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Number 12: Summer 2016


Val Parks

Dany Nobus focuses in his comprehensive and eloquent paper on the concepts of acting out and passage a l’acte, to which Lacan devotes a central chapter of the Seminar. Nobus carefully traces through the Freudian roots of the concept and differentiates Lacan’s various positions on the term at different stages of his work. He shows how Lacan came to explore most fully in Seminar X the place of acting out and passage a l’acte by formulating a table which relates the terms to inhibition, symptom and anxiety. He concludes his paper with thoughts on the necessity of passage a l’acte for the ending of analysis. Both acting out and passage a l’acte are usually seen negatively. Following Lacan, Nobus shows how passage a l’acte, which Lacan describes as an impulse of the subject’s which results in a movement causing her to rush forward and ‘topple (s) off the stage (of history)’ (Lacan 1962-3 p1150), is, in other words, to put an end to the scene in which she has become engaged. He extrapolates the way in which this same impulse is in line with our final act as analysand in putting an end to a relationship with our analyst. As we will see, the destiny of anxiety in analysis and the end of analysis is a theme common to all our papers.

Werner Prall quotes Freud’s comment in his Introductory Lectures, that anxiety is ‘a nodal point at which the most various and important questions converge, a riddle whose solution would be bound to throw a flood of light on our whole mental existence ‘ (Freud 1916 -17 p393) . This is a statement which Lacan echoes in introducing his own seminar on anxiety, when he opines that in the concept, all his former disquisitions meet. Yet in spite of this conviction of the central importance of anxiety, both Freud and Lacan wrestled with the concept throughout their development. Anxiety’s ungraspable quality is effectively conveyed by Prall in his account of Kafka. Deftly weaving considerations of the life and work of Kafka, Prall makes important points about the functioning of anxiety in psychic life. For example, he shows how the intensity of anxious terror to escape the deep blue sea spurs Kafka’s dream swimmer on to become a champion. The person with the greatest terror is the one most desperate to get back to land, and the one who wins the race. Anxiety and the drive to master it are inextricably entwined. Prall thereby describes how Kafka can come to recognise that for all its painfulness, his anxiety may contain the best of him.

Mastery is a key theme in Paul Verhaeghe’s paper too. In a paper full of invaluable pointers to a fuller understanding of our own position as analysts, Verhaeghe offers an analysis of the role of anxiety in transference for both Freud and Lacan. He characterises it as a dance of both parties around the necessary structural lack that is the failure of the paternal metaphor. Of course, the hopeful aspect of this disillusion is that it has within it the possibility of fluidity and change, in ex-change for the fixity and comfort of paternal authority. Contrasting his anxiety with a new analysand in the early days of his career, and the anxiety he feels today in a similar clinical situation, he derives his contemporary anxiety from an awareness of societal changes. Whereas his early anxieties were in the same register and location as those of the analysand—a neurotic anxiety, caught up in the transference matrix—nowadays, he contends, he experiences an anxiety based in the Symbolic. Such anxiety is correlative with the impossibility of our profession itself: the impossibility of embodying the paternal knowledge for a while without being duped by it, or without the analysand being duped by it. This new or sharpened awareness he locates in the overthrow and downfall of patriarchy and its replacement by a posited Big Brother horizontal authority. The ability of psychoanalysis to reshape itself continually has been often remarked. Verhaeghe’s paper challenges us again to think how we conceive of our profession in this time of toppling certainties and concomitant clamouring anxieties which might threaten to overwhelm.