Talk:The Act

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Lacan draws a distinction between mere "behavior" -- which all animals engage in -- and an "acts" -- which are symbolic and can only be ascribed to human subjects.[1]

In law, a subject cannot be found guilty of murder (for example) unless it can be proved that the act was intentional.


In psychoanalytic treatment the subject is faced with the ethical duty of assuming responsibility even for the unconscious desires expressed in his actions.

He must recognize even apparently accidental actions as true acts which express an intention, albeit unconscious, and assume this intention as his own.

Neither acting out or a passage to the act are true acts, since the subject does not assume responsibility for his desire in these actions.

Ethics of Psychoanalysis

The ethics of psychoanalysis enjoin the analyst to assume responsibility for his or her acts (i.e. interventions in the treatment).

The analyst must be guided (in these interventions) by an appropriate desire, which Lacan calls the desire of the analyst.

An intervention can only be called a true "psychoanalytic act" when it succeeds in expressing the desire of the analyst -- that is, when it helps the analysand to move towards the end of analysis.

Lacan dedicates a year of his seminar to discussing further the nature of the psychoanalytic act.[2]


A bungled action is, as has been stated, successful from the point of view of the unconscious.

Nevertheless, this success is only partial because the unconscious desire is expressed in a distorted form.

It follows that, when it is fully and consciously assumed, "suicide is the only completely successful act."[3]

The act expresses completely an intention which is both conscious and unconscious, the conscious assumption of the unconscious death drive (on the other hand, a sudden impulsive suicide attempt is not a true act, but probably a passage to the act).

The death drive is thus closely connected with the ethical domain in Lacan's thought.


It is not self-evident what constitutes an 'event' (or an 'act').

Examples of what Zižek calls 'acts' vary widely in scope and impact.

At the lowest level of agape there is a kind of Pollyanna-ish 'saying "Yes!" to life in its mysterious synchronic multitude' (Fragile Absolute, 103; also Fright, 172; cf. Ticklish Subject, 150).

Some characters in works of literature or film b- perform an 'act' when they sacrifice what they hold dearest, committing what Zižek calls 'a strike against the self'.

An example is Kevin Spacey's shooting of his own wife and daughter, who are being held hostage by rival gangsters, in The Usual Suspects.[4]

Others literary characters, like Antigone and Sygne,[5], act in such a way are substitutes for the enigmatic objet petit a

Because desire comes to us from the Other, it is a mistake to think of it as subversive; on the contrary, it is banal in the extreme.


In The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology, this negative subject-concept is brought to bear on the issue of the "ethical act" - a political act transgressing the rules of the established social order.


  1. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book XI. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 1964. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1977. p.50
  2. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre XV. L'acte psychanalytique, 1967-68. Unpublished.
  3. Lacan, Jacques. Télévision, Paris: Seuil, 1973. Television: A Challenge to the Psychoanalytic Establishment, ed. Joan Copjec, trans. Denis Hollier, Rosalind Krauss and Annette Michelson, New York: Norton, 1990]. p.66-7
  4. (Fragile Absolute, 149-50)
  5. (Enjoy!, 70ff)
Kid A In Alphabet Land

Act · Blot · Commodity-fetish · Death Drive · Ego-ideal · Father · Gaze · Hysteric · Imaginary · Jouissance · Kapital · Letter · Mirror Stage · Name · Other · Phallus · Qua · Real · Super Signifier · Thing · Unheimlich · Voice · Woman · Xenophobe · Yew · Z-man


Further information about The Act can be found in the following reference(s):

Repetition first appears in a form that is not clear, that is not self-evident, like a reproduction, or a making present, in act. That is why I have placed The Act with a large question-mark at the bottom of the blackboard so as to indicate that, as long as we speak of the relations of repetition with the real, this act will remain on our horizon.


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