A broadcast on the radio channel France Culture tells us a story that introduces us to the « Reinvented Families » section of this blog.
A homosexual couple wish to have children, without resorting to adoption. They want biological children. « Therefore, they have through what they claim is “an act of love”, hired the services of two different women. One [is the] egg donor, and the other [the] surrogate mother. » Two distinct contracts specify the modalities of the relationship between the two women who have contributed to the child’s procreation. The first will be able to see the child once he is sixteen years old, the second is entitled to do so from birth.
What this story tells is that « today, the names of the father and of the mother find themselves transformed, reworked, displaced by new demands and thus immersed decisively in the world of the contract […] without limits ».
What place will psychoanalysis take in these contemporary transformations of the family ?
With Freud, initially psychoanalysis oriented itself with the father. It is its’ compass. From The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud announces : « A Prince is known as the father of his country ; the father is the oldest, first, and for children the only authority, and from his autocratic power the other social authorities have developed ».
The father is at the centre of the Oedipus Complex as the one who forbids an incestuous relation, and therefore constitutes the model of all social and religious organisation.
This is not Lacan’s point of view. In his text « Family Complexes », he eclipses the myth to focus on the symbolic function. By so doing, he develops the paternal function and the desire of the mother. These two functions do not include the father or the mother as a person. The fathers and mothers of reality « become […] signifying attributes implemented in the function, at the same time that they nurture the imaginary of the family saga ».
The family is inscribed under the three registers of the symbolic, the imaginary and the real. Father and mother are received as functions. That of naming for the father, of caring for the mother. In his teaching, Lacan will draw from Oedipus and from his rewriting of the latter, the paternal metaphor. Progressively, the FN and MD mathemes will disappear in favour of mathemes that inscribe the social bond : S1,, S2, $ and objet petit a. This reduction of the paternal and maternal function to the mathemes of the structure opens up the writing of the four discourses.
From then on, the family reinvents itself. The paternal function is not central anymore, the desire of the mother gives way to a new modality, that of parenthood. This term, which nowadays is fashionable, erases the differentiated functionof the father and of the mother in favour of a symmetry and an equality between these two terms. « Instead of the difference between father and mother, the equivalence and interchangeability of the two parents is imposed. »
This has radical consequences for the family order. Difference vanishes in favour of sameness. In the story told above, there are four parents. The homosexual couple, the surrogate mother, and the egg donor. The relationships are henceforth regulated by a contract regarding the practical organisation of the child’s care.
An effect of this erasure of difference is identifiable in Jacques-Alain Miller’s comparison between the contemporary discourse of civilisation and the discourse of the analyst. To hypothesise that today the objet a is the compass of civilisation, is to posit at the same time that hypermodern discourse has the same structure as the discourse of the analyst. In the place of agent for this hypermodern discourse of civilisation, we no longer find the master signifier S1, but the objet a.
And in the field of today’s family, is it not the child as Marie-Hélène Brousse suggests, who becomes the agent of this discourse ? She exposes to us the displacement from the Freudian child ‘king’ towards a tyrannical position proper to the child. The child is no longer just a child ‘king’, he becomes a dictator. « It is now about the dictatorship of the plus-de-jouir, and the term of dictatorship is quite fitting to characterise the relationship that more and more parents have with their children. »
Parents, or to put it better, parenthood, finds its meaning and its definition from the child taken as an agalmatic object that surpasses all others. In his « Note on the Child », Lacan conceives the « symptom [is] located in the position of a response to what is symptomatic in the family structure ». From the symptom of the child or the symptom of the family in our civilisation, the psychoanalyst has the task of grasping what fails in the attempt to fix the ideals of the family.
For « if we look at the failure of utopian communities […] the function of residue that the conjugal family supports (and thereby maintains) in the evolution of societies highlights the irreducibility of a form of transmission ».
Despite all the attempts to recast, to renew, to reinvent the family, it remains the locus of a multiplicity of jouissances that do not harmonise and that are not resorbed into a homogeneous and stable integrated whole. In the gap between the ideal father and the tyrant father, one has to locate case-by-case what type of family responds to the version of jouissance of the father that Lacan identifies as père-version. This title « Reinvented Families » invites you to grab your pen and give an account of this impossible harmonisation of jouissances that today’s modern families reveal.
Translation: Adeena Mey
Proofreading: Caroline Heanue
Picture: @ Valérie Loiseau
 The story is taken up by Éric Laurent in Laurent É., « Le Nom-du-Père entre réalisme et nominalisme », La Cause freudienne, n°60, 2005, (unpublished), p. 131.
 Ibid., p. 132.
 Freud S., « Infantile Material as a Source of Dreams », The Interpretation of Dreams, (1900), The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume V, London, Hogarth Press, 1958, n°1, p. 217.
 Lacan J., « Les complexes familiaux dans la formation de l’individu », Autres écrits, (unpublished), Paris, Seuil, 2001, p. 23-84.
 Brousse M.-H., « Un néologisme d’actualité : la parentalité », La Cause freudienne, n°60, 2005, Les nouvelles utopies de la famille, (unpublished), p. 118
 Ibid., p. 120.
 Miller J.-A., « A Fantasy » (trans. Sowley Th.), Lecture given at the IVth Congress of the World Association of Psychoanalysis in Comandatuba-Bahia, Brazil, August 2004, p. 7, available online at: https://londonsociety-nls.org.uk/The-Laboratory-for-Lacanian-Politics/Some-Research-Resources/Miller_A-Fantasy.pdf.
 Brousse M.-H., « Un néologisme d’actualité : la parentalité », op. cit., p. 122.
 Lacan J, « Note on the Child » (trans. Grigg R.), The Lacanian Review, n°4, 2018, p. 13.
 Lacan J., Le Séminaire, livre XXII, « R.S.I. », lesson of the 21st of January 1975, (unpublished).