Professor John Forrester (1949-2015)

Photo of John Forrester

John Forrester, King's Fellow and Professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, has died at the age of 66.

Historian, scholar and teacher, his work was instrumental in advancing the study of psychoanalysis both in Britain and further afield. John’s incisive questioning of Sigmund Freud’s talking cure and its place in the modern world was greatly enhanced by the boundless store of information and curiosity he brought to bear on his subject. His magnum opus, Freud in Cambridge, written in collaboration with Laura Cameron, is yet to be published by Cambridge University Press.

A Memorial will be held for Professor John Forrester on 18 May:

John Forrester Memorial
4.15pm on Wednesday 18th May 2016
The Hall, King’s College Cambridge CB2 1ST
To be followed by a drinks reception at the Whipple Museum
Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RH

The Department of History and Philosophy of Science will also hold a day of talks by John’s former students and colleagues from 9.15am-4pm in the McCrum Lecture Theatre, off Bene’t Street. Lunch will be served. To RSVP, please contact Tamara Hug ( ).

Born in London in 1949, John attended Haberdashers’ Aske’s School from 1960-66 before coming to King’s to read Natural Sciences, with Part II in History and Philosophy of Science, graduating in 1970. He pursued graduate studies in the History of Science under the supervision of T S Kuhn, before returning to Cambridge to deliver talks on the doctor-patient relationship to the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine.

His PhD thesis in 1978, examined by Frank Kermode and John Wisdom, was on the wide range of roles played by linguistic sciences and philology in the development of Freud’s programme. This was to become the ground-breaking Language and the Origins of Psychoanalysis (1980). It also marked the year in which he began his long engagement with the work of Michel Foucault (he had attended his lectures at the Collège de France in 1977-78), afterwards producing his incisive essay on Foucault’s relation with the history of psychoanalysis. A rationalist and sceptic, he said it was his life’s ambition to reconcile Freud, the doctor of the soul, with Foucault, the critic of medical regimes of all kinds.

Between 1976 and 1984, John held research fellowships at King’s, then subsequently joined the Philosophy of Science Department as University Lecturer, becoming  Reader in 1996 and Professor in 2000. He was Head of Department from 2007-13. A figure of international repute, his work has been translated into at least eight other languages; he also held visiting chairs and fellowships in Brazil, France, Germany, Switzerland and the United States, and from 2005 edited the journal, Psychoanalysis and History.

In 1988, with Silvana Tomaselli, he translated and annotated Jacques-Alain Miller’s edition of Jacques Lacan’s 1953-55 Seminar, a radical critique of ego psychology. He wrote three major collections of essays covering a vast array of issues in the history and philosophy of psychoanalysis and the human sciences; The Seductions of Psychoanalysis: Freud, Lacan and Derrida (1990); Dispatches From the Freud Wars: Psychoanalysis and its Passions (1997); and Truth Games: Lies, Money, and Psychoanalysis (1997).

In 1992, he and his lifelong partner, the writer, broadcaster and cultural commentator, Lisa Appignanesi, co-wrote Freud’s Women, a remarkable and brilliantly researched study of the role played by female analysands, patrons, and Freud’s daughter, Anna. Now in its third edition, the book explores with wit and intellectual vigour the fundamental issues of feminism and misogyny through the roles and experiences of Freud’s patients, ranging from Marie Bonaparte to Muriel Gardner and Lou Andreas-Salomé.

A brilliant, warm-hearted and charismatic man with a boundless intelligence and curiosity, John was also a peerless organiser, collaborator and teacher, with many of his doctoral students going on to become leaders in the fields of philosophy, history and the sciences.

John died of cancer on 24 November 2015. He is survived by his wife Lisa, daughter Katrina, a lecturer in History at Queen Mary University, and his stepson, Josh, a filmmaker.

Tributes have appeared in The Guardian, The Independent and from the Department of History and Philosophy of Science.

In John's memory, the John Forrester Memorial Award has been started by his family to support the work of graduate students in HPS. If you would like to contribute, you may give online to the John Forrester Memorial Award.

23 March 2016