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Act And Behaviour: Pavlovian Fallacies

The Letter, Issue 18, Spring 2000, Pages 35 - 46


Patricia Stewart

There are two possible emphases in the title of this congress. Firstly it provides an opportunity to examine the aspects of the psychoanalytic act which are essential to it as a specifically psychoanalytic phenomenon. Lacan's focus in this Seminar is certainly on the ways and the extent to which we may describe the practice of psychoanalysis and on its essence. The psychoanalytic act, he tells us, defines those who practise it.[1] The other possibility suggested by the title is an examination of what might be meant by act in this context. This is also Lacan's concern in the Seminar, as he seeks to delineate the operational field of the concept. What is it that Lacan establishes about an act, and how do acts relate to behaviour? It is this second concern that I have tried to open up here.

The starting point is some remarks made by Lacan in this Seminar concerning the two volume work by Roland Dalbiez, Psychoanalytical Method and the Doctrine of Freud,[2] published in France in 1936. He undertakes this critical survey in the name of science, a necessary task, he informs us, because Freud has made no clear distinction between his method and his doctrine, is incapable of presenting his thought in a convincing form, and completely lacks the philosophical mind. It is as a result of these shortcomings that psychoanalysis has fallen foul of the scientific establishment. Dalbiez looks to Pavlov to provide the vehicle for Freud's rehabilitation.

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