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father (pËre) From very early on in his work, Lacan lays great impor-

  tance on the role of the father in psychic structure. In his 1938 article on the

family, he attributes the importance of the OEDIPUS COMPLEX to the fact that it

combines in the figure of the father two almost conflicting functions: the

protective function and the prohibitive function. He also points to the con-

temporary social decline in the paternal imago (clearly visible in the images of

absent fathers and humiliated fathers) as the cause of current psychopatho-

logical peculiarities (Lacan, 1938: 73). The father continues to be a constant

theme of Lacan's work thereafter.

     Lacan's emphasis on the importance of the father can be seen as a reaction

against the tendency of Kleinian psychoanalysis and object-relations theory to

place the mother-child relation at the heart of psychoanalytic theory. In

opposition to this tendency, Lacan continually stresses the role of the father

  as a third term who, by mediating the imaginary DUAL RELATION between the
  MOTHER and the child, saves the child from psychosis and makes possible an

entry into social existence. The father is thus more than a mere rival with

whom the subject competes for the mother's love; he is the representative of

the social order as such, and only by identifying with the father in the Oedipus

complex can the subject gain entry into this order. The absence of the father is

therefore an important factor in the aetiology of all psychopathological

      However, the father is not a simple concept but a complex one, one which

begs the question of what exactly is meant by the term 'father'. Lacan argues

that the question 'What is a fatherT forms the central theme which runs

throughout Freud's entire work (S4, 204-5). It is in order to answer this

question that, from 1953 on, Lacan stresses the importance of distinguishing

  between the symbolic father, the imaginary father, and the real father:

   e    The symbolic father        The symbolic father is not      a real being but       a

position, a function, and hence is synonymous with the term 'paternal func-

   tion'. This function is none other than that of imposing the LAW and regulating
   desire in the Oedipus complex, of intervening in the imaginary dual relation-

ship between mother and child to introduce a necessary 'symbolic distance'

   between them (S4, 161). 'The true function of the Father   . . . is fundamentally
  to unite (and not to set in opposition) a desire and the Law' (E, 321). Although
  the symbolic father is not an actual subject but a position in the symbolic

order, a subject may nevertheless come to occupy this position, by virtue of

exercising the paternal function. Nobody can ever occupy this position com-

pletely (S4, 205, 210, 219). However, the symbolic father does not usually

  intervene by virtue of someone incarnating this function, but in             a veiled

fashion, for example by being mediated by the discourse of the mother (see

  S4, 276).
      The symbolic father is the fundamental element in the structure of the

symbolic order; what distinguishes the symbolic order of culture from the

imaginary order of nature is the inscription of a line of male descendence. By

structuring descendence into a series of generations, patrilineality introduces

  an order 'whose structure is different from the natural order' (S3, 320). The

symbolic father is also the dead father, the father of the primal horde who has

   been murdered by his own sons (see Freud, 1912-13). The symbolic father is
  also referred to as the NAME-OF-THE-FATHER (Sl, 259).
      The presence of the imaginary phallus as a third term in the preoedipal

imaginary triangle indicates that the symbolic father is already functioning at

  the preoedipal stage; behind the symbolic mother, there is always the symbolic
  father. The psychotic, however, does not even get this far; indeed, it is the
  absence of the symbolic father which characterises the essence of the psychotic
  structure (see FORECLOSURE).

  e    The imaginary father       The imaginary father is an imago, the composite
  of all the imaginary constructs that the subject builds up in fantasy around the

figure of the father. This imaginary construction often bears little relationship

  to the father as he is in reality (S4, 220). The imaginary father can be construed
  as an ideal father (Sl, 156; E, 321), or the opposite, as 'the father who has
  fucked the kid up' (S7, 308). In the former guise, the imaginary father is the

prototype of God-figures in religions, an all-powerful protector. In the latter

role, the imaginary father is both the terrifying father of the primal horde who

  imposes the incest taboo on his sons (see Freud, 1912-13), and the agent of
  PRIVATION, the father whom the daughter blames for depriving her of the

symbolic phallus, or its equivalent, a child (S4, 98; see Figure 7 and S7,

307). In both guises, though, whether as the ideal father or as the cruel agent

  of privation, the imaginary father is seen as omnipotent (S4, 275-6). Psychosis
  and perversion both involve, in different ways, a reduction of the symbolic
  father to the imaginary father.

e The real father While Lacan is quite clear in defining what he means by

the imaginary father and the symbolic father, his remarks on the real father are

quite obscure (see, for example, S4, 220). Lacan's only unequivocal formula-

tion is that the real father is the agent of castration, the one who performs the

operation of symbolic castration (Sl7, 149; see Figure 7 and S7, 307). Apart

from this, Lacan gives few other clues about what he means by the phrase. In

1960, he describes the real father as the one who 'effectively occupies' the

mother, the 'Great Fucker' (S7, 307), and even goes on to say, in 1970, that the

real father is the spermatozoon, though he immediately qualifies this statement

with the remark that nobody has ever thought of himself as the son of a

spermatozoon (Sl7, 148). On the basis of these comments, it seems possible

to argue that the real father is the biological father of the subject. However,

since a degree of uncertainty always surrounds the question of who the

biological father really is ('"pater semper incertus est", while the mother is

"certissima"'; Freud, 1909c: SE IX, 239), it would be more precise to say that

the real father is the man who is said to be the subject's biological father. The

real father is thus an effect of language, and it is in this sense that the adjective

real is to be understood here: the real of language, rather than the real of

biology (Sl7, 147-8).

     The real father plays a crucial role in the Oedipus complex; it is he who

intervenes in the third 'time' of the Oedipus complex as the one who castrates

the child (see CASTRATION COMPLEx). This intervention saves the child from the

preceding anxiety; without it, the child requires a phobic object as a symbolic

substitute for the absent real father. The intervention of the real father as agent

of castration is not simply equivalent to his physical presence in the family. As

the case of Little Hans indicates (Freud, 1909b), the real father may be

physically present and yet fail to intervene as agent of castration (S4, 212,

221). Conversely, the intervention of the real father may well be felt by the

child even when the father is physically absent.

Kid A In Alphabet Land

Kida f.gif

Kid A In Alphabet Land Fumigates Another Furious Foe - The Ferocious Father!

Is That Your Penis Or Your Anus? It's Your Phallus, 'Cause You're A Phallacy, You Philanderer! You Were Always Such A Mother-Fucker, But You Know That, Don't You? Dad, You're Dead!