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Number 12: Summer 2016

Review: Seductions and Enigmas: Laplanche, Theory, Culture, edited by John Fletcher and Nicholas Ray, Laurence and Wishart: London, 2014, 365 pp., ISBN: 978 1 909831 08 7

Robert Weiss

The essays in the rest of the book think, in one way or the other, about how Laplanche is to be read and what Laplanche can be used for. Many of these papers are able to strike an equilibrium between applying Laplanche’s theories to texts from disciplines other than psychoanalysis, and attentive readings of the theory itself.

Jacqueline Lanouzière, one of three Psychoanalysts from France included in the volume, is one who manages to occupy this space, with her notions of two scenes of primal seduction—direct and indirect—as related to the Laplanchian idea of the primal fantasy and, in particular, the place that breast-feeding occupies vis-a-vis this dynamic. Lanouzière examines these ideas alongside a painting, Giorgione’s The Tempest, in which the enigmatic message conveyed by the artwork is seen to have echoes of the enigmatic messages transmitted by the breastfeeding mother. Jaques André also draws on Laplanche’s theories of primal seduction especially in the second essay he has in the collection where he references Delacroix’s painting, The Death of Sardanapalus, to point to a moment of breaking in, in the form of a penetration of the infant by the adult’s messages. He examines, with a reading of Freud’s Wolf Man case, how various defences are formed as a result of this penetration. Judith Butler, in her essay, ‘Seduction, Gender and the Drive’, looks at the implications of Laplanche’s theories on the politicised arenas of gender, sexuality and kinship, with gender itself being posited as an enigmatic message that must constantly be translated, detranslated and retranslated. Josh Cohen’s paper, on the artist Bruce Nauman’s ‘art of helplessness’, deploys a phenomenological description to look at the ‘designified signifiers’ of the drive as formulated by Laplanche, and should also be mentioned as a fine example of the stimulating, scholarly texts in this collection.

In producing this book—part homage to Jean Laplanche after his death, part attempt to widen the field of Laplanche studies—John Fletcher and Nicholas Ray continue to be part of an ongoing process of translation and dissemination of Laplanche’s texts in the English-speaking world. Long may we be led astray.