, form, or­ga­ni­za­tion and func­tion - the dis­courses of the can­tonal judge, the pros­e­cu­tor, the pre­sid­ing judge of the as­size court, and the Minister of Justice; those too of the coun­try gen­eral prac­ti­tioner and of Esquirol; and those of the vil­lagers, with their mayor and parish priest; and, last but not least, that of the mur­derer him­self. All of them speak, or ap­pear to be speak­ing, of one and the same thing; at any rate, the bur­den of all these dis­courses is the oc­cur­rence on June 3. But in their to­tal­ity and their va­ri­ety they form nei­ther a com­pos­ite work nor an ex­em­plary text, but rather a strange con­test, a con­fronta­tion, a power re­la­tion, a bat­tle among dis­courses and through dis­courses. And yet, it can­not sim­ply be de­scribed as a sin­gle bat­tle; for sev­eral sep­a­rate com­bats were be­ing fought out at the same time and in­ter­sected each other: The doc­tors were en­gaged in a com­bat, among them­selves, with the judges and pros­e­cu­tion, and with Riviere him­self (who had trapped them by say­ing that he had feigned mad­ness); the crown lawyers had their own sep­a­rate com­bat as re­gards the tes­ti­mony of the med­ical ex­perts, the com­par­a­tively novel use of ex­ten­u­at­ing cir­cum­stances, and a range of cases of par­ri­cide that had been cou­pled with regi­cide (Fieschi and Louis-Philippe stand in the wings); the vil­lagers of Aunay had their own com­bat to dif­fuse the ter­ror of a crime com­mit­ted in their midst and to preserve the honor of a fam­ily” by as­crib­ing the crime to bizarre be­hav­ior or sin­gu­lar­ity; and, lastly, at the very cen­ter, there was Pierre Riviere, with his in­nu­mer­able and com­pli­cated en­gines of war; his crime, made to be writ­ten and talked about and thereby to se­cure him glory in death, his nar­ra­tive , pre­pared in ad­vance and for the pur­pose of lead­ing on to the crime, his oral ex­pla­na­tions to ob­tain cre­dence for his mad­ness, his text, writ­ten to dis­pel this lie, to ex­plain, and to sum­mon death, a text in whose beauty some were to see as a proof of ra­tio­nal­ity (and hence grounds for con­demn­ing him to death) and oth­ers a sign of mad­ness (and hence grounds for shut­ting him up for life).

I think the rea­son we de­cided to pub­lish these doc­u­ments was to draw a map, so to speak, of those com­bats, to re­con­struct these con­fronta­tions and bat­tles, to re­dis­cover the in­ter­ac­tion of those dis­courses as weapons of at­tack and de­fense in the re­la­tions of power and knowl­edge.

More specif­i­cally, we thought that the pub­li­ca­tion of the dossier might fur­nish an ex­am­ple of ex­ist­ing records that are avail­able for po­ten­tial analy­sis.

(a) Since the prin­ci­ple gov­ern­ing their ex­is­tence and co­her­ence is nei­ther that of a com­pos­ite work nor a le­gal text, the out­dated aca­d­e­mic meth­ods of tex­tual analy­sis and all the con­cepts which are the ap­panage of the dreary and scholas­tic pres­tige of writ­ing can very well be es­chewed in study­ing them.

(b) Documents like those in the Riviere case should pro­vide ma­te­r­ial for a thor­ough ex­am­i­na­tion of the way in which a par­tic­u­lar kind of knowl­edge (e.g. med­i­cine, psy­chi­a­try, psy­chol­ogy) is formed and acts in re­la­tion to in­sti­tu­tions and the roles pre­scribed in them (e.g., the law with re­spect to the ex­pert, the ac­cused, the crim­i­nally in­sane, and so on).

(c) They give us a key to the re­la­tions of power, dom­i­na­tion, and con­flict within which dis­courses emerge and func­tion, and hence pro­vide ma­te­r­ial for a po­ten­tial analy­sis of dis­course (even of sci­en­tific dis­courses) which may be both tac­ti­cal and po­lit­i­cal, and there­fore strate­gic.

(d) Lastly, they fur­nish a means for grasp­ing the power of de­range­ment pe­cu­liar to a dis­course such as Riviere’s and the whole range of tac­tics by which we can try to re­con­sti­tute it, sit­u­ate it, and give it its sta­tus as the dis­course of ei­ther a mad­man or a crim­i­nal.

Our ap­proach to this pub­li­ca­tion can be ex­plained as fol­lows:

1. We tried to dis­cover all the ma­te­r­ial ev­i­dence in the case, and by this we mean not only the ex­hibits in ev­i­dence (only some were pub­lished in the Annales d’hygiène publique), but also news­pa­per ar­ti­cles and es­pe­cially Riviere’s mem­oir in its en­tirety. (The Annales reprinted only the sec­ond part of it.) Most of these doc­u­ments were to be found in the Departemental Archives at Caen; Jean-Pierre Peter did most of the re­search. (with the ex­cep­tion of a few doc­u­ments of mi­nor in­ter­est, we are there­fore pub­lish­ing every­thing we could find writ­ten by or about Pierre Riviere, whether in print or in man­u­script.)

2. In pre­sent­ing the doc­u­ments, we have re­frained from em­ploy­ing a ty­po­log­i­cal method (the court file fol­lowed by the med­ical file). We have re­arranged them more or less in chrono­log­i­cal or­der around the events they are bound up with - the crime, the ex­am­in­ing judge’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the pro­ceed­ings in the as­size court, and the com­mu­ta­tion of the sen­tence. This throws a good deal of light on the con­fronta­tion of var­i­ous types of dis­course and the rules and re­sults of this con­fronta­tion.

And, placed as it is at the time of its writ­ing, Riviere’s mem­oir comes to as­sume a cen­tral po­si­tion which is in its due, as a mech­a­nism which holds the whole to­gether; trig­gered se­cretly be­fore­hand, it leads on to all the ear­lier episodes; then, once it comes into the open, it lays a trap for every­one, in­clud­ing con­triver, since it is first taken as proof that Riviere is not mad and then be­comes, in the hands of Esquirol, Marc, and Orfila, a means of avert­ing that death penalty which Riviere had gone to such lengths to call down upon him­self.

3. As to Riviere’s dis­course, we de­cided not to in­ter­pret it and not to sub­ject it to any psy­chi­atric or psy­cho­an­a­lytic com­men­tary. In the first place be­cause it was what we used as the zero bench­mark to gauge the dis­tance be­tween the other dis­courses and the re­la­tions aris­ing among them. Secondly, be­cause we could hardly speak of it with­out in­volv­ing it in one of the dis­courses (medical, le­gal, psy­cho­log­i­cal, crim­i­no­log­i­cal) which we wished to use as our start­ing point in talk­ing about it. If we had done so, we should have brought it within the power re­la­tion whose re­duc­tive ef­fect we wished to show, and we our­selves should have fallen into the trap it set.

Thirdly, and most im­por­tantly, ow­ing to a sort of rev­er­ence and per­haps, too, ter­ror for a text which was to carry off four corpses along with it, we are un­will­ing to su­per­im­pose our own text on Riviere’s mem­oir. We fell un­der the spell of the par­ri­cide with the red­dish-brown eyes.

4. We have as­sem­bled a num­ber of notes at the end of the vol­ume, some on the psy­chi­atric knowl­edge at work in the doc­tors’ re­ports, oth­ers on the le­gal as­pects of the case (extenuating cir­cum­stances, the ju­rispru­dence of par­ri­cide), yet oth­ers on the re­la­tions be­tween the doc­u­men­tary lev­els (depositions, records, ex­pert opin­ions), and oth­ers again on the nar­ra­tive of the crimes.

We are aware that we have ne­glected many ma­jor as­pects. We could have gone into the mar­vel­lous doc­u­ment of peas­ant eth­nol­ogy pro­vided by the first part of Riviere’s nar­ra­tive. Or we could have brought out the pop­u­lar knowl­edge and de­f­i­n­i­tion of mad­ness whose out­lines emerge through the vil­lager’s tes­ti­mony.

But the main point was for us to have the doc­u­ments pub­lished.

This work is the out­come of a joint re­search pro­ject by a team en­gaged in a sem­i­nar at the College de France. The au­thors are Blandine Barret-Kriegel, Gilbert Burlet-Tovic, Robert Castel, Jeanne Favret, Alexandre Fontana, Georgette Legee, Patricia Moulin, Jean-Pierre Peter, Philippe Riot, Maryvonne Saison, and my­self.

We were aided in our re­search by Mme. Coisel and M. Bruno at the Bibliotheque Nationale, M. Berce at the Archives Nationales, M. G. Bernard and Mlle. Gral at the Archives de­part­men­tales du Calvados, and Mme. Anne Sohier of the Centre de Recherces his­toriques.

Pierre Riviere’s mem­oir was pub­lished in pam­phlet form in the same year as the trial. There is no copy in the Bibliotheque Nationale. The pam­phlet con­tains the ver­sion pub­lished in the Annales d’hygiène publique, but pub­lished there only in part and with some er­rors.

The whole file is to be found in the Archives du Calvados, 2 U 907, Assises Calvados, Proces crim­inels, 4th quar­ter 1835.