“Working through” would seem to be the crux of psychoanalysis. It is the collective name for the processes by which, despite itself, resistance gives way. Cumulatively, moments of unknotted resistance account for larger psychic change where it has been stalled —for, by definition, where one needs to work through, an obstacle to change has already arisen. Clinical analysts call psychic change “action”—“action” is what one has to show for one's therapy. Freud's theory of working through thus promises to shed light on the question that U.S. literary critics and social theorists have been accustomed to think about using the concept of “agency.” Theory now has moved slightly beyond this concept; yet a penumbra of anxiety about agency colors the reception of contemporary theory. A more direct questioning, not of the state of theories of agency exactly, but of the role of their ghosts in current theoretical discourse, may therefore be helpful. I reflect on these diagonally, while suggesting their difference from the theory of action implied by working through.

The logic of working through melts into the theory of reality as such. Registrations of pieces of reality, so the logic goes, depend on a relaxation of resistance, which may be the result of working through: the loosening of resistance enables a new perspective, the recognition of new objects. On the other hand, such registrations may enable resistance to loosen—registering any piece of reality can change the dynamic of resistances across the psychic system and have effects outside the immediate occasion. Working through resistance merges on both ends with the ongoing registration of perceptions in the lifelong project of trying to perceive reality together with other people. Departing somewhat from Freud's use of the term registration, I use it to emphasize the place where working through meets the ordinary registration of perceptions in the construction of reality. The absence of a boundary between the theory of working through and the theory of reality holds a possibility: that by reflecting on the banal registration of perceptions we can better understand action in several senses of the word.

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