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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.