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Real, Imaginary, and Symbolic Father

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As [[Freud ]] had already emphasized, the rather complicated [[paternal function ]] is not assumed only by the [[real ]] [[father]], the progenitor, and the [[mother]]'s partner. In his [[seminar ]] on <i>[[Object ]] Relations</i> (1956-57), [[Lacan ]] proposed, based on his rereading of Freud's [[case ]] of "Little [[Hans]]," a [[distinction ]] between the actual father and the function of the father in its real, [[symbolic]], and [[imaginary ]] instances. In the [[reality ]] of the [[child]]'s [[life]], these instances are incarnated by a variety of actual agents.</p><p>From the [[Lacanian ]] perspective, the [[instance ]] of the <i>real father</i> (a term that Lacan sometimes uses in the [[sense ]] of the "father in reality") is not only embodied by the [[biological ]] father or even the man who lives with the mother, that is, by a "Dad" with his own [[history]], qualities, shortcomings, and [[psychic ]] [[structure]]. The real father—insofar as "he" desires the mother and is the object of her desire—is also, and even primarily, embodied by anything that carries out the child's symbolic [[castration]], that is, both the [[renunciation ]] and the realization of the child's incestuous [[desire]]. Moreover, because he finds [[jouissance ]] in a [[woman]], this father does not seek an incestuous jouissance in the child. Still more broadly conceived, the real father is any [[being ]] that, either in reality or by means of its reality, leads the child to give up being the mother's [[phallus]], on the one hand, and leads the mother to give up trying to make the child into her phallus, on the [[other]]. This symbolic castration determines the way in which the boy and the [[girl ]] will assume their [[masculinity ]] and [[femininity]]. Insofar as fathers in reality are always somehow [[lacking ]] as an embodiment of [[the symbolic ]] father and cannot measure up to [[the imaginary ]] father, to which they are inevitably compared, the real father also partially represents for the child the [[category ]] of the [[impossible ]] ([[Figure ]] 1).</p><p>It should be noted that Lacan sometimes uses the term <i>real father</i> in a completely different way (in the sense of the "real of the father") to designate that which is impossible for us to say concerning the father. This is the unthinkable father, the [[primal ]] father that Freud was unable to bring to light except in the [[myth ]] that he developed in <i>[[Totem ]] and [[Taboo]]</i>.</p>
<p>The imaginary father is the product of the child's [[imagination ]] and finds support in the various [[cultural ]] representations of the father as terribly tyrannical or immensely [[good]], execrable or adorable, terrifying or fascinating. Inevitably, the child makes the actual father wear the masks and disguises of one or the other of these imaginary fathers. Even though the imaginary father can in some ways be a source of [[suffering]], usually [[neurotic ]] or masochistic, he is not entirely without beneficial effects, because he gives weight to the symbolic father and thus protects the father against the ravaging effects of the all-powerful [[archaic mother]].</p><p>The <i>symbolic father</i> includes the two [[others]]. This more general instance of the father, also called the [[Name]]-of-the-Father, protects the child against [[psychosis]]. He imposes castration through the [[intervention ]] of the real father (embodied in the actual father), [[frustration ]] through the intervention of the symbolic mother, and [[privation ]] through the mediation of the imaginary father. This all-encompassing instance of the father installs a definitive gap between the child and the mother, just as it institutes a distinction between the [[sexes ]] and the generations.</p><p>The <i>symbolic mother</i>, as embodied by any [[particular ]] mother, participates by her [[speech ]] and [[acts ]] (her absences, for example) in making [[present ]] the [[Law of the father]].</p>
==See Also==
# [[Lacan, Jacques]]. (1956-1957). Le Séminaire-Livre IV, La Relation d'[[Objet]]. [[Paris]]: Seuil, 1994.# ——. (1959). Á la mémoire d'Ernest [[Jones]]: Sur sa théorie du symbolisme. In hisÉcrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966.
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