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The Clinical LacanReview - The Clinical Lacan
by Joël Dor
Other Press, 1999
Review by Talia Welsh
Dec 6th 2000 (Volume 4, Issue 49)

The introduction to Joël Dor's The Clinical Lacan promises that this book (as part of the book series The Lacanian Clinical Field) helps to prove that Lacan's work is relevant to the actual clinical practice. Lacan is often accused as being "..too far removed from clinical reality" (pg. xi). Thus, practicing psychoanalysts and psychotherapists often refuse to take him seriously. The incorporation of Lacanian theory into highly theoretical academic fields such as philosophy only further seems to underline the irrelevance of his theory to therapeutic clinical practice. Books that adequately bring Lacanian theory to praxis are in great demand, especially in the English speaking world. Dor makes heavy use of Lacanian parlance, but the book is approachable with only a cursory understanding of Lacan (a knowledge of Freudian theory is a requirement).

Unfortunately, the book fails to live up to this promise. It is a mediocre secondary source on perversion, hysteria, and obsessional neurosis. Dor does not use clinical examples, he does not discuss the clinical session, he does not even explain why he thinks that perversion, hysteria and obsessional neurosis are the three possible subjective positions from the standpoint of psychoanalytic symptomatology. He does not even make any reference to Lacan's own references to the clinical session.

The most valuable part of the book is Dor's defense of the existence of both male and female hysteria. His explanation of common female and male hysterical articulations could be useful when diagnosing a analysand. He also avoids the common criticism that the entire notion of hysteria is a result of antiquated and chauvinist Victorian sentiments. The sections on perversion and obsessional neurosis are less helpful.

The notion of the phallus is especially important according to Dor. Through analyzing the reactions to the phallus (it represents the object of desire of the mother, and the lack within the subject), one can diagnosis the pervert, the hysteric and the obsessional neurotic. Dor's contribution to psychoanalytic theory is his emphasis on the importance of the difference between being the phallus and having the phallus. A pervert is occupied with being or not being the phallus, while the hysteric and the neurotic are occupied with having or not having the phallus. The phallus is what the mother desires and thus is the key to her lack. However, since being the phallus implies that the mother has a lack (something horrible for the subject to come to terms with), the pervert fantasizes a mother without a lack: a phallic mother. The hysteric, on the other hand, believes the loved object has the phallus, and tries to be the ultimate object of desire in order to get it. The obsessional neurotic is even more problematic to understand. Dor writes that, "..the defiance [of the obsessional neurotic] concerning the possession of the phallic object involves the alternatives of having or not having it" (pg. 51). But, we also note that "..the obsessional is said to be nostalgic for the state of being the phallus" (pg. 110). It appears that being the phallus is a developmental state which all subjects desire to return to. In some manner, the pervert more or less achieves this, but the hysteric and the obsessional neurotic admit (and thus recognize the mother as lacking) that the phallus is something one has (because of sexual difference). The hysteric and the neurotic have a notion that the phallus can be exchanged, whereas the pervert cannot admit this. Yet, the move toward understanding the phallus as something to be possessed is not a resolution, for the hysteric and the neurotic are as caught up in their pathological economies as the pervert. All three are caught up in irresolvable circles around the phallus.

One wonders at precisely this point, "Just what is the purpose of the analyst? What is the clinical practice supposed to achieve?" It seems that the hysteric, neurotic and pervert map out the entire constellation of relationships to the phallus. When one stage (being/not-being the phallus) is resolved, it would appear that one is forced into the other (having/not-having the phallus) which is in principle no healthier than the original. Since, the entire notion of the phallus operates in Dor's text like Lacan's objet petit a (an object which is in principle unobtainable, but which nonetheless is constantly desired), there can be no happy resolution.

Thus, one ends the book wondering if the point of clinical Lacanian practice is to admit the impossibility of analysis as therapy. There is little indication exactly what one is supposed to be achieving as a therapist. Is the point to explain to the subject that he/she can never be satisfied? Is it merely to provide the subject increased self-understanding? If so, how does one lead the hysteric, the neurotic or the pervert to such a conclusion? I find that Dor fails to answer any of these questions. Thus, this book is not useful to the therapist interesting in incorporating Lacanian therapy into practice. I also find that his vague use of the notion of phallus (is it objet petit a?), which is the key to the entire theory in The Clinical Lacan, makes the work an uninspired secondary source in Lacanian theory.

Talia Welsh is a Ph.D. student in Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She is writing a dissertation on Merleau Ponty's psychology.


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