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The notion of action-presentation (or action-representation) is based on two Freudian models: on the one hand, the idea that representation derives from the failure of hallucinatory wish-fulfillment, developed in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), and on the other, the model that establishes the unconscious "thing-presentation" as a mental "representative" of the instinct, elaborated in "Repression" (1915d) and "The Unconscious" (1915e). Such a grouping of concepts aims to bring out the dynamic functions of fantasies within the general realm of a theory of representation (Perron-Borelli, 1997).

Action-presentations, which are ubiquitous in dreams because of the hallucinatory process induced by the inhibition of motor discharges, are at the core of fantasmatic organization. Indeed, fantasies cannot be reduced to object-presentations: They originate in a dynamic organization that from the outset brings together intrapsychic processes and, at their most basic level, an action-presentation and an object-presentation.

The action-presentation occupies a central position in the "fundamental structure of fantasy," the product of a later and more complex elaboration, that makes possible the representation of all forms of the subject's desire toward the object. This involves a representational structure, made up of three parts (subject-action-object) and based on an elaboration of the primal scene, which allows all its variants to be represented. This structure thus takes on the role of a system of transformations capable of representing the plurality and mobility of desires and the identifications (bisexual) that characterize the oedipal organization.

Within the dynamics of this fundamental structure, the action-presentation is the pivot point around which the displacement of objects, as well as the inversion of subject and object positions linked to the related dynamics of drives and identifications (inversion of active/passive or sadistic-masochistic movements, among others), can be effected.

The role played by action-presentations in fantasies sheds light on the dynamic links between fantasies and effective actions (Perron-Borelli 1997; Perron & Perron-Borelli 1987). This allows for a clearer understanding of behaviors enacted during treatment (Freudian agieren, or acting out), compulsive behaviors, phobias of impulsive acts, and the like. Such an approach emphasizes the importance of fantasy elaboration inasmuch as it prepares and makes possible fulfillments (satisfactions) through action.

This concept of action-presentations, closely linked to the dynamics of fantasy, can be compared to the idea of "unconscious action-presentation" used by Daniel Widlöcher in Métapsychologie du sens (Metapsychology of meaning; 1986). However, this author adopted a very different theoretical framework. Far from seeing the action-representation as being articulated with an underlying drive, he seemed to attempt to erase the very notion of the drive. According to him, the unconscious is made up of a sort of "memory of actions" that can only be grasped through the analytic listening process.

The conceptions of Roy Schafer and Heinz Kohut are even further from the fundamental bases of Freudian metapsychology. In A New Language for Psychoanalysis (1976), under the label "action language," Schafer essentially reduced mental processes as a whole to mental "activities" of representation and speech that are connotable by action verbs. For its part, Kohut's idea of "action-thought," put forward in The Analysis of the Self (1971), is the expression of a concrete, creative thought in which action and thought are conflated.

Roger Perron

See also: Act/action; Acting out/acting in; Action-thought (H. Kohut); Fantasy; Thing-presentation; Wish, hallucinatory satisfaction of a.


Freud, Sigmund. (1900a). The interpretation of dreams. art I. SE, 4: 1-338; The interpretation of dreams. Part II. SE, 5: 339-625.

. (1915d). Repression. SE, 14: 141-158.

. (1915e). The unconscious. SE, 14: 159-204.

Kohut, Heinz. (1971). The analysis of the self. New York: International Universities Press.

Perron, Roger, and Perron-Borelli, Michelle. (1987). Fantasme et action. Revue française de psychanalyse, 51 (2), 539-637.

Perron-Borelli, Michèle. (1997). Dynamique du fantasme. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Schafer, Roy. (1976). A new language for psychoanalysis. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Widlöcher, Daniel. (1986). Métapsychologie du sens. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.