Summary: Regardless of the type of theory or knowledge praxis one engages in, the question of the relation between theory and practice or theory and reality arises as a problematic one. To address this issue, this article explores the limits of the nominalist argument that views concepts as post res labels attached to concrete objects. Among other things, the reality to which the number zero (as a concept) corresponds constitutes a major difficulty for nominalism. Based on this difficulty, the article elaborates another epistemological view, a specific kind of rationalism or dialectical materialism that can be found in the work of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. This dialectical materialism emphasizes the specific ability of concepts to mark and realize negative features in reality, making it possible to effect changes in it. In this sense, both the question of the relation of theory to reality and that of change in psychoanalytic practice can be viewed from a different angle than that of a simple one-to-one correspondence. To put this view to the test, the article explores the extent to which it can get a grip on some of the slippery fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis, such as the unconscious and sexuality.
With reference to Mannoni (1979), it is argued that the clinical practitioner must, based on his own experience, continuously “retranslate” his theoretical language into his mother tongue. As an example, this paper focusses on how the author retranslates the Freudian notion of the death drive and Lacan’s category of the real, based on his educational and therapeutic work with children with behavior disorder. It is argued that these theoretical conceptions cover something that is not there but that nevertheless is operative. What is one to do when confronted with something that is not there but nevertheless is operative? The answer proposed is that one has to inscribe the subject in the sexual relation through the act of writing. This directive is illustrated via clinical work with children suffering from a psychically “silent” mother and is argued through a revisiting of the work of Fernando Pessoa.