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Jacques Lacan and the Freudian Practice of PsychoanalysisReview - Jacques Lacan and the Freudian Practice of Psychoanalysis
by Dany Nobus
Brunner/Mazel, 2000
Review by Adrian Johnston, Ph.D.
Mar 18th 2001 (Volume 5, Issue 12)

In Jacques Lacan and the Freudian Practice of Psychoanalysis, author Dany Nobus seeks to accomplish three related aims: one, to make Lacan (who is most frequently described by commentators as "notoriously difficult") clear and comprehensible for non-specialists; two, to demonstrate Lacan's profound fidelity to both the letter and the spirit of Freud's work; and, three, to introduce Lacan to non-Lacanian analysts/therapists by illustrating the principles and justifications behind Lacan's approach to the psychoanalytic clinic. In Nobus' opinion, the English-language reception of Lacan has thus far failed to fully appreciate the absolute centrality of issues concerning clinical practice in the Lacanian oeuvre. Nobus claims that, despite the abstract theoretical nature of Lacan's teachings as well as his penchant for exploring a wide range of intellectual disciplines (philosophy, linguistics, mathematics, anthropology, and so on), addressing psychoanalysis qua therapy is the omnipresent, ultimate preoccupation at the heart of all of Lacan's diverse theorizing activities. Evaluating the merits of Jacques Lacan and the Freudian Practice of Psychoanalysis requires first assessing how successful Nobus is in accomplishing his three aims mentioned above.

As regards making Lacan clear and comprehensible to non-specialists, Nobus undoubtedly achieves this end. His writing style is lucid and readable. He avoids getting bogged down in overly technical jargon (this is always a risk in commentaries on Lacan), and, when he does employ Lacanian terms and concepts, he provides explanations of their meaning and relevance. When Nobus quotes Lacan, he always does a nice job of exegetically unpacking what are often the less-than-transparent "oracular pronunciations" so frequently found in Lacan's texts. Hence, with the appearance of more and more studies like this volume, detractors of Lacanian theory have increasingly little justification for denouncing Lacan's work as incomprehensible, obscurantist French nonsense.

From the very beginning of the book, Nobus puts his cards on the table and insists that one of the guiding threads of his interpretation is the conviction that Lacan himself is completely loyal to Freud. Nobus says that he is willing to sacrifice the appearance of Lacan's theoretical originality in order to stress his allegiance to the essential core of Freudian thought. He does indeed accomplish this task. However, is this really so urgent and necessary? Numerous studies have already thoroughly explored the complex, multi-layered relationship between Freud and Lacan; Lacan's "return to Freud" has been the focus of countless books and articles. Furthermore, one of Nobus' motivations for emphasizing Lacan's fidelity to Freud is his implicit assumption that this is the best way of legitimating/vindicating Lacan in the eyes of a wider public (mainly, in the eyes of the larger, non-Lacanian therapeutic world). Not only is this to risk indulging in a mere appeal to Freud's authority, but this is an appeal to an authority which is itself under ever increasing fire today (it's hardly as if the current clinical community, which Nobus hopes to convert to Lacanianism, unanimously accepts Freud's ideas). Nonetheless, Nobus allows readers to better appreciate the depth of Freud's influence on Lacan, that is, the extent to which Lacan's seemingly idiosyncratic concepts are, in actuality, extensions and modifications of Freudian notions.

What about Nobus' third aim, namely, to demonstrate to non-Lacanian analysts/therapists the clinical utility of Lacanian ideas? The five chapters of the book are organized around topics relevant to clinical practice: the diagnostic tools of analysis, the status and desires of analysts themselves, the handling of the transference, methods of analytic interpretation, and the institutionalization of psychoanalysis. Nobus explains how, in each of these areas, Lacan provides innovative and useful ways for re-conceptualizing analytic praxis. However, out of a desire to remain as faithful as possible to Lacan's own principles, Nobus declines to offer extensive empirical evidence in the form of, for instance, case studies demonstrating the efficacy of Lacan's concepts. Basing himself on Lacan's wish to avoid reifying analysis by placing the always-particular practice of therapy too firmly under the heading of a fixed, general theoretical framework, Nobus refuses to go into specific details concerning how a Lacanian analysis is conducted; he fears that too much detail will transform his book into a simple instrument for the mindless application of rigid, inflexible therapeutic guidelines.

Perhaps these fears are justified, and perhaps Nobus is indeed being genuinely faithful to Lacan's intentions about the dissemination of his work. And yet, there is little hope that any clinician outside of Lacanian circles who is somewhat skeptical about Lacan will start taking his psychoanalytic theory seriously without evidence of its concrete applicability and relevance. Additionally, it simply isn't true that presenting case studies undermines the fluidity and/or nuances of the Lacanian clinic (one shouldn't forget that Lacan himself, throughout the twenty-seven years of his seminar, regularly presented diagnoses of patients before an audience of analysts as "case presentations"). Apart from the plethora of French publications offering empirical illustrations of Lacanian treatment, several books discussing actual cases of analysands within a Lacanian context have already appeared in English (most notably, Stuart Schneiderman's anthology Returning to Freud, Serge Leclaire's Psychoanalyzing and A Child is Being Killed, and Bruce Fink's A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis).

In limiting himself to general remarks about basic clinical principles combined with references to Freud's case studies, Nobus unfortunately repeats a mistake that has contributed to the present disrepute of psychoanalysis: critics of analysis, with some justification, point to the scant amount of published "data" supporting many of the broad theoretical claims made in the names of Freud and Lacan. The fact that commentators generally restrict themselves to the evidence stemming from Freud's five case studies (Dora, the Rat Man, the Wolf Man, Schreber, and Little Hans) is symptomatic, if nothing else, of a complete lack of both imagination and a spirit of rigorous research. Worse still, this failure to correlate metapsychological theory with a wider pool of patients from the historical present (instead of five analysands from the early years of the twentieth century) guarantees that psychoanalysis will continue to be condemned by all but its most zealous converts. Nobus tries to extract the "American Lacan" from his almost exclusive confinement to university humanities departments and to insert him into the clinical, therapeutic community; but, he simultaneously insists on refraining from dirtying his hands too much in the messy details of empirical applications. This awkward balancing act ensures that, at least in America, Lacan will likely remain primarily in the university for a few more years to come.

Does Jacques Lacan and the Freudian Practice of Psychoanalysis offer anything for the Lacanian specialist? Much of the material in this book will be quite familiar to those already acquainted with Lacan. However, Nobus' scholarship is superb, and his book represents a heartening recent trend in English-language Lacanian publications (up until a few years ago, the majority of the secondary literature in English narrowly focused on the few extant translations available in published form, thus misleadingly presenting the 1950s structuralist phase of Lacan's thought as if it was the definitive Lacan). He utilizes the full range of both the published and unpublished texts of Lacan. The footnotes provide those doing research on Lacan with plenty of great leads on where to look for material concerning various topics (the fact that the majority of Lacan's seminars remain unpublished, and that the unpublished typescripts lack indices, makes navigating his vast corpus difficult). Furthermore, Nobus has compiled a thorough bibliography of Lacan's works in both English and French. His text is an excellent research resource for Lacan scholars. Despite some of its flaws, Jacques Lacan and the Freudian Practice of Psychoanalysis is well worth reading for anyone interested in gaining a further appreciation for the Freudian foundations of the Lacanian theoretical edifice.

Adrian Johnston recently completed a Ph.D. in Philosophy at SUNY Stony Brook. His dissertation was Time Driven: Metapsychology and the Splitting of the Drive.


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