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Desire for Family and Clinic of Filiations

From 1938 Jacques Lacan poses the human family as an institution . The frantic attempts to reduce it to a biological fact are part of a lost cause aimed at protecting the natural order of the real, particularly in relation to the questions of reproduction and sexuality. The illusion of a so-called natural family has been shattered from the moment that science impacted on nature and the real therein escaped, provoking great disorder in the traditional structures of human experience. It is against the background of these mounting impasses that Jacques-Alain Miller, in 2012, called for an updating of our analytical practice(2).

Technological interventions in human life have thus produced “increasingly numerous and surprising disruptions in the fields of procreation, gender and filiations(3) placing us “in the presence of a fragmentation of the biogenetic substance of parentage”(4).Wanting a child, touches on the demand of obtaining a product from the marketplace, made available by the grace of science. Pre-implantation diagnostics opens the door to an unprecedented demographic disequilibrium regarding the choice of sex, or even to the worst temptations of eugenics. The business of conception requires regulation. To the great cultural variety of systems of kinship, as identified by anthropology, is substituted the diversity “of laws which determine the facts of nature proper to specify the relations of parentage”(5). As psychoanalysts we cannot deny this real outside of nature because “the refusal to accept this fact in the symbolic will return it to us in the real in a much more threatening way”(6).

For Freud the desire for a child comes to the woman as phallic compensation for what she could not obtain from her father. The symbolic equivalence child-phallus thus installs the progeny as a substitute for the lost object of desire. This is the case most open to our interventions, Dr Lacan recalled in his note(7), when the child does not come to saturate the mode of lack by which the desire of the parent is specified. But the hijacking of procreation by technology certainly de-veils more than what nature modestly covered, “the false evidence of the natural bond and the universal of the desire for a child” . (8). What Lacanian psychoanalysis reveals is that desire here comes to dress up a particular want to enjoy [vouloir de jouir], of the child. Even if, in the name of a god-father, the old discourses continue to maintain that one should not touch reproduction, sexuality or the family, these attempts to curb jouissance in this way will not resist the reconfiguration of desire at work in these new forms of unprecedented alliances. Nonetheless, “if psychoanalysis cannot be the instrument of social conservatism […], it cannot subscribe to all the aberrations of desire”(9). The psychoanalyst supports the necessity of an incarnated desire which is revealed in the particularised care of parenting – a term more fitting to our age than that of mothering – knotted to a human formation operating as a brake on jouissance(10). This formation is today incarnated in the notion of family more than that of a god-father. It is a residual family, a contraction of all the forms of families invented over the centuries that “highlights the irreducibility of a form of transmission […] implying a relation to a desire that is not anonymous”(11). Lacan noted almost a century ago that this nuclear family did not depend on forms of kinship but on those of alliance(12). We will have to explore new forms of alliances in order to detect the impossible which in each case constitutes the symptomatic bedrock. We will also have to explore how the names of father and mother are nowadays being reworked in the world of contracts which knows no limit(13). “Faced with these very rapid changes in the use of names, psychoanalysis and its discourse on the father and mother is summoned in various capacities”(14), Éric Laurent in turn notes. Parentage is thus found caught in a vertiginous relativism because it is defined as a legal system separate from any historical tradition. This mounting recourse to recognition by the law, there where symbolic recognition is lacking, leads us to a world of standards disjointed from an operator of incarnated desire. Consequently, that which will will keep us to the fore are the usages of the names of parentage specific to each one in constructing themselves as sexuated being. The neologism of parenthood testifies to this mutation: “the unique signifier that comes to replace father and mother, it belongs to the era of disjointed and scattered ones”(15).

Having a child offers the parent “the very object of his existence appearing in the real”(16) which calls hollow the maintenance of a permanent conversation that would ensure the propagation of operators capable of incarnating a desire refraining jouissance.

The question mark in our title interrogates the will [vouloir] at stake in procreation. The emphasis on the desire for family indicates that one never makes a child all alone; that his arrival necessarily inscribes him in the practice of lalangue where he falls. It is from this immersion in language that the parlêtre will retroactively question the place from where it came to be lodged in filiations.

Whether it comes from an egg donation, cryopreservation of gametes, zygotes or embryos, possibly before a change of sex; for others from a gestation, donation of uterus, or from a predictive selection of embryos, or from a simple sexual relationship; the living being that results will always bear the imprint of the sign that saw it born as a speaking body, [the] enigma of its coming into the world, [the] mystery of the union of speech and body (17), “fault of the real that no biotechnological engineering can fill”(18).” It is this mystery that Pipol 10 will work to elucidate, starting from the speech of the analysand which alone will permit an aggiornamento of Family Complexes in the 21st century!

Dominique Holvoet

1 Lacan J., « Les Complexes familiaux », Autres écrits, Paris, Seuil, 2001, p. 24.
2 Miller J.-A., « Le réel au XXIe siècle, présentation du thème du IXe Congrès de l’AMP », La Cause du désir, 82, 2012, p. 90.
3 Ansermet F, Prédire l’enfant, Paris, PUF, 2019, p. 10.
4 Palomera V., « Comment le droit reconfigure les paternités », Mental, 18, 2006, p. 125.
5 Palomera V., Op. cit., p. 126.
6 Miller J.-A., Audition de M. Jacques-Alain Miller au Sénat concernant l’ouverture du mariage aux couples de personnes du même sexe, présidée par Jean-Pierre Sueur, 12 mars 2013. Disponible sur senat.fr
7 Lacan J., « Note sur l’enfant », Autres écrits, Paris, Seuil, 2001, p.373.
8 Laurent D., « Le désir d’enfant à l’heure de la science : incidences cliniques », Letterina, Bulletin de l’ACF Normandie, 63, 06/2014, p. 28.
9 Laurent D., Op. cit.
10 Lacan J., « Allocution sur les psychoses de l’enfant », Autres écrits, Paris, Seuil, 2001, p. 364.
11 Lacan J, « Note sur l’enfant », op.cit.
12 Laurent E., « Le Nom-du-Père entre réalisme et nominalisme », La Cause freudienne, 60, Paris, Navarin éditeur, 2005, p. 138.
13 Miller J.-A. & Milner J-C, Voulez-vous être évalué ?, Paris, Grasset, 2004.
14 Laurent E., Op. cit., p. 132.
15 Brousse M.-H., « Un néologisme d’actualité : la parentalité », La Cause freudienne, 60, Paris, Navarin éditeur, 2005, p. 123.
16 Lacan J., « Note sur l’enfant », op.cit.
17 Miller J.-A., « L’inconscient et le corps parlant », La Cause du désir, 88, 10/2014, p. 109.
18 Miller J.-A., « L’avenir de Mycoplasma laboratorium », La Lettre Mensuelle, 04/2008, n°267, p. 11-15.

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The Argument

The brain is about to become Toinette’s lung[1]. There is no longer anything that is not referred to it. After the deciphering of the genome, the technical developments of science promise to unveil – for sure, any moment now! – the ultimate secrets of the functioning of the brain. Neuro-this, neuro-that, the hopes are great, the progress obvious.

What is striking is that what constitutes their object is no longer only the neurological disorders or even the so-called development of intelligence. Every dimension of being and thought are now concerned and targeted. Affects, feelings, neurosis, sexuality, love, hatred and happiness – nothing is left out. “Mental life”[2] is promised access to the rank of science and “objective” treatment. The unconscious itself sounds like the ultimate bastion of which we will find the neurological key. Hence the false trails on which some go astray, obviously including psychoanalysts, of a possible decompartmentalization of disciplines: the brain presenting itself as the “natural” common denominator of the assumption that the psychical is cerebral.

Make no mistake: this is the best way to get rid of the unconscious of psychoanalysis. The avowed aim is to rectify the error of Freud who, like Christopher Columbus, would have discovered something other than he believed[3]. Long live the cognitive unconscious, where the unconscious is reduced to what neither Freud nor Lacan wanted it to be: the non-conscious processes. There lies the project of founding cognitivism on the unconscious itself.

The true nuptials are elsewhere. The advance of science in its coupling with technology, in an era when production has become the global master signifier, founds a discourse of quantification that sweeps everything before it. Cognitivist materialism, and its belief that man is a machine that processes information, has found in the brain its major object[4]. It allows cognitivism to better veil or restore luster to its behaviorist origin which, not so long ago, gave rise to shame in its application to the field of the human. Cognitivism seeks to demonstrate the legitimacy of the reductionism inherent to it: that of reducing quality to quantities. Evaluation is its operational arm and its ideology. A little, a lot, passionately is then applied to all fields and “the suffix neuro is the form that the cipher takes when it comes to capture the psychical.”[5] Cerebral imaging gives to these measurements and correlations, where everything can be compared, a supposedly scientific substrate – of which the most honest sometimes say they do not know what to deduce – but from which they infer mental processes and therapeutic solutions that on most occasions don’t take us very far. PIPOL 9 will work on this radioscopy of the neurosciences.

The individual is seduced by this proposal to identify himself with his organism[6] by means of measurement. He likes to imagine himself as a machine and is not reluctant to see his brain compared in its operation to a computer with incredible potentialities. He thinks he can find, by means of ciphers, an assurance and the existence of his being, which is constantly fleeing and which he never ceases trying to join up with. He also finds there an ideal of equality – all identical and comparable – adequate to the democratic preoccupation. Since politicians have become concerned with taking care of people’s health and happiness – which is by no means reassuring for us – they find here an ally in the management and control of the populations. Augmenting and optimizing, by rectifying what is stunted at a cognitive level or what is under-used in terms of potentialities, are merely promises of a better tomorrow. Certainly the promise often falls short – the brain is a complex machinery, you see! But the promise of a cure for the discontents of civilization remains a potent seduction.

If only it were so. It would be for the best… and for the worst. The introjection of the superego of production: Perform! – Enjoy!, as Jacques Lacan will say – did not wait to produce its return-effects: burnout, work related suicide, addiction, depression, violence, exclusion, segregation and hatred of the different. When it does not take this lethal intensity, the new imperative that prescribes making oneself the master of one’s self and one’s body in a relation of well-being encounters the paradoxes of jouissance that the experience of a psychoanalysis isolates. Namely, the discomfort and the disquiet, not of the individual, but of what we call with Lacan, the divided subject, which is never equal and transparent to itself, which remains non-homogeneous, non-categorizable , incomparable. In short, that of the individual which makes “fail the best-designed algorithms […] the most massive calculations that claim to explain everything, evaluate everything, predict everything”[7], albeit through neural connections and cerebral activities.

An ethics of desire is opposed to this civilization of the cipher and of cerebral imagery. The unconscious, that of psychoanalysis, testifies to this. No, the unconscious is not a memory, albeit buried, forgotten, not conscious. It is also not the trace left by experience, which would testify to neuro-plasticity. If Freud and Lacan were able to explore these paths, it was to arrive, via experience, at the conclusion that the unconscious that we encounter through psychoanalysis bears witness to a real that is peculiar to it. The experience of a psychoanalysis says nothing about the brain. PIPOL 9 will gather the testimonies of this.

What the accumulated experience of psychoanalysis bears witness to is an insurrection of the symptom against the forced categorization to which the subject refuses to let himself be reduced. The unconscious of psychoanalysis testifies, by means of its return effects which always make an effraction, a hole, as commemoration of an encounter, yes, but a missed encounter with a satisfaction that would be appropriate and which, as a result, never happened. The unconscious is the insistence of an inassimilable loss that reiterates, and cannot be represented or imaged. The body is “a surface of inscription of [what with Lacan we call] the jouissance which does not cease to flee”[8]. In this respect, the image of the body veils the real of jouissance. It gives the illusion, by means of a mental image (which Lacan was able to translate the operation of in the mirror stage), of a unity and completeness of the body, whereas the drive which animates it is always somehow incomplete, partial, according to Freud. This image is what neuroscience attempt to grasp through cerebral imaging. The paradox is that it is not of the body [du corps] but of the mind [du mental], of the ego as the ideal image of oneself. It is a misrecognition of the properties of the body of the speaking being. Neurosciences perpetuate this will for misrecognition with an unparalleled technical arsenal. In this respect, we can say that the brain does not know the drive – in the sense that the drive is what makes a hole in cognition.

PIPOL 9 will allow us to sketch out the contours of the real to which the unconscious testifies. It should allow us to tighten this notion of the unconscious with regard to the epoch. We maintain, with Jacques-Alain Miller, that we must sustain it as “ek-sisting outside the norms of scientific discourse, if we want to save psychoanalysis”[9]. This indeed is what is at stake. If, in this clamour of false evidence, the voice of psychoanalysis may seem weak, the power of the force of the real of the symptom promises setbacks to those who would bet on its eradication or control.

To make the ethical hypothesis of the unconscious of psychoanalysis, of another scene where the subject struggles to recognize himself as identical to himself, has consequences in relation to the human. It determines an ethical dimension that then traverses all the practices related to it.

All fields of the human, including art, are now summoned by the neuro-paradigm. The child – the elective object of education – is its first target. But given that childhood today is widely extended, it is the speaking being as a whole that is concerned. Nothing is left here of the outside the field of learning[10]. Projects in this area do not lack extravagant aims, derisory at best, at worst in their ethical dimension attacking some principles of freedom. PIPOL 9 will be able to collect and reveal some of these to enlightened opinion.

Finally, the field of so-called mental health is obviously in the first line of fire. If the neuro-paradigm can present itself as modest and filled with the best intentions, the practitioners of this so-called mental health, in Europe and beyond, are well placed to live in their own flesh the forced rectification of practices at work, operated everywhere by politics and its administration. All these policies openly target the field we call that of transference and of the unconscious. Because, beyond this, it is the entire field of the practices of speech that is put in question.

The ideology of the cipher and the neuro-paradigm found discourses without a beyond, which produce a semantic vacuity. As Lacan points out, “the progress of science makes the function of cause fade away”[11], in the sense that what is produced is a: “it means something”, there where “the subject’s implication in his conduct is broken off.”[12] They are congruent in this regard with the loss of meaning, moral values and of practices that are based on the search for a truth. We see their effects unfolding every day. The political discourse is itself traversed by them, not without some concern for the times to come. Without the orientation of psychoanalysis, which is a practice based on the movement of the Enlightenment, the field seems thus open either to all forms of obscurantism and esotericism, or to the new rapid expansion of the religious.

PIPOL 9 will give the opportunity to more than one hundred and forty practitioners to demonstrate the effects of public utility of clinical practices that are still based on the ethical hypothesis of the unconscious, pertaining to the field of speech and language. It will carry out an aggiornamento of the symptoms produced by these new coordinates of the discourse of science. Faced with today’s symptoms, it will also be an opportunity to reveal the extent of the confusion produced in the field of the “psy” disciplines by the gradual disappearance of the dialectic of clinical points of reference in favor of their statistical and neurobiological classification; points of reference that psychoanalysis of the Lacanian orientation has been able to preserve and update.

That there are interventions on the brain that can change behaviors, modify them, is not to be doubted. This is precisely what does not cease to concern. No one denies the progress allowed by science in the medical field in general, and in the field of the brain in particular. A leap is at work, however, once we enter the field of subjectivity and the mind [mental]. Psychoanalysis will be able to reap its effects, insofar as psychoanalysis is the place of address and interpretation of that which constitutes the absolute fault that inhabits the speaking being.

As psychoanalysts, we have the experience that the encounter with jouissance and the manifestations of desire – even if these may produce dopamine! – is related to an absolute contingency. Jouissance and desire are always singular, they do not respond to any model, they are subjected only to the law of pure encounter. In the field of the relation between the sexes in the speaking being, nothing pertains to an established program – only invention reigns here. This is what Lacan indicated with the aphorism: There is no sexual relation. That is the ground for our compass as psychoanalysts. There is what we call a disturbed jouissance, intrinsically dysfunctional, of the speaking being with his or her own body. It blocks the relation between the sexes and any possibility of hedonistic reconciliation. This fault is opposed to any physical determinism, program or calculable real. It concerns a real that remains at the mercy of absolute contingency.

Psychoanalysis proposes an ethical choice: to promise each one who wants to lend himself to it that he will not be compared or “re-educated”, while proposing to him to tighten as much as possible the singular coordinates which found the irreconcilable of the contingency which is his own. So that he can orient himself in life from the logic that determines his always symptomatic mode of being, away from the illusions of identification.

This choice is the one to which PIPOL 9 will open its doors, just as it will look in the face and elucidate the one with which it has nothing in common!

Yves Vanderveken

Director of the 5th Congress of the EuroFederation of Psychoanalysis – PIPOL 9

Translated by Florencia F.C. Shanahan


[1] [TN] Toinette’s lung refers to the work The Imaginary Invalid by Molière. Toinette, a maid-servant disguised as a doctor, refers all the ills of the sick Lord to the lung.

[2]Dehaene S., Vers une science de la vie mentale [Towards a science of mental life], Opening lectures at the Collège de France, Fayard, 2018. See Dehaene, S. (2007). A few steps towards a science of mental life. Mind, Brain and Education, 1, 28–47.

[3] Naccache L., Le nouvel inconscient, Freud, le Christophe Colomb des neurosciences [The new unconscious : Freud, the Christopher Columbus of neurosciences], Odile Jacob Poches, 2009.

[4] Miller J.-A., “The Lacanian Orientation, Everyone is mad”, Course delivered at the Department of Psychoanalysis of the University of Paris 8, lesson of 16th January 2008, unpublished.

[5] Miller J.-A., “The Lacanian Orientation, Everyone is mad”, Course delivered at the Department of Psychoanalysis of the University of Paris 8, lesson of23rd January 2008, unpublished.

[6] Laurent É., L’envers de la biopolitique, Une écriture pour la jouissance [The Other Side of Biopolitics, A Writing for Jouissance], Navarin, Champ freudien, 2016, p. 19.

[7]Ibid., p. 10.

[8]Ibid., p. 15.

[9]Miller J.-A., “The Lacanian Orientation, Everyone is mad”, Course delivered at the Department of Psychoanalysis of the University of Paris 8, lesson of 9thFebruary 2008, unpublished.

[10] Lacan J., The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book X, Anxiety, Ed. J.-A., Miller, Transl., A. Price, Polity Press, London :New York, 2014, p. 291.

[11]Ibid., p. 284

[12]Ibid., p. 281.

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PIPOL 7, the third congress of the EuroFederation of Psychoanalysis, entitled “VICTIM!”, will take place at the Palais des Congrès in Brussels on the 4th and 5th of July, 2015.

A meeting for all who practice in institutions within Europe, with reference to Freudian psychoanalysis and its Lacanian orientation, the EFP congress is also an event where the recent theoretical and clinical advances of the different European Schools, specifically the AEs, will be presented.

PIPOL 7 : Victim ! How can we escape it ?

Be it a name of the symptom or its cause, “victim” is a ready-made signifier of consumerist modernity. One can be a victim of the climate, of pollution, of one’s neighbour, of one’s job, of love or of hatred. Once limited to the legal, medical or military fields, the word “victim” has invaded the media, carrying in its wake the sensationalism it revels in. Thus the victims of delayed trains get confused with the victims of accidents, the victims of our economic situation with the victims of crooks. And there can be no forgetting the victims of natural catastrophes, of genocides, of armed conflicts. Even more insidious and within the family, incest and child abuse, lack of attention and lack of love have also taken their toll and made their victims. But, beyond the perversity of sado-masochistic game-playing, the victim and his torturer are the fantasmatic parts that are written time and time again for many a cinema, TV series and literature character. Traces of this trend can be observed recurrently in analytic experience. It is nonetheless in analysis that one demonstrates that repetition does not necessarily turn into fate.

Insofar as it has been borrowed from everyday language, the signifier “victim” thus illustrates an ambiguity in our relation to the Real, which is found in the fantasy that veils it, or in the claim from an injury. In contemporary social exchanges it is used as if it was equivalent to subjective effects – in each French police station, a “victim” can seek specialized counselling – yet, at the same time, it is blurring the line between history and political news, confusing great and small events and making victims out of everybody.

Those who experienced the dramatic moments of history have taught us that the victim’s position was not the best answer to what they had gone through. Therefore it is a position that they often rejected. Psychoanalytical experience demonstrates that the solutions that are elaborated by those who have been seriously harmed vary from one individual to the next, depending on the singular solution that each person can find to face the effects of the repetition at work in his/her life.

The different social and political discourses in European countries expose the analysts in our institutions to encountering the ambiguous and hegemonic category of the “victim” while recognizing the singular solutions the Lacanian orientation enables us to support.

Rather than going with the flow of cognitive-behavioural therapies who promote the figure of the victim in order to sustain their furor sanandi, the experience of psychoanalysis clears a space where fantasy, as a mask of repetition, may lead to a treatment of the real that is in play. Such are the issues that will be at stake during PIPOL 7. We hope to see you there.


Jean-Daniel Matet

(translation by France Jaigu)

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Please find below the short version of the introductory note to the simultaneous clinical sessions of PIPOL 6 that will take place under the heading:  “The Case, the Institution and My Experience of Psychoanalysis”. You can consult the full version by clicking on the EFP web-site at: PIPOL NEWS 2

A call for papers will be made soon.

The case, the institution, and my experience of psychoanalysis

Introduction to the simultaneous clinical sessions of PIPOL 6

(Short version)

The institution is a manifestation of the master’s discourse. The ancient paradigm of the institution is the Oedipal family1. Nonetheless, in pinning the expression After Oedipus to the contemporary world, Jacques-Alain Miller brings us to a wider reading of social or health institutions. After Oedipus other ethics have come to orient institutions, substituting the weakening family tie and taking up the place left vacant by the father.  In this new institutional landscape, the best cases are those oriented by psychoanalysis.

In the Freudian Field, the mode of presence of psychoanalysis in an institution has been studied for many years. Clearly, the practitioner with psychoanalytical experience very often has a fair relationship and a novel know-how with the clinical real. It is the point we wish to elucidate during the simultaneous clinical sessions of PIPOL 6.

On discourse and the language in the institution

The psychoanalytic orientation in institutions passes by way of an effort to say things well, or better, or differently.  Instead of “he steals all the time”, we prefer: “he de-completes the Other”.  Rather than saying “he’s really violent”, we prefer: ”he frequently passes to the act”, the passage to the act being the acted expression of unspoken words. Instead of “he’s hyperactive”, we prefer “enjoyment [jouissance] is rebounding in the body”.

This effort to tear the ambient discourse of the institution in its imaginary, education

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