NLS Minute 10


- 10 -

Discreet forms of passage to the act

Luc Vander Vennet



The study of the 'passage to the act' [passage à l’acte] took an important place in the teaching of Lacan from the beginning. At the time he wrote his doctoral thesis, psychiatrists were involved in a discussion about the question of ‘responsibility’, for example in cases of unmotivated murders.The study of these unmotivated acts were at the heart of his thesis on the case of Aimée, as was the unmotivated murders by the Papin sisters. In his article on psychosis in the Ecrits Lacan mentions that it was this study that brought him to psychoanalysis. What is at stake in the passage to the act is indeed the question of jouissance and its regulation and this is indeed what psychoanalysis is about. So, as Zenoni(1) says, the strangeness or the ‘unmotivated’ character of the passage to the act is not a kind of anomaly, something exterior to humanity, but on the contrary something that reveals the fundamental elements that constitutes the human being itself.

As the paradigm of jouissance changes, the point of view about passage to the act changes too. From a breaking through the mirror, to a wild form of castration, separation or extraction. So this phenomenon takes on different forms from all kinds of suicide, to all kinds of self- mutilation or of striking the kakon in the Other.

The introduction of the term ‘ordinary psychosis’ permits us to read a range of ‘discreet’ forms of passage to the act that are not so explicit but are much more ‘ordinary’ so that we need to ‘read’ them. The nature and frequency of the passage to the act can be an index of this structure.

“I feel like having fallen out of the scene to be”. The way this subject introduced himself at the beginning of the cure reminded me of the pair of concepts Lacan uses to explain the phenomenon of the passage to the act in his seminar on anxiety. He speaks there about the scene and the world. He studies once again the mirror phase, but now he no longer points at the image but at the border of the mirror that marks the limit of the illusionary world of knowledge which he calls the scene. He distinguishes this scene from the world of the real. He then describes the two fundamental characteristics of the passage to the act. First as a falling out of the scene to join the world, a passage from the scene to the world. And secondly, this passage to the real has to be considered as an absolute identification with the object to which the subject reduces himself. This is the key that permits to read several forms of passage to the act: the defenestration as a falling through the frame of the window, the suicide as leaving the scene of life, the fugue as a wandering around in the world as a vagabond.

This passage to the real is the common point between the passage to the act and the clinic of psychosis that takes discreet forms in the ordinary psychoses. The fine examination of their frequency and nature can permit us to read and distinguish them.

“I feel like having fallen out of the scene to be. Although my friends are still friendly with me and keep inviting me, its feels as if I’m absent when I’m present, as a kind of fundamental exclusion”, is a discrete form of this passage from the scene to the world. Especially when we discover its repetitive character and the number of scenes to be that he has set up throughout his life, falling out of them every time again.

We read these forms today in all kinds of discreet forms of disappearing, of isolation or not participating. What is more ordinary today than an interruption of work or study for a trip around the world? The repetition of this interruptions and their abruptness can reveal something different. Even as the different changes of work, of interests, of activities. That are, at the same time, the most ordinary phenomena in our modern world.

Or, what about the girl that asks my advice about how to deal with her parents? They have a conflict and each time she tries to discuss about it she’s thrown out once again. “What is it that I’m doing wrong? Should I speak to them in another way?” This apparently questioning of her subjective implication will reveal a series of passages to the act. Where a symbolic separation is impossible a separation in the real is realized by an endlessly making herself throw out of the family scene.

To conclude: all these kinds of discreet forms of passage to the act may serve as discreet signs of ordinary psychosis. Although this seems to me not to be the most important point. In all these cases the very moment they appear, the way a subject tries to remediate them, the very specific kind of object they ‘real-a-lize’ are very singular. Instead of being discreet signs of psychosis, they will reveal themselves in the cure as the sign of their psychosis. That’s what psychoanalysis is really about.


1.     A. Zenoni, L’Autre pratique Clinique, érès, 2009

2.     J. Lacan, Séminaire X, L’Angoisse, Seuil, 2004, p 137