Theory and authority

November 7, 1997

FROM what I read Jacques Lacan was very probably a complex and in many ways not a very nice man. However, those of a psychoanalytic orientation could take the ferocity of the attacks on Lacan's theoretical work as indicative of psychological defences needing analysis, the most recent example being Raymond Tallis's review of Elizabeth Roudinesco's biography of Lacan (THES, October 31).

This is especially so when, under the banner of science, the reviewer uses ad hominem argument, based on material from a biography, to discredit the theory and not just the author of the theory.

Professor Tallis's use of the term "theorrhoea" and contention that "in the absence of any logical basis or empirical evidence, the authority of the thought has derived from the authority of the man", are revealing. This suggests a strong repugnance for theory, a prejudiced foreclosing of the evaluation of a theory, and most tellingly fails to credibly explain the source of Lacan's undoubted authority.

It strikes me that Lacan's theory derives its standing not from the man, but from its ability to throw light, in general, on the complexities of human thought, emotion and relationships, and in particular to analyse such things as, how psychoanalysts, amongst others, come to have authority, and use or misuse it, or how reviewers can come to the task of reviewing a book, and use ormisuse it.

W. J. Roper Lecturer in psychology University of Central England

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