Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

A Brief Introduction to the Work of Jean Laplanche

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

A Brief Introduction to the Work of Jean Laplanche

Article excerpt

The author proposes an introduction to the work of Jean Laplanche, a well-known figure of psychoanalysis who recently passed away. He foregrounds what he views as the three main axes of Laplanche's work: firstly, a critical reading method applied to Freud's texts; secondly, a model of psychic functioning based on translation; and, thirdly, a theory of general seduction. Far from being an abstract superstructure, the theory of general seduction is firmly rooted in the analytic situation, as the provocation of transference by the analyst best illustrates. The analytic situation indeed consists in a revival and a reopening of the 'fundamental anthropological situation' which, according to Laplanche, is the lot of every human baby born in a world where he or she is necessarily exposed to the enigmatic and 'compromised' messages of the adult other. Thanks to the process of analytic de-translation, the analysand is therefore granted an opportunity to carry out new translations of the other's enigma -- translations or symbolizations that might be more inclusive and less rigid than the pre-existing ones. Incidentally, such a model brings together the purely psychoanalytic and the psychotherapeutic aspects of the treatment.

Keywords: Jean Laplanche, theory of general seduction, translation, reading of Freud, method, transference, psychotherapy, infantile sexual, sexual

Jean Laplanche died on 6 May 2012, a few weeks before his 88th birthday. His name is undoubtedly familiar to many psychoanalysts around the world who from time to time must have consulted The Language of Psychoanaly- sis, an indispensable reference work written in collaboration with J.-B. Pon- talis and translated into many languages. The book not only includes the most reliable definitions of the main concepts of psychoanalysis, it also -- and perhaps primarily -- proposes a comprehensive survey of the Freudian sources as well as a critical examination of the concepts, their development and their place within the whole corpus. This book's ability to account for Freud's ideas with rigour and cogency should not make us lose sight of the other side of Laplanche's work, Laplanche's 'faithful unfaithfulness' to Freud as he liked to put it. In fact, such exceptionally deep knowledge of the founder's work was used by Laplanche as a basis from which to carry out an uncompromising yet appreciative critique of Freud's ideas. Lap- lanche often specified that he was no 'Freudologist' and that his goal never consisted in putting Freud-the-man on the couch. The only Freud he was interested in was Freud as featured in his written work, work that Lap- lanche took it upon himself to put to the test by "stabbing it with a knife" or "hacking it with a pickaxe", as he put it, in order to verify the solidity of the Freudian edifice. When this edifice proved to be wobbly in places, Laplanche undertook to consolidate it by working "on the underpinnings", in other words, not by destroying everything so as to yield some 'new psy- choanalysis' but by patiently taking up the research again, by steadying the Freudian edifice, providing it, as it were, with more solid foundations.

Laplanche thus did not seek to distance himself from Freud at all costs. On the contrary, he professed deep admiration for the inventor of psychoanaly- sis, especially for what he referred to as Freud's exigency, that is, Freud's relentless pursuit of his research object -- the unconscious -- which Freud was compelled to track down despite its enduring elusiveness, and at the cost of "going astray", according to Laplanche. Freud's 'goings astray' were used by Laplanche as evidence of the need to resume the work of reflection, with great confidence in the fact that, because of his faithfulness to his object, Freud would go astray for some definite reason, some reason that had to be identified so that, on its basis, Freud could be put to work again.

Having acquired a solid background in philosophy as the former student of three great thinkers (Jean Hippolyte, Gaston Bachelard and Maurice Mer- leau-Ponty), Laplanche undertook an analysis with Lacan in the late 1940s. …

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