Acting Out

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acting out 'Acting out' is the term which is used in the Standard Edition to translate the German term Agieren used by Freud. Lacan, following a tradition in psychoanalytic writing, uses this term in English. One of the most important themes running throughout Freud's work is the opposition between repeating and remembering. These are, so to speak, 'contrasting ways of bringing the past into the present' (Laplanche and Pontalis, 1967: 4). If past events are repressed from memory, they return by expressing themselves in actions; when the subject does not remember the past, therefore, he is condemned to repeat it by acting it out. Conversely, psychoanalytic treatment aims to break the cycle of repetition by helping the patient to remember. Although an element of repetition can be found in almost every human action, the term 'acting out' is usually reserved for those actions which display 'an impulsive aspect relatively out of harmony with the subject's usual motivational patterns' and which are therefore 'fairly easy to isolate from the overall trends of his activity' (Laplanche and Pontalis, 1967: 4). The subject himself fails to understand his motives for the action. From a Lacanian perspective, this basic definition of acting out is true but incomplete; it ignores the dimension of the Other. Thus while Lacan maintains that acting out results from a failure to recollect the past, he emphasizes the