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In psychoanalysis and philosophy, the Real is that which is the authentic, unchangeable truth. It may be considered a primordial, external dimension of experience, referred to as the infinite, absolute or noumenal, as opposed to a reality contingent on sense perception and the material order. The Real is often associated with psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, so it is considered irreducible to symbolic order of lived experience, though it may be gestured to in certain cases, such as the experience of the sublime.
For Jacques Lacan, the order of the real is not only opposed to the imaginary but is also located beyond the symbolic. Unlike the symbolic, which is constituted in terms of oppositions such as "presence" and "absence", there is no absence in the real. The symbolic opposition between "presence" and "absence" implies the possibility that something may be missing from the symbolic, the real is "always in its place: it carries it glued to its heel, ignorant of what might exile it from there." If the symbolic is a set of differentiated signifiers, the real is in itself undifferentiated: "it is without fissure." The symbolic introduces "a cut in the real," in the process of signification: "it is the world of words that creates the world of things." Thus the real emerges as that which is outside language: "it is that which resists symbolization absolutely." The real is impossible because it is impossible to imagine, impossible to integrate into the symbolic order. This character of impossibility and resistance to symbolization lends the real its traumatic quality.
The primordial Real in which a (pre-Oedipal) human subject is born is differentiated from the real which a subject integrated into the symbolic order experiences. In the former, the real is the continuous, "whole" reality without categories and the differential function of language. Following the mirror stage, however, and the eventual entrance of the imaginary and the symbolic (the split of the subject between the conscious imaginary and the unconscious symbolic), the real may only be experienced as traumatic gaps in the symbolic order. An example of this are traumatic events such as natural disasters, which effectively break down the signification of everyday life and cause a rupture of something alien and unrecognizable, without the usual grammar of the symbolic that conditions how to make meaning of something and how to proceed.
One of the main methods of psychoanalysis is to drain the traumatic experiences of the real into the symbolic through free association. The analyst searches the analysand's discourse for sounds, words, or images of fixation and through dialectization attempt to bring these fixations to the regular metonymic flow of the (unconscious) symbolic order, thereby integrating the subject further into their fantasy, usually referred to as "traversing the fantasy."
Contemporary Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek has expanded on Lacan's theories and described (at least) three modalities of the Real:
Žižek finds that the third form of the Real, i.e. the "real Real," becomes perceptible in the film The Full Monty , in the fact of disrobing the unemployed protagonists completely. Through the extra gesture of "voluntary" degradation, something else, of the order of the sublime, becomes visible.
Žižek also used the film The Sound of Music as an example of the "real Real," where the "invaded" Austrians are depicted more like provincial fascists (blond, boorish, historic dresses), while the Nazis are managers, bureaucrats, etc., "like cosmopolitan decadent corrupted Jews." He posits that the movie has a hidden pro-fascist message that is not directly seen but embedded in the texture.
Glyn Daly (2004)provides further examples of Žižek's three modalities through pop culture:
The real Real is the hard limit that functions as the horrifying Thing (the Alien, Medusa's head, maelstrom and so on) - a shattering force of negation. The symbolic Real refers to the anonymous symbols and codes (scientific formulae, digitalisation, empty signifiers…) that function in an indifferent manner as the abstract "texture" onto which, or out of which, reality is constituted. In The Matrix , for example, the symbolic Real is given expression at the point where Neo perceives "reality" in terms of the abstract streams of digital output. In the contemporary world, Zizek argues that it is capital itself that provides this essential backdrop to our reality and as such represents the symbolic Real of our age (Zizek, 1999: 222; 276). With the ''imaginary real'' we have precisely the (unsustainable) dimension of fantasmatic excess-negation that is explored in Flatliners . This is why cyberspace is such an ambiguous imaginary realm.
"Reality, says Rudolf Christoph Eucken, is an independent spiritual world, unconditioned by the apparent world of sense. To know it and to live in it is man's true destiny. His point of contact with it is personality: the inward fount of his being: his heart, not his head. Man is real, and in the deepest sense alive, in virtue of this free personal life-principle within him; but he is bound and blinded by the ties set up between his surface-intelligence and the sense-world. The struggle for reality must be a struggle on man's part to transcend the sense-world, escape its bondage. He must renounce it, and be 're-born' to a higher level of consciousness; shifting his centre of interest from the natural to the spiritual plane. According to the thoroughness with which he does this, will be the amount of real life he enjoys. The initial break with the 'world,' the refusal to spend one's life communing with one's own cinematograph picture, is essential if the freedom of the infinite is to be attained. We are amphibious creatures: our life moves upon two levels at once—the natural and the spiritual. The key to the puzzle of man lies in the fact that he is "the meeting point of various stages of Reality." All his difficulties and triumphs are grounded in this. The whole question for him is, which world shall be central for him—the Real, vital, all-embracing life we call spirit, or the lower life of sense? Shall 'Existence,' the superficial obvious thing, or 'Substance,' the underlying verity, be his home? Shall he remain the slave of the senses with their habits and customs, or rise to a plane of consciousness, of heroic endeavour, in which—participating in the life of spirit—he knows reality because he is real?"
"There are," says Plotinus, "different roads by which this end [apprehension of the Infinite] may be reached. The love of beauty, which exalts the poet; that devotion to the One and that ascent of science which makes the ambition of the philosopher; and that love and those prayers by which some devout and ardent soul tends in its moral purity towards perfection. These are the great highways conducting to that height above the actual and the particular, where we stand in the immediate presence of the Infinite, who shines out as from the deeps of the soul."
Édouard Récéjac states:
"If the mind penetrates deeply into the facts of aesthetics, it will find more and more, that these facts are based upon an ideal identity between the mind itself and things. At a certain point the harmony becomes so complete, and the finality so close that it gives us actual emotion. The Beautiful then becomes the sublime; brief apparition, by which the soul is caught up into the true mystic state, and touches the Absolute, the Real. It is scarcely possible to persist in this Esthetic perception without feeling lifted up by it above things and above ourselves, in an ontological vision which closely resembles the Absolute of the Mystics."
Jacques Marie Émile Lacan was a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who has been called "the most controversial psycho-analyst since Freud". Giving yearly seminars in Paris from 1953 to 1981, Lacan’s work has marked the French and international intellectual landscape, having made a significant impact on continental philosophy and cultural theory in areas such as post-structuralism, critical theory, feminist theory and film theory as well as on psychoanalysis itself.
Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher, a researcher at the Department of Philosophy of the University of Ljubljana Faculty of Arts and international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities of the University of London. He is a self-described "radical leftist" and a "communist in a qualified sense". He is also Global Eminent Scholar at Kyung Hee University in Seoul and Global Distinguished Professor of German at New York University. He works in subjects including continental philosophy, psychoanalysis, political theory, cultural studies, art criticism, film criticism, Marxism, Hegelianism and theology.
The mirror stage is a concept in the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan. The mirror stage is based on the belief that infants recognize themselves in a mirror (literal) or other symbolic contraption which induces apperception from the age of about six months.
In French, jouissance means enjoyment, in terms both of rights and property, and of sexual orgasm. The latter has a meaning partially lacking in the English word "enjoyment".
The imaginary is the set of values, institutions, laws, and symbols through which people imagine their social whole. It is common to the members of a particular social group and the corresponding society. The concept of the imaginary has attracted attention in anthropology, sociology, philosophy, and media studies.
In the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan, objet petit a stands for the unattainable object of desire. It is sometimes called the object cause of desire. Lacan always insisted that the term should remain untranslated, "thus acquiring the status of an algebraic sign" (Écrits).
The Imaginary is one of three terms in the psychoanalytic perspective of Jacques Lacan, along with the Symbolic and the Real. Each of the three terms emerged gradually over time, undergoing an evolution in Lacan's own development of thought. "Of these three terms, the 'imaginary' was the first to appear, well before the Rome Report of 1953…[when the] notion of the 'symbolic' came to the forefront." Indeed, looking back at his intellectual development from the vantage point of the 1970s, Lacan epitomised it as follows:
"I began with the Imaginary, I then had to chew on the story of the Symbolic ... and I finished by putting out for you this famous Real."
The Symbolic is a part of the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan, part of his attempt "to distinguish between those elementary registers whose grounding I later put forward in these terms: the symbolic, the imaginary, and the real—a distinction never previously made in psychoanalysis."
The graph of desire is a conceptual tool from the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan.
Four discourses is a concept developed by French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. He argued that there were four fundamental types of discourse. He defined four discourses, which he called Master, University, Hysteric and Analyst, and suggested that these relate dynamically to one another.
The term "sinthome" was introduced by Jacques Lacan in his seminar Le sinthome (1975–76). According to Lacan, sinthome is the Latin way of spelling the Greek origin of the French word symptôme, meaning symptom. The seminar is a continuing elaboration of his topology, extending the previous seminar's focus (RSI) on the Borromean Knot and an exploration of the writings of James Joyce. Lacan redefines the psychoanalytic symptom in terms of his topology of the subject.
The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis is the 1978 English-language translation of a seminar held by Jacques Lacan. The original was published in Paris by Le Seuil in 1973. The Seminar was held at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris between January and June 1964 and is the eleventh in the series of The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. The text was published by Jacques-Alain Miller.
"The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious, or Reason Since Freud" is an essay by the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, originally delivered as a talk on May 9, 1957 and later published in Lacan's 1966 book Écrits.
The Fright of Real Tears: Krzysztof Kieślowski Between Theory and Post-Theory is a 2001 book by the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek which uses free associative film interpretation to tangentially examine the films of Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski while avoiding the debate between cognitive film theory and psychoanalytic film theory. It was published by the British Film Institute in 2001.
A limit-experience is a type of action or experience which approaches the edge of living in terms of its intensity and its seeming impossibility. This approach has led to the seeking of limit experiences as a sort of dark mysticism. A limit experience breaks the subject from itself. The idea is associated with writers Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, and Michel Foucault.
In Jacques Lacan's psychoanalytic philosophy, lack is a concept that is always related to desire. In his seminar Le transfert (1960–61) he states that lack is what causes desire to arise.
Foreclosure is the English translation of a term that the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan introduced into psychoanalysis to identify a specific psychical cause for psychosis.
The name of the father is a concept that Jacques Lacan developed from his seminar The Psychoses (1955–1956) to cover the role of the father in the Symbolic Order.
Lacanianism is the study of, and development of, the ideas and theories of the dissident French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Beginning as a commentary on the writings of Freud, Lacanianism developed into a new psychoanalytic theory of humankind, and spawned a worldwide movement of its own.
Duane Rousselle is a Lacanian psychoanalyst and professor of sociology. His work makes interventions into several academic fields including Social Movement Studies, Lacanian Psychoanalysis, Cultural Sociology, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Anarchist Studies, and Aesthetics. His work attempts to introduce an alternative to scholarly discourses that aim to produce consistent and coherent bodies of knowledge. It also offers a counterpoint to what Jacques Lacan has called "capitalist discourse."