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On the Psychoanalysis of Babies[1]

Jean Laplanche


[Translator’s note: “On the Psychoanalysis of Babies” is Jean Laplanche’s response to a 2007 essay by Bernard Golse, Head of Child Psychiatry at the Hôpital Necker–Enfants Malades and Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Université René Descartes. Golse’s essay, “Y a-t-il une psychanalyse possible des bébés?(“Is There Any Possible Psychoanalysis of Babies?”),[2] contests the charge that a “psychoanalysis of children – and still less of babies – has no claim to a legitimate existence” (354). This charge, he argues, is based on the belief that infants are not from outset situated within the temporality of après-coup’, i.e. what Freud called Nachträglichkeit (see note 3, below). To challenge this view, Golse returns to Freud’s original development of Nachträglichkeit and draws extensively on Laplanche’s resumption of it in his ‘general theory of seduction’. Working through a series of accounts of very early infant experience (e.g. the losses of developmental mourning and the apprehension of intersubjectivity, as well as, still earlier, intrauterine existence) Golse argues that from the metapsychological point of view even the youngest infant cannot be said to be outside the temporality of après-coup: tracing back to an original first trauma will always, he claims, be a “fundamentally asymptotic” endeavour (355). To the extent that the theory of après-coup thus remains valid for the understanding of infants themselves, it is possible to “remain a psychoanalyst” in work with young babies and this work may be considered “authentically psychoanalytic” (360).]



Bernard Golse and I share a mutual understanding that is solid and amiable (on both sides). I shall not discuss his deliberately provocative title concerning a ‘possible psychoanalysis’ of babies. I simply wonder, and assent to the idea that a psychoanalyst cannot and must not forget for a moment that he is an analyst in the presence of a baby. There is, however, a world of difference between this and ‘psychoanalysing’; for one may just as easily be a psychoanalyst in the presence of an ulcerated patient, a paraplegic or someone dying, without, for all that, having recourse to the psychoanalytic act.

Compiled by John Fletcher and Nicholas Ray, September 2012 

Books (including untranslated volumes)

Laplanche, Jean (1961) Hölderlin and the Question of the Father, trans. Luke Carson, Victoria, Canada: ELS Editions, 2007.

-------(1970) Life and Death in Psychoanalysis, trans. Jeffrey Mehlman, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.

-------(1980) Problématiques I: L’angoisse, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

-------(1980) Problématiques II: Castration – Symbolisations, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. [Extract, “Lecture 20 May, 1975” {Anxiety and Symbolization}, trans. Arthur Goldhammer, in Literary Debate : Texts and Contexts, eds. Dennis Hollier and Jeffrey Mehlman, New York: The New Press, 1999.]

-------(1980) Problématiques III: La sublimation, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. [Extract, “To Situate Sublimation”, trans. Richard Miller, October, no. 28, Spring, 1984].

-------(1981) The Unconscious and the Id: A Volume of Laplanche’s Problématiques (Problématiques IV), trans. Luke Thurston, London: Rebus Press, 1999.


This article by Nicholas Ray is republished by kind permission of Radical Philosophy [1]

Jean Laplanche, one of Europe’s most eminent and original psychoanalytic thinkers, died on 6 May, 2012, at the age of 87. His death brings to an end a remarkable intellectual career dedicated to the meticulous analysis and rigorous critical expansion of the Freudian discovery.

Laplanche was born on 21 June 1924 to a family of wine producers who owned the prestigious Château de Pommard in Burgundy. In 1940, at the age of 16, he moved from Burgundy to Paris in order to study at the Lycée Henri IV with the aim of eventually reading philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure. It was at the Lycée that he first met his future collaborator Jean-Bertrand Pontalis. After completing his secondary education Laplanche spent 1943 and part of 1944 working with the French Resistance before enrolling at the ENS in the 1944–45 academic year. At the ENS, he was taught by some of the foremost philosophers of the day: Ferdinand Alquié, Gaston Bachelard, Jean Hyppolite and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. It was thanks in particular to Hyppolite and Alquié that Laplanche became interested in psychoanalysis. His interest intensified when in 1946–47 he won a scholarship to Harvard University. There, he studied at the progressive Department of Social Relations, coming into contact with professional psychoanalysts as well as cultural anthropologists working with psychoanalytic ideas. Having returned to Paris, at Alquié’s auspicious recommendation Laplanche entered into an analysis with Jacques Lacan which would continue until 1963. By 1951, after taking the agrégation de philosophie, he decided to become an analyst himself.


            My daughter showed me the article by Patricia Alderman 'One Simple Thing' (The Psychoanalysis Newsletter, Winter 1996). I could identify with much of what she wrote. If you still include articles from patients' family or friends maybe you might like to consider this article about my experience of psychotherapy.


My daughter dropped out of College when she was 20. She came home at the Easter holidays and announced that she did not want to return the following term and that since there was no way she could take exams, she might as well leave before she was thrown out.


My husband and I had always believed we had a good relationship with our daughter. She had been a happy teenager who had done well at school and loved riding her pony and bringing her friends round to the house. We had not experienced any problem years with her. She had always been a source of great pleasure to us both.


The case history has become a standard method of transmitting psychoanalytical knowledge. Freud wrote a number of now famous case histories and his successors modelled themselves upon him, as if to emphasize that their theories were rooted in experience. At one time the International Journal of Psychoanalysis separated out articles lacking clinical material which were published in a separate journal, termed the Review, although the two have now been combined again. But the case history, written by the analyst, is only one side of the story. Where is the voice of the patient?

Accounts of the experience and treatment of madness written by the madmen exist, (one of the most famous perhaps being the Schreber case), but are not common. It is also rare for analysands to publish accounts of their analyses.

Without having to consider which version is more ‘true’ (nothing passed through the human mind is completely free from error), it remains instructive to see the experience of treatment from two different points of view. A kind of binocular vision.

This is the thinking behind THERIP's creation of a section of the website devoted to collecting people's accounts, past and present, of analysis and/or psychotherapy, which we have called FROM THE COUCH. We include also accounts from relatives.

THERIP members wishing to contribute to the project can do so, using the 'add article' function; non-members are most welcome to participate by sending contributions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (contributions are rewarded with short-term honorary membership).

We are creating an resource on Jean Laplanche. Please contact the webmaster if you would like to contribute