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Symbolic

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symbolic (symbolique) The term 'symbolic' appears in adjectival form
The term 'symbolic' appears in adjectival form in Lacan's earliest psychoanalytic writings (e.g. Lacan, 1936). In these earlyworks the term implies references to symbolic logic and to the equations used in mathematical physics (Ec, 79). In 1948 symptoms are said to have a 'symbolic meaning' (E, 10). By 1950, the term has acquired anthropological overtones, as when Lacan praises Marcel Mauss for having shown that 'the structures of society are symbolic' (Ec, 132).These different nuances are combined into a single category in 1953 when Lacan begins to use the term 'symbolic' as a noun. It now becomes one of the three ORDERs that remain central throughout the rest of Lacan's work. Of these three orders, the symbolic is the most crucial one for psychoanalysis; psychoanalysts are essentially 'practitioners of the symbolic function' (E, 72). In speaking of 'the symbolic function', Lacan makes it clear that his concept of the symbolic order owes much to the anthropological work of Claude LÈvi-Strauss (from whom the phrase 'symbolic function' is taken; see LÈvi-Strauss, 1949a: 203). In particular, Lacan takes from LÈvi-Strauss the idea that the social world is structured by certain laws which regulate kinship relations and the exchange of gifts (see also Mauss, 1923). The concept of the gift, and that of a circuit of exchange, are thus fundamental to Lacan's concept of the symbolic (S4, 153-4, 182).
Since the works most basic form of exchange is communication itself (the exchange of words, the gift of speech; S4, 189), and since the concepts of LAw and of STRUCTURE are unthinkable without LANGUAGE, the term implies references to symbolic logic and is essentially a linguistic dimension. Any aspect of the psychoanalytic experience which has a linguistic structure thus pertains to the equations usedsymbolic order.
However, Lacan does not simply equate the symbolic order with language.On the contrary, language involves imaginary and real dimensions in addition to its symbolic dimension. The symbolic dimension of language is that of the SIGNIFIER; a dimension in which elements have no positive existence but which are constituted purely by virtue of their mutual differences.The symbolic is also the realm of radical alterity which Lacan refers to asthe OTHER. The UNCONSClOUs is the discourse of this Other, and thus belongswholly to the symbolic order. The symbolic is the realm of the Law whichregulates desire in the Oedipus complex. It is the realm of culture as opposedto the imaginary order of nature. Whereas the imaginary is characterised bydual relations, the symbolic is characterised by triadic structures, because the intersubjective relationship is always 'mediated' by a third term, the big Other.The symbolic order is also the realm of DEATH, Of ABSENCE and of LACK. Thesymbolic is both the PLEASURE PRINCIPLE which regulates the distance from theThing, and the DEATH DRIVE which goes 'beyond the pleasure principle' bymeans of repetition (S2, 210); in mathematical physics fact, 'the death drive is only the mask of thesymbolic order' (EcS2, 79326). In 1948 symptoms are said to have a
The symbolic order is completely autonomous: it is not a superstructuredetermined by biology or genetics. It is completely contingent with respect tothe real: 'symbolic meaningThere is no biological reason, and in particular no genetic one, toaccount for exogamy. In the human order we are dealing with the completeemergence of a new function, encompassing the whole order in its entirety' (ES2, 1029). By 1950Thus while the symbolic may seem to 'spring from the real' as pre-given, this is an illusion, and 'one shouldn't think that symbols actually havecome from the term has acquired anthropologicalreal' (S2, 238).
overtonesThe totalising, all-encompassing effect of the symbolic order leads Lacan tospeak of the symbolic as when Lacan praises Marcel Mauss for having shown a universe: 'In the symbolic order the totality is calleda universe. The symbolic order from the first takes on its universal character. Itisn't constituted bit by bit. As soon as the symbol arrives, there is a universe ofsymbols' (S2, 29). There is therefore no question of a gradual continuoustransition from the imaginary to the symbolic; they are completely hetero-geneous domains. Once the symbolic order has arisen, it creates the sense that it has always been there, since 'we find it absolutely impossible to speculate onwhat preceded it other than by symbols' (S2, 5). For this reason it is strictlyspeaking impossible to conceive the origin of language, let alone what camebefore, which is why questions of development lie outside thefield of psycho-analysis.
structures of society are symbolic' (Ec, 132).  These different nuances are combined into a single category in 1953 when  Lacan begins to use the term 'symbolic' as a noun. It now becomes one of the  three ORDERs that remain central throughout the rest of Lacan's work. Of these  three orders, the symbolic is the most crucial one for psychoanalysis; psycho- analysts are essentially 'practitioners of the symbolic function' (E, 72). In speaking of 'the symbolic function', Lacan makes it clear that his concept of the symbolic order owes much to the anthropological work of Claude LÈvi- Strauss (from whom the phrase 'symbolic function' is taken; see LÈvi-Strauss,  1949a: 203). In particular, Lacan takes from LÈvi-Strauss the idea that the social world is structured by certain laws which regulate kinship relations and the exchange of gifts (see also Mauss, 1923). The concept of the gift, and that of a circuit of exchange, are thus fundamental to Lacan's concept of the symbolic (S4, 153-4, 182).  Since the most basic form of exchange is communication itself (the exchange of words, the gift of speech; S4, 189), and since the concepts of  LAw and of STRUCTURE are unthinkable without LANGUAGE, the symbolic is essentially a linguistic dimension. Any aspect of the psychoanalytic experi-  ence which has a linguistic structure thus pertains to the symbolic order.  However, Lacan does not simply equate the symbolic order with language. On the contrary, language involves imaginary and real dimensions in addition to its symbolic dimension. The symbolic dimension of language is that of the SIGNIFIER; a dimension in which elements have no positive existence but which  are constituted purely by virtue of their mutual differences.  The symbolic is also the realm of radical alterity which Lacan refers to as  the OTHER. The UNCONSClOUs is the discourse of this Other, and thus belongs  wholly to the symbolic order. The symbolic is the realm of the Law which  regulates desire in the Oedipus complex. It is the realm of culture as opposed  to the imaginary order of nature. Whereas the imaginary is characterised by  dual relations, the symbolic is characterised by triadic structures, because the  intersubjective relationship is always 'mediated' by a third term, the big Other.  The symbolic order is also the realm of DEATH, Of ABSENCE and of LACK. The  symbolic is both the PLEASURE PRINCIPLE which regulates the distance from the  Thing, and the DEATH DRIVE which goes 'beyond the pleasure principle' by  means of repetition (S2, 210); in fact, 'the death drive is only the mask of the  symbolic order' (S2, 326).  The symbolic order is completely autonomous: it is not a superstructure  determined by biology or genetics. It is completely contingent with respect to  the real: 'There is no biological reason, and in particular no genetic one, to  account for exogamy. In the human order we are dealing with the complete  emergence of a new function, encompassing the whole order in its entirety'  (S2, 29). Thus while the symbolic may seem to 'spring from the real' as pre-  given, this is an illusion, and 'one shouldn't think that symbols actually have  come from the real' (S2, 238).  The totalising, all-encompassing effect of the symbolic order leads Lacan to  speak of the symbolic as a universe: 'In the symbolic order the totality is called  a universe. The symbolic order from the first takes on its universal character. It  isn't constituted bit by bit. As soon as the symbol arrives, there is a universe of  symbols' (S2, 29). There is therefore no question of a gradual continuous  transition from the imaginary to the symbolic; they are completely hetero-  geneous domains. Once the symbolic order has arisen, it creates the sense that  it has always been there, since 'we find it absolutely impossible to speculate on  what preceded it other than by symbols' (S2, 5). For this reason it is strictly  speaking impossible to conceive the origin of language, let alone what came  before, which is why questions of development lie outside the field of psycho-  analysis.  Lacan criticises the psychoanalysis of his day for forgetting the symbolic  order and reducing everything to the imaginary. This is, for Lacan, nothing less  than a betrayal of Freud's most basic insights; 'Freud's discovery is that of the  field of the effects, in the nature of man, produced by his relation to the  symbolic order. To ignore this symbolic order is condemn the discovery to  oblivion' (E, 64).  Lacan argues that it is only by working in the symbolic order that the analyst  can produce changes in the subjective position of the analysand; these changes  will also produce imaginary effects, since the imaginary is structured by the
Lacan argues that it is only by working in the symbolic order that the analyst
can produce changes in the subjective position of the analysand; these changes
will also produce imaginary effects, since the imaginary is structured by the
SIGNIFIER; a dimension in which elements have no positive existence but which
are constituted purely by virtue of their mutual differences.
are constituted purely by virtue of their mutual differences.  The symbolic is also the realm of radical alterity which Lacan refers to as  the OTHER. The UNCONSClOUs is the discourse of this Other, and thus belongs  wholly to the symbolic order. The symbolic is the realm of the Law which  regulates desire in the Oedipus complex. It is the realm of culture as opposed  to the imaginary order of nature. Whereas the imaginary is characterised by  dual relations, the symbolic is characterised by triadic structures, because the  intersubjective relationship is always 'mediated' by a third term, the big Other.  The symbolic order is also the realm of DEATH, Of ABSENCE and of LACK. The  symbolic is both the PLEASURE PRINCIPLE which regulates the distance from the  Thing, and the DEATH DRIVE which goes 'beyond the pleasure principle' by  means of repetition (S2, 210); in fact, 'the death drive is only the mask of the  symbolic order' (S2, 326).  The symbolic order is completely autonomous: it is not a superstructure  determined by biology or genetics. It is completely contingent with respect to  the real: 'There is no biological reason, and in particular no genetic one, to  account for exogamy. In the human order we are dealing with the complete  emergence of a new function, encompassing the whole order in its entirety'  (S2, 29). Thus while the symbolic may seem to 'spring from the real' as pre-  given, this is an illusion, and 'one shouldn't think that symbols actually have
The symbolic order is completely autonomous: it is not a superstructure determined by biology or genetics. It is completely contingent with respect to the real: 'There is no biological reason, and in particular no genetic one, to account for exogamy. In the human order we are dealing with the complete emergence of a new function, encompassing the whole order in its entirety' (S2, 29). Thus while the symbolic may seem to 'spring from the real' as pre-given, this is an illusion, and 'one shouldn't think that symbols actually have come from the real' (S2, 238).
The totalising, all-encompassing effect of the symbolic order leads Lacan to
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