From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Psychoanalysis
Revision as of 23:11, 17 May 2006 by Riot Hero (talk | contribs)
Jump to: navigation, search

The term 'existence' is employed by Lacan in various ways (see éiûek, 1991: 136-7):

Existence in the symbolic

This sense of existence is to be understood in the context of Freud's discussion of the 'judgement of existence', by which the existence of an entity is affirmed prior to attributing any quality to it (see Freud, 1925h; see BEJAHUNG). Only what is integrated in the symbolic order fully 'exists' in this sense, since 'there is no such thing as a prediscursive reality' (S20, 33). It is in this sense that Lacan argues that 'woman does not exist' (Lacan, 1973a: 60); the symbolic order contains no signifier for femininity, and hence the feminine position cannot be fully symbolised. It is important to note that, in the symbolic order, 'nothing exists except on an assumed foundation of absence. Nothing exists except insofar as it does not exist' (Ec, 392). In other words, everything that exists in the symbolic order only exists by virtue of its difference to everything else. It was Saussure who first pointed this out when he argued that in language there are no positive terms, only differences (Saussure, 1916).

Existence in the real

In this sense, it is only that which is impossible to symbolise that exists: the impossible Thing at the heart of the subject. 'There is in effect something radically unassimilable to the signifier. It's quite simply the subject's singular existence' (S3, 179). This is the existence of the subject of the unconscious, S, which Lacan describes as an 'ineffable, stupid existence' (E, 194). This second sense of the term existence is exactly the opposite of existence in the first sense. Whereas existence in the first sense is synonymous with Lacan's use of the term BEING, existence in the second sense is opposed to being. Lacan coins the neologism ex-sistence to express the idea that the heart of our being (Kern unseres Wesen) is also radically Other, strange, outside (Ec, l1); the subject is decentred, his centre is outside of himself, he is ex-centric. Lacan also speaks of the 'ex-sistence (Entstellung) of desire in the dream' (E, 264), since the dream cannot represent desire except by distorting it.