Empathy is widely touted as a springboard for social change. Within the academy, ‘identification’ is often used to promote the social value of literary and cultural studies. But to what degree have scholars, in seeking to defend the value of literary and cultural studies, conceived the act of reading in problematic ways? ‘An Ethics of Reading’ argues that adopting a Lacanian paradigm of self (reader) and text (other) to discuss the act of textual interpretation reduces a complex event involving multiple actors to a simple dualism, while ineluctably consigning any act of interpretation to simple projection. Turning instead to psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche’s concept of the enigmatic signifier, this article rethinks the relation between reader and cultural text – reconceiving the act of interpretation by situating it within a dynamic of transference, as opposed to projection. When conceived via this Laplanchian framework, reading becomes not only an effective path to cognition and knowledge, but a radical means of subjective transformation.
It was announced last week that psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche has died in Beaune, near Dijon, France, aged 87. Coincidentally he passed away on 6th May, the 156th anniversary of Freud’s birth.
This sad news nevertheless gives us occasion to revisit the work of this most brilliant of psychoanalytic thinkers, early follower of Lacan and, of course, translator of Freud’s work into French.
Laplanche is perhaps best known to the English-speaking world for his magisterial The Language of Psycho-Analysis, co-authored with J.B-. Pontalis, which was first published in French in 1967 and is now translated into over 25 languages. It remains a vital reference work for anyone interested in studying psychoanalysis.
Laplanche was one of the very few thinkers that rival Lacan in their reading of Freud, but the clarity and precision of his teaching singles him out from the latter. Below are a collection of links to his work available in English online for free, and translations of his published material, which showcase this ability.
After fighting in the French Resistance during the war, Laplanche entered the Ecole normale supérieure – later the venue for many of Lacan’s Seminars – in 1944. First a physician and later trained as a psychiatrist, he then underwent a psychoanalysis with Lacan until November 1963.
Laplanche then became one of the founders, in 1964, of the Association psychanalytique de France (Psychoanalytic Association of France) along with a number of followers of Lacan’s seminar who were later also to be critical of his work (amongst them Daniel Lagache, Vladimir Granoff and Daniel Widlöcher).
In 1970 Laplanche established the Centre de recherches en psychanalyse et psychopathologie fondamentale (the Centre for Research in Psychoanalysis and Fundamental Psychopathology) at the University of Paris VII, where he later held the post of Professor Emeritus.
Laplanche also had a little-known sideline in viticulture, managing the vineyards at Château de Pommard, which he inherited from his father, from 1966-2003.
An obituary in English from InternationalPsychoanalysis.net can be found here. Further obituaries from L’Expressand Le Monde (the latter by prominent writer on psychoanalysis Elisabeth Roudinesco) have also recently appeared in France.
Links to Laplanche’s work online for free
- This is a fascinating interview with Jean Laplanche from 1994, in which he discusses the complexities of the seduction theory, a theory even Freud, he claims, forgot about. Amongst the topics Laplanche offers his thoughts on are: the temporal, economic and topographical complexities of the seduction theory; the two directions of Nachtraglichkeit; the importance of the desire of the other (and why the problem of the other in psychoanalysis is not the problem of the outside world); the nature of trauma as demanding a meaning to be given to something enigmatic; and psychosis as the negative of the seduction theory.
- Laplanche’s article ‘Psychoanalysis as anti-hermeneutics’
- Laplanche’s article ‘Primal fantasy: fantasies of origins, origins of fantasy’
Links to Laplanche’s published work in English: