From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Psychoanalysis
Jump to: navigation, search

Castration, symbolic:  For Lacan the child's submission to the prohibition of incest is linked to his or her entrance into the structure of language. The human being's capacity to symbolize is dependent on his or her acceptance of a loss, the loss of an imaginary complementarity with the mother. This loss consists in giving up one's privileged position as the mother's phallus in order to situate oneself in the social world as someone who "has the phallus" or "does not have it."

Desire is the margin that separates the speaking subject from a primordial object that is lost and cannot be refound because it remains beyond the reach of words. Such an object constitutes the cause of desire and is the bearer of the subject's unconscious fantasies. Lacan also defines desire as what remains unfulfilled in the subject after his need, channeled through his demand, has been addressed

Ego: In Lacanian theory the ego originates in the mirror stage (see Imaginary, below, and Preface). It is not the agent of the reality principle but the seat of the subject's narcissistic investment. Lacan characterizes the ego as a shield whose function is to fend off the disruptions of the subject's unconscious desire and to search in the other's gaze for confirmation of its existence.

Imaginary:  The Imaginary is the realm of subjective experience per se, the world as it appears to the subject. Lacan explains the genesis of the imaginary in the mirror stage, the archaic experience in which the child encounters his or her reflection in the gaze of the (m)Other. From that moment on, both the child's perception of the world and his fantasies will be informed by the experience of such a gaze.

Lack ( manque à être) refers to the loss entailed by symbolic castration. For Freud, the resolution of the Oedipus complex is dependent on the boy's fear of castration and the girl's penis envy, whereas for Lacan, both sexes must undergo the same painful but necessary process that symbolic castration entails.

Name of the Father ( le nom du père) can be heard as both the no/ non of the father and his name/ nom. This pun contains the two dimensions of what Lacan understands by symbolic castration: the negative side that enforces the prohibition of incest (no, says the father, you may not be your mother's phallus, the exclusive object of her desire) and the positive side, the child's inscription in the generational order (as the son or daughter of a father and a mother), which locates the child in the social world, the realm of language. (See also Paternal Metaphor.)

Other: The Other (also called the Symbolic) refers to what is beyond the "real" or "imaginary" significant others; that is, what is exterior and anterior to the subject but determines it nevertheless. It is the locus of psychoanalysis. The subject's unconscious "speaks" a language that has its roots in the Other.

Paternal Metaphor: The paternal metaphor not only refers to the double meaning of the non/nom du père but also points toward language per se as a metaphor for what has been irreversibly lost when the child becomes a speaking subject. In speaking, the subject does not know that he or she is symbolizing, through language, the object of his or her primordial yearning. The paternal metaphor is a symbolic operation that cuts the imaginary bond between mother and child and grants the boy or the girl the ability to symbolize this loss through words. Therefore, the fear of losing the penis or the frustration at not having it is grounded not in our "anatomical destiny" but in the dynamics at work within the intersubjective realm in which mother, father, and child are inscribed.

Phallus:  The organizing principle of the dynamic of the subject's desire. It is the signifier par excellence in relation to which the subject will assume his or her sexual identity. If, in the individual's fantasy world, the phallus acts as an imaginary object that the subject will first want to incarnate and then move on to have (or to seek in a romantic partner), within the symbolic order -- that is, in the unconscious realm -- the phallus operates as the signifier of a loss, the symbol of the lack of complementarity between the sexes. Lacan makes a clear distinction between the penis and the phallus.

Real: The real is reality in its unmediated form. It is what disrupts the subject's received notions about himself and the world around him. Thus it characteristically appears to the subject as a shattering enigma, because in order to make sense of it he or she will have to symbolize it, that is, to find signifiers that can ensure its control.

Signifier: An element of discourse, operative at the conscious and unconscious levels, which represents and determines the subject. The signifier does not designate a fixed referent (a signified) but always refers to other signifiers. That is to say, the relation between a (signified) concept and its acoustic image (signifier) does not result from a particular affinity between a word and its referent but is determined by the other signs that compose a given language. In that sense, the arbitrary relation between signifier and signified shows that language is an entity with its own laws and regulations that operate independently of the realm of existence that it appears to represent. For Lacan, the bar or dividing line between the signifier and the signified (S/s) expresses the problematic relation between what is said consciously and what is barred from conscious discourse.

Subject: The subject is the human being as constituted by the knotting of what Lacan calls the Real, the Imaginary, and the Symbolic. This triad breaks down the classical dichotomies between nature and culture, individual and society, and inner and outer reality. The Real, the Imaginary, and the Symbolic together weave the subject's reality at all times. These categories are always intertwined and are never processed by the subject in their pure or isolated form. Only a psychotic outbreak can undo the knotting of the triad. More specifically, the subject in Lacanian theory refers to the subject of the individual's unconscious desire

Symbolic: The symbolic order is the order of language and culture, the synchronic structure in which the child is unknowingly inscribed. It is a

constraining structure imposed on the child through the Law of the Name of the Father. The repression that this law entails causes the formation of the unconscious. This concept of the symbolic was first proposed by the structural anthropologist Lévi-Strauss, who demonstrated how the permutations at work in the elementary structures of kinship not only establish the prohibition of incest as the law that transforms nature into culture, but also reveal that language and culture are both shaped by a symbolic system operating on an unconscious level.