Jacques Lacan


Jacques Lacan : biography

13 April 1901 – 9 September 1981


The Société Psychanalytique de Paris (SPP) was disbanded due to Nazi Germany’s occupation of France in 1940. Lacan was called up to serve in the French army at the Val-de-Grâce military hospital in Paris, where he spent the duration of the war. His third child, Sibylle, was born in 1940.

The following year, Lacan fathered a child, Judith (who kept the name Bataille), with Sylvia Bataille (née Maklès), the estranged wife of his friend Georges Bataille. There are contradictory accounts of his romantic life with Sylvia in southern France during the war. The official record shows only that Marie-Louise requested divorce after Judith’s birth and that Lacan married Sylvia in 1953.

After the war, the SPP recommenced their meetings. Lacan visited England for a five-week study trip, where he met the English analysts Wilfred Bion and John Rickman. Bion’s analytic work with groups influenced Lacan, contributing to his own subsequent emphasis on study groups as a structure within which to advance theoretical work in psychoanalysis. In 1949, Lacan presented a new paper on the mirror stage to the sixteenth IPA congress in Zurich.


In 1951, Lacan started to hold a private weekly seminar in Paris, in which he urged what he described as "a return to Freud" that would concentrate on the linguistic nature of psychological symptomatology. Becoming public in 1953, Lacan’s twenty-seven year long seminar was highly influential in Parisian cultural life, as well as in psychoanalytic theory and clinical practice.

In 1953, after a disagreement over the variable-length session, Lacan and many of his colleagues left the Société Parisienne de Psychanalyse to form a new group, the Société Française de Psychanalyse (SFP). One consequence of this was to deprive the new group of membership within the International Psychoanalytical Association.

Encouraged by the reception of "the return to Freud" and of his report "The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis," Lacan began to re-read Freud’s works in relation to contemporary philosophy, linguistics, ethnology, biology, and topology. From 1953 to 1964 at the Sainte-Anne Hospital, he held his Seminars and presented case histories of patients. During this period he wrote the texts that are found in the collection Écrits, which was first published in 1966. In his seventh Seminar "The Ethics of Psychoanalysis" (1959–60), Lacan defined the ethical foundations of psychoanalysis and presented his "ethics for our time"—one that would, in the words of Freud, prove to be equal to the tragedy of modern man and to the "discontent of civilization." At the roots of the ethics is desire: analysis’ only promise is austere, it is the entrance-into-the-I (in French a play on words between l’entrée en je and l’entrée en jeu). "I must come to the place where the id was," where the analysand discovers, in its absolute nakedness, the truth of his desire. The end of psychoanalysis entails "the purification of desire." This text formed the foundation of Lacan’s work for the subsequent years. He defended three assertions: that psychoanalysis must have a scientific status; that Freudian ideas have radically changed the concepts of subject, of knowledge, and of desire; and that the analytic field is the only place from which it is possible to question the insufficiencies of science and philosophy.Le séminaire, Livre VIII: Le transfert, Paris: Seuil, 1991.


Starting in 1962, a complex negotiation took place to determine the status of the SFP within the IPA. Lacan’s practice (with its controversial indeterminate-length sessions) and his critical stance towards psychoanalytic orthodoxy led, in August 1963, to the IPA setting the condition that registration of the SFP was dependent upon the removal of Lacan from the list of SFP analysts."Minutes of the IPA: The SFP Study Group" in Television/A Challenge to the Psychoanalytic Establishment, pp. 79-80. With the SFP’s decision to honour this request in November 1963, Lacan had effectively been stripped of the right to conduct training analyses and thus was constrained to form his own institution in order to accommodate the many candidates who desired to continue their analyses with him. This he did, on 21 June 1964, in the "Founding Act"Lacan, J., "Founding Act" in Television/A Challenge to the Psychoanalytic Establishment, pp. 97-106. of what became known as the École Freudienne de Paris (EFP), taking "many representatives of the third generation with him: among them were Maud and Octave Mannoni, Serge Leclaire…and Jean Clavreul".Elisabeth Roudinesco, Jacques Lacan (Cambridge 1997) p. 293