Dr Elsa Cayat

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -


THE ONLY woman to be mur­dered by ter­ror­ists at the Charlie Hebdo of­fices in Paris — al­legedly be­cause she was a Jew — the em­i­nent psy­chi­a­trist and psy­cho­an­a­lyst Dr Elsa Cayat, had ex­pressed con­cerns about death threats the pre­vi­ous month.

The ji­hadists had called her a “dirty Jew” and warned her to stop work­ing for the pa­per. Her younger brother Fred­er­ick tried to re­as­sure her. “We de­cided they were only ver­bal garbage”, he said. “We didn’t think it could ac­tu­ally hap­pen”.

But be­cause the killers spared other women at the of­fice, her griev­ing fam­ily be­lieve this was the rea­son she, un­like the other women, was mur­dered. “It seems she was se­lected to be ex­e­cuted be­cause she was Jewish”, said her cousin, TV pro­ducer and au­thor Sophie Bramly.

Over the last three years, Dr Cayat had writ­ten a broad-based fort­nightly col­umn for the pa­per, Charlie Di­van (Charlie on the Couch) in­tended to lend a psy­chi­atric slant to a broad range of is­sues from parental au­thor­ity to the Holo­caust. In ac­tual fact, Dr Cayat of­ten based her jour­nal­ism on the ex­pe­ri­ences of her anony­mous pa­tients.

Born in Tu­nisia, the daugh­ter of a

Dr Elsa Cayat: psy­chi­a­try and satir­i­cal cartoons made un­likely bed­fel­lows gas­troen­terol­o­gist and card-car­ry­ing Com­mu­nist and his wife, who worked in law, she was one of three chil­dren; an older sis­ter Beatrice as well as younger brother Fred­er­ick. As a young child, she moved with her fam­ily to the Vin- cennes sub­urb of Paris and they spent week­ends at their coun­try home in nearby Dour­dan. But de­spite — or per­haps be­cause of —th­ese idyl­lic ma­te­rial trap­pings, home life was far from cos­set­ting, with both high-achiev­ing par­ents in­sist­ing on aca­demic rigour.

Cayat was a qual­i­fied doc­tor by the age of 21 and went on to study psy­chi­a­try. The hall­marks of her suc­cess in­cluded ex­cep­tional em­pa­thy and long hours; she gave gen­er­ously of her time and en­ergy to her pa­tients, who tended to be up­per-class in­tel­lec­tu­als, will­ing to pay the high fees which earned her a prac­tice in Av­enue Mozart in the 16th ar­rondisse­ment.

A more lit­er­ary life fol­lowed the pub­li­ca­tion of her two books: first in 1998, Un Homme + Une Femme = Quoi?, And then nine years later Le Désir et Le Pu­tain, which trans­lates as De­sire and the Whore.

Both books re­flect Dr Cayat’s stim­u­lat­ing and chal­leng­ing in­tel­lect and it was th­ese qual­i­ties which, almost in­evitably, drewherthree­yearsago­to­her­col­league Stephane Char­bon­nier, Charlie Hebdo’s ed­i­tor (who was also mur­dered in the at­tack)and­histal­ent­edteam,whomshe saw as kin­dred spir­its.

Suc­cess in her own ca­reer proved to be the cru­cible, a fer­vent at­trac­tion of ideas be­tween the psy­chi­a­trist and the car­i­ca­tur­ists of Charlie Hebdo. The re­sult was Le Di­van, an in­tel­li­gent and ques­tion­ing col­umn.

To a reader who asked if it was pos­si­ble for part­ners to love each other equally, Cayat replied:

“No, it’s not pos­si­ble. But then, why should it be ex­actly equal? Love is a flu- id, mo­bile emo­tion that moves ac­cord­ing to the time and cir­cum­stances but is ba­si­cally there. Be­cause it’s eas­ier to love than to hate.”

She urged read­ers in her last pub­lished col­umn, La Ca­pac­ité de S’Aimer (The ca­pac­ity to love one­self) to open up and make room for oth­ers — a feat she con­cedes is very dif­fi­cult.

In some ways Elsa Cayat viewed her pro­fes­sion much as an al­chemist might do. “The goal of psy­cho­anal­y­sis”, she said “is to turn back time” to en­able peo­ple to re­gain “the open­mind­ed­ness they had as a child”.

While Charlie Hebdo is noted for its ir­rev­er­ent at­ti­tude to at ev­ery­thing, from re­li­gious fig­ures to politi­cians, a cyno­sure for those look­ing for satir­i­cal, edgy hu­mour, Dr Cayat’s col­umn was proof of the deeper com­plex­ity within its jour­nal­ism, which in­cluded pol­i­tics, so­ci­ol­ogy and eco­nomics.

In her col­umn, she drew on her own stud­ies of French psy­cho­an­a­lyst Jac­ques La­can, an in­flu­en­tial fig­ure within the Paris in­tel­li­gentsia of the ’60s and ’70s, com­bined with her own ex­pe­ri­ence .

In their sur­vivors’s is­sue, pub­lished in trib­ute to the most mean­ing­ful work of their mur­dered col­leagues, the Charlie Hebdo ed­i­tors chose her col­umn ad­vo­cat­ing tol­er­ance and ac­cep­tance of the dif­fer­ences in oth­ers.

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