Absence

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Absence The symbolic order is characterized by the fundamental binary opposition between absence and presence.[1] In the symbolic order “nothing exists except upon an assumed foundation of absence.”[2] This is a basic difference between the symbolic and the real; 'There is no absence in the real. There is only absence if you suggest that there may be a presence there where there isn't one.”[3] (see Privation). As Roman Jakobson showed with his analysis of phonemes, all linguistic phenomena may be entirely characterized in terms of the presence or absence of certain 'distinctive features'. Lacan sees the game of fort-da, which Freud describes in ‘’Beyond the Pleasure Principle’’,[4] as a primitive phonemic opposition representing the child's entry into the symbolic order. The two sounds made by the child, O/A, are “a pair of sounds modulated on presence and absence,”[5] and these sounds are related “to the presence and absence of persons and things.”[6] Lacan notes that the word is 'a presence made of absence' (E, 65) because (i) the symbol is used in the absence of the thing and (ii) signifiers only exist insofar as they are opposed to other signifiers. Because of the mutual implication of absence and presence in the symbolic order, absence can be said to have an equally positive existence in the symbolic as presence. This is what allows Lacan to say that 'the nothing' (‘’le rien’’) is in itself an object (a partial object).[7] It is around the presence and absence of the phallus that sexual difference is symbolically apprehended by the child.


References

  1. (S4, 67-8)
  2. (Ec, 392)
  3. (S2, 313)
  4. (Freud, 1920g)
  5. (E, 65)
  6. (E, 109, n. 46)
  7. (S4, 184-5)