Symbolic knowledge refers to both the knowledge of the subject's relation to the symbolic order, and also to that relation itself. It is the articulation of signifiers in the subject's symbolic universe, the signifying chain ( ).
Psychoanalytic treatment involves a way to access symbolic knowledge, via a particular form of speech called free association. The aim of psychoanalytic treatment is the progressive reveletion of symbolic knowledge to the subject, rather than "absolute knowledge," because the unconscious is irreducible; there is an inescapable division between the subject and knowledge.
Jouissance' of the Other
Subject Supposed to Know
Symbolic knowledge does not reside in any particular subject, but is intersubjective. However, this does not prevent one supposing that somewhere there is a subject who possesses this symbolic knowledge (the subject supposed to know). The knowledge is attributed to the analyst by the analysand in psychoanalytic treatment. The analysand attributes knowledge to the analyst in psychoanalytic treatment.
Imaginary knowledge refers to the self-knowledge of the subject in the imaginary order. This illusory kind of knowledge, based on misunderstanding, misrecognition (méconnaissance), and a fantasy of self-mastery and unity, is constitutive of the ego.
Imaginary knowledge is called "paranoiac knowledge" because it has the same structure as paranoia (both involve the delusion of absolute knowledge and mastery), and because one of the preconditions of all human knowledge is the "paranoiac alienation of the ego."
Imaginary knowledge is an obstacle which hinders the subject's access to symbolic knowledge. Psychoanalytic treatment must therefore continually subvert the subject's imaginary self-knowledge in order to reveal the symbolic self-knowledge which it blocks.
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 281
- Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre XVII. L'envers de la psychanalyse, 19669-70. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 13
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 306
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 2