Literary and Critical Theory Jean Laplanche
Lucas Fain
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0116


Jean Laplanche (b. 1924–d. 2012) was a French psychoanalyst and vintner. Among the most innovative and theoretically rigorous thinkers of his generation, his work is characterized by a return to the letter of Freud’s text, a method of reading Freud according to Freudian principles, and a complete rethinking of the foundations of psychoanalytic theory and practice. Under the Vichy regime, he joined the French Resistance in 1943. The following year, he entered the École Normale Supérieure where he studied philosophy with Jean Hyppolite, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Gaston Bachelard, and Ferdinand Alquié. In the years 1946–1947, he received a scholarship to Harvard University where he developed an interest in psychoanalysis through the interdisciplinary Department of Social Relations. Upon returning to Paris, he became a founding member of the revolutionary group Socialisme ou Barbarie. In this same period, he entered into analysis with Jacques Lacan, who remained his mentor until 1963. Laplanche signaled his formal break with Lacan in 1964. However, his intellectual break was well underway when, at the historic Bonneval conference of 1960, in a paper with Serge Leclaire, he directly opposed Lacan’s theory of the unconscious “structured like a language.” In 1967, with J.-B. Pontalis, he published The Language of Psychoanalysis, today the definitive encyclopedia of Freudian thought. The fruits of this project were distilled in Life and Death in Psychoanalysis (1970). A book of extraordinary insight, Laplanche showed how Freud’s thought is structured by the rhetorical figure of chiasmus, wherein the repression of the sexual unconscious is itself the object of repression. This critical return to Freud was intensified through a series of lectures published as Problématiques. Lessons from the first five volumes are condensed in New Foundations for Psychoanalysis (1987). Whereas Life and Death showed how the sexual drive “leans on” vital instinct, thus restoring the rightful place of sexuality in the psychoanalytic understanding of the human being, New Foundations presents nothing less than a refounding of the entire psychoanalytic enterprise. From a recovery of Freud’s famously abandoned seduction theory, Laplanche developed a “general theory of seduction,” which explains how the situation of primal seduction, the primacy of the other in the transmission of enigmatic messages from adult to infant, is simultaneously the irreducible foundation of psychoanalysis and human subjectivity. With career achievements as co-founder of the Association Psychanalytique de France, professor of psychoanalysis and founder of the Center for Psychoanalytic Research at the Université de Paris VII, founder of the journal Psychanalyse à l’université, and scientific director of the translation of Freud’s complete works into French, the magnitude of his thought is only now starting to penetrate Anglophone audiences.

General Overviews

The scholarship of Dominique Scarfone has been instrumental to the dissemination of Laplanche’s thought in French and English translation. Scarfone 2015 (first published in 1997) is the first book-length introduction to Laplanche’s work in any language. Today, it remains the best overall survey of Laplanche’s intellectual development and basic concepts. Scarfone 2005 and Scarfone 2013 complement this text as shorter introductions. John Fletcher and Nicholas Ray have been at the forefront of making Laplanche’s work available in English. Fletcher 2007 provides an incisive overview of Laplanche’s general theory of seduction. Ray 2012 is an obituary, which reads like a brief intellectual biography. As general editor of The Unconscious in Translation, the publishing house devoted to the translation of Laplanche’s collected works into English, Jonathan House now leads the effort to increase Anglophone awareness of Laplanche. House 2017 provides a historical introduction to the key concept of après-coup and its fundamental importance for Laplanche’s metapsychology. Sauvayre 2017 reviews the first several publications of The Unconscious in Translation. For readers of French, the website of the Fondation Jean Laplanche highlights his accomplishments and maintains an extensive database of bibliographical resources.

  • Fletcher, John. “Seduction and the Vicissitudes of Translation: The Work of Jean Laplanche.” Psychoanalytic Quarterly 76.4 (2007): 1241–1291.

    DOI: 10.1002/j.2167-4086.2007.tb00304.x

    Written by one of the primary conduits of Laplanche’s thought into English, this essay presents key developments in Laplanche’s systematic revision of Freudian metapsychology. Topics include the general theory of seduction, primal seduction and the fundamental anthropological situation, enigmatic messages and the drives, repression and translation, the superego as a “psychotic enclave,” intromission and psychosis, the analytic situation (le baquet, the tub), transference, mourning, and sublimation.

  • Fondation Jean Laplanche.

    The Fondation Jean Laplanche is a foundation of the Institut de France. Established in 2009, it is devoted to the maintenance and international promotion of Laplanche’s work. In addition to extensive bibliographical resources, the French-language website surveys Laplanche’s contributions to psychoanalysis, philosophy, and the translation of Freud.

  • House, Jonathan. “The Ongoing Rediscovery of Après-Coup as a Central Freudian Concept.” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 65.5 (2017): 773–798.

    DOI: 10.1177/0003065117738762

    The rediscovery of Freud’s notion of après-coup (Nachträglichkeit, afterwardsness) is fundamental to Laplanche’s reformation of psychoanalysis on the “new foundations” of seduction. Written by the general editor of Laplanche’s English-language publishing house, this article provides a masterful overview of this important concept, its rediscovery by Lacan, and Laplanche’s subsequent development of après-coup as the key to understanding psychical trauma, repression, the unconscious, infantile sexuality, and the human drive for meaning.

  • Ray, Nicholas. “Forming New Knots: Jean Laplanche, 1924–2012.” Radical Philosophy 174 (July/August 2012): 53–56.

    This obituary, written by one of Laplanche’s English-language translators, is a brief introduction to Laplanche’s intellectual biography: from his education in philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure to his break with Lacan on fundamental issues of metapsychology and his subsequent development of the general theory of seduction. Ray’s title references Laplanche’s conception of psychoanalysis as a process of “unweaving,” which permits the formation of “new knots.” Available online at

  • Sauvayre, Pascal. “The Unconscious in Translation: Jean Laplanche.” Contemporary Psychoanalysis 53.1 (2017): 112–139.

    DOI: 10.1080/00107530.2016.1273721

    This is a review essay devoted to commentary on the first several books published by The Unconscious in Translation: Laplanche 2011 (cited under Primary Texts), Laplanche 2015a (cited under Primary Texts), Laplanche 2015b (cited under The Problématiques), and Scarfone 2015. The article provides both a helpful survey of Laplanche’s work as well as nuanced commentary on issues of translation, including challenges associated with translating Freud in light of Laplanche’s understanding of psychoanalysis as a work of translating the unconscious.

  • Scarfone, Dominique. “Psychoanalysis in the French Community.” In The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychoanalysis, 1st ed. Edited by Ethel S. Person, Arnold M. Cooper, and Glen O. Gabbard, 423–433. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2005.

    This article summarizes Laplanche’s activities and contributions within the wider context of the reception and development of Freudian psychoanalysis in France, including the major influence of Lacan.

  • Scarfone, Dominique. “A Brief Introduction to the Work of Jean Laplanche.” International Journal of Psychoanalysis 94.3 (2013): 545–566.

    DOI: 10.1111/1745-8315.12063

    Published shortly after Laplanche’s death in 2012, this essay complements Scarfone 2015 as a helpful introduction to three interrelated axes of Laplanche’s work: his original approach to the reading of Freud’s texts, accomplished through a method of critical translation; his development of translation as a fundamental mechanism in the process of human psychogenesis; and his refounding of the entire psychoanalytic field upon the general theory of seduction.

  • Scarfone, Dominique. Laplanche: An Introduction. Translated by Dorothée Bonnigal-Katz. New York: The Unconscious in Translation, 2015.

    Originally published in French as Jean Laplanche (1997), this volume provides a comprehensive overview of Laplanche’s intellectual development and contributions to the psychoanalytic field. This edition also contains Laplanche’s introduction to the French translation of Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle (2012), Jonathan House’s retranslation of Laplanche’s classic essay, “Primal Fantasy, Fantasies of Origins, Origins of Fantasy” (1964), and a bibliography of Laplanche’s writings heretofore available in French and English.

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