Professor Jean Laplanche: Celebrated psychoanalyst

His wife went with him everywhere, and sat through hours of lectures which surely held little interest for her

There is an exquisite surprise moment in Agnes Varda's award-winning documentary The Gleaners (2000) when she discovers that the man she has interviewed solely as the proprietor of the Château de Pommard turns out to be France's most famous living psychoanalyst, whose work has had an immense impact on the very world of contemporary film and culture whence her project derived. She is already shocked by the fact that a wealthy château-owner like him has no practical problem whatsoever with gleaners – the scavengers who gather the grapes left over from his harvest – but she is dumbfounded when she is told that these figures actually profoundly inspire his own clinical and creative work: "As a psychoanalyst," he tells her, "I am completely familiar with heading out across already harvested land searching out for the fruit and unexpected treasures that have been previously overlooked."

This interview charmingly reveals the deep roots that bound together seemingly disparate areas of Jean Laplanche's life and work. First and foremost, he always remained deeply connected to the soil of Burgundy. He was born there, studied there, joined the Resistance there in 1943, inherited the proprietorship of the Château de Pommard in 1966, and from then on divided his working life between four days in Pommard and the remaining three in Paris.

His wife Nadine was a vital counterpart in this work-life balance. They were inseparable, and happily married for 60 years. Nadine was irrepressible, sociable and stylish, and brought a large dash of Corsican passion, volatility and gregariousness to temper his more withdrawn and contemplative sides. Nadine accompanied him everywhere, and sat through hours of technical lectures and conferences which surely held little interest to her.

He was, equally, always subliminally and creatively engaged with Burgundy, often in surprising ways. I will never forget a conversation we had visiting Leeds Castle in Kent in 1990. We had entered a room filled with 14th century carved furniture from John the Fearless, the Second Duke of Burgundy. After a brief celebration of Burgundy's independence from France, and the pre-eminence of its regional style during this period, Laplanche began to muse on the contrast between the human figures, cut to stand out embossed from the wood, and the features of the landscape, which were cut into the main flat surface of the chest.

He embarked on a long reverie about how the silences of open spaces in nature allow you the space to follow your own line of thought, whereas the loud noise and anger of other humans intruded and cut off your space to think. He concluded with the association that there may be children surrounded daily with unprocessed anger or passion from adult others, who will probably later come to feel trapped and claustrophobic in their relationships. Everything they then feel unable to digest will stand out embossed and intrude monolithically in their thinking, like the human figures in the wood-carving.

Alternatively, there may be children who live surrounded by the long silences of depressed adult others. They will probably find themselves at some point feeling anxious and agoraphobic. Gaping holes will emerge in their thinking, which may never bottom out, but rather pull everything into their vortex. I realised years later that Laplanche had discovered in that Burgundy carved chest some free associations that clustered, ripened, and came to fruit in his theory of the embossed and hollowed-out forms of transference that govern human relationships.

Laplanche's method was built around enabling people to explore how such cut-out and embossed forms emerge, intrude and wend their way through their own personal lives. For Laplanche, at the heart of our consciousness lies a foundational enigma posed by the intrusion of otherness – the dawning awareness from childhood that other people and things are ultimately separate from us, so do not follow our thoughts or wishes about how we would like them to behave or respond.

From the beginning we become seduced by this other adult world, which we cannot understand, but make every attempt to translate it. We create stories and theories to try to make sense of why others feel and act unpredictably or in puzzling ways, but we always fail – as all translations ultimately fail to capture their original – and we are always left with bits that just do not fit in, so come to stand out mysteriously; or worse, form some ominous prescience that vital bits may be missing.

For Laplanche, these bits form the central concern of analysis – and set out the main starting points for any work with the unconscious. He remained adamant that the analyst must leave the story-telling and big life-constructions to the client: "Hands off the theories of the client!" he would half sing, always with a broad grin. The worst of all outcomes for him would be a world in which ex-clients ended up explaining their miseries and unhappiness by the set theories of their own psychoanalyst. He wanted clients to grapple with the sources of their own feeling and thinking, and, if possible, be surprised, nourished, strengthened and inspired by their discoveries – just like the more fortunate gleaners end up surprised and inspired in Agnes Varda's film.

Jean Laplanche, psychoanalyst and author: born Burgundy 21 May 1921; married Nadine (died 2010); died 6 May 2012.

Life and Style
LifeReddit asked a simple question with infinite answers this week
Life and Style
Pepper, the 3ft 11in shiny box of circuits who can tell jokes and respond to human emotions
techDavid McNeill tests the mettle of one of the new generation of androids being developed in Tokyo
Life and Style
beauty
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice