Philo, or the Obsessional and His Desire: November 25th 1958: Serge Leclaire

by Julia Evans on November 25, 1958

Text of a presentation by Serge Leclaire before the Group for the Evolution of Psychiatry on November 25th 1958


1)  ‘Philon ou l’obsessionnel et son désire’ in Evolution psychiatrique, vol 3, 1959, p383-411

2) Republished in Serge Leclaire: ‘Démasquer le réel’ : Paris, Éditions du Seuil : 1971: p 147-167

3) Translated by Stuart Schneiderman:

Philo, or the Obsessional and His Desire :

p114-129 of  ‘Returning to Freud: Clinical Psychoanalysis in the School of Lacan’ :1980 : Stuart Schneiderman (ed) : Yale University Press

To download text, go to /Authors a-z

Reference to Jacques Lacan:

P121-122 of Serge Leclaire: Philo, or the Obsessional and His Desire

Before continuing I will outline briefly the concept of Oedipal development on which I found my work. Not that this is very different from the one we all know, but certain nuances and precisions articulated by J. Lacan have opened the Oedipal schema to a larger and stricter clinical application.

Thc Oedipal complex, we may say, gives an account of the evolution that, little by little, substitutes for the mother, taken as the control and primordial character, the father, as principal and ultimate reference. Having thus defined the general movement of this evolution, we will distinguish three phases.

At first, the mother as desiring is the central character. The subject identifies with the object of the mother’s desire. Being unable to grasp the complexity of such a desire, the child seems to retain a simplistic schema: “To please mother, it is necessary and sufficient, whether boy or girl, to be the phallus.” I recall in passing that the phallus is not reduced to the physical aspect of a signified reality, but that it already has for the child, as it does for the mother, a signifying and symbolic value. Such is the situation at first:” To please mother, it is necessary and sufficient to be the phallus.”

The next step is the most important and the most complex. It is at this stage that most of the accidents that generate neurosis occur. We will summarize it in its normal evolution. The subject rather quickly has the sense that the mother is not satisfied with the first solution, and he detaches himself from his identification (with the phallus), which appears to him to be unsatisfying. The dissatisfaction and persistence of the mother’s desire point him toward something else. What is this something else (otherness?) This is the crucial enigma that the mother’s desire poses for the child. Through it a reference or a symbol that has captured the mother’s desire appears in the child’s life, even before its nature is specified. In this way a third person presents himself to experience. Is this to say that this third person appears especially as a person? No. The most scrupulous analysis shows that this third person, this father, appears especially as a being to whom one refers (to honor or to scorn) and to whom one refers as to a law. In everyday practice, we hear “Papa said . . .” or “I am going to tell Papa,” words that had been spoken by a mother having difficulty with authority. Now, this father, before being depriving or castrating or what have you, appears to the child as a reference and even as the mother’s master. If it happens that the symbolic phallus, signifier of desire, is going to function in the mother’s reference to her man, in the eyes of her child and in his imagination, then the father must appear as depriving and as castrating in regard to the mother and not to the child himself.

This is what we have to grasp in order to be at ease in relation to the castration complex. In this second stage of the Oedipus complex, the child should gain access to the father’s law, defined as the place of the symbolic phallus, through the mediation of the mother’s desire. The mother’s desire appears to take this phallus away and to keep it. The father is revealed ‘as refusal and as reference’. This is also the moment when the object of desire appears in its complexity as an object submitted to the law of the other. J. Lacan says that this stage reveals “the relation of the mother to the father’s word.”  [JE notes: The exact reference for these quotes is not given. Lacan’s ‘The signification of the phallus’: 9th May 1958 is a possibility.]

The third stage is simpler. The father is not only the bearer of the law; he also possesses a real penis. In a word, the father is the one who has the phallus and not the one who is it. For this stage to take place, it is assuredly necessary that the father be neither too impotent nor too neurotic. In this third stage the father is discovered to be the real possessor, and not merely the symbolic place, of a penis.

The evolution is completed with the formation of a new identification and the emergence of the ego ideal. For the boy as well as for the girl, this is the moment where one renounces all vestiges of the first identification with the “phallus that pleases Mama.” The child becomes like a big person, either the one who has the phallus or else the one who does not and who thus will await it from a man.

Thus the father, as the place of the phallus, replaces the mother as the principal and normative subject in the evolution. The mother, no longer the central character she was, takes on the role of mediator. The child’s question is not “to be or not to be” the phallus, but rather to have it or not to have it.

Relation of Jacques Lacan to Serge Leclaire

– Extract from

Serge Leclaire (1924–1994)

One of the first disciples of Jacques Lacan, Serge Leclaire was a prominent French psychoanalyst who played a special role in the production of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse by allowing his seminar to be published there and providing a critical perspective on the exploration of psychoanalysis underway in the journal. Born in Strasbourg with the surname ‘Liebschutz’ to an agnostic Jewish family, his father obtained false papers with the name ‘Leclaire’ during the Second World War. During his studies of psychiatry, Leclaire met a Hindu monk who introduced him to the writings of the psychoanalyst Françoise Dolto. Shortly thereafter Leclaire entered into analysis with Lacan at the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris. Leclaire was Lacan’s close ally through the many ruptures within the French psychoanalytic movement, and would eventually serve as the founder of the Department of Psychoanalysis at the experimental University of Paris-VIII at Vincennes in 1969.


– Extract from

…….manuscripts of Seminar XII, Crucial Problems for Psychoanalysis, which list Leclaire’s presentation as occurring in the 20th session of the seminar (26 May 1965). The published version differs in some respects to the text to be found in Seminar XII. In his introduction to the seminar of 26 May, Lacan says that Leclaire had suggested that Miller’s ‘Suture’ deserved a ‘public’ and ‘properly analytical’ response. Lacan announces he will put aside the first half of the session, which is to be devoted to the continuation of his reading of Plato’s Sophist to Leclaire’s text and a response from Miller. Miller chooses not to respond immediately, but gives his reply to Leclaire in the subsequent session.

See for a translation of Serge Leclaire’s intervention, Seminar XII : 26th May 1965

– Further exchanges can be found The Dream with the Unicorn – Pôor(d)j’e-li : 30th October 1960 (Bonneval Hospital) [published 1966/68] : Serge Leclaire  or here

Julia Evans

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst, London

An increasing number of the texts whose links do not now work, are available on , if you still cannot find the text contact Julia Evans

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