Difference between revisions of "Symbolic"

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In [[Lacan]]ian [[psychoanalysis]], the "[[symbolic]]" is one of three [[order]]s that [[structure]] [[human]] [[existence]], the others being the [[imaginary]] and the [[real]].
The term "[[symbolic]]" appears in adjectival form in Lacan's earliest psychoanalytic writings.
The adjectival "[[symbolic]]" is often used by [[Lacan]] in a fairly conventional sense, but in the 1950s he begins to use the word as a substantive, and it rapidly becomes the cornerstone of his theory: the [[subject]]'s relationship with the [[symbolic]] is the heart of [[psychoanalysis]].
It now becomes one of the three [[orders]] that remain central throughout the rest of Lacan's work. Of these three orders, the symbolic is the most crucial one for psychoanalysis; psychoanalysts are essentially 'practitioners of the symbolic function'.<ref>{{E}} p. 72</ref>
[[Lacan]]'s concept of the [[symbolic|symbolic order]] owes much to the anthropological work of [[Claude Lévi-Strauss]].<ref>[[Claude Lévi-Strauss|Lévi-Strauss, Claude]]. 1949a: 203</ref>
In particular, [[Lacan]] takes from [[Claude Lévi-Strauss|Lévi-Strauss]] the idea that the social world is structured by certain [[law]]s which regulate kinship relations and the exchange of gifts.
The concept of the gift, and that of a circuit of exchange, are thus fundamental to Lacan's concept of the [[symbolic]]. <ref>{{S4}} pp. 153-4, 182</ref>
The change in usage reflects his incorporation into [[psychoanalysis]] of the [[linguistics]] of [[Saussure]] and the [[anthropology]] of [[Mauss]] and [[Lévi-Strauss]].
The term has acquired anthropological overtones, as when Lacan praises Marcel Mauss for having shown that "the structures of society are symbolic".<ref>{{Ec}} p. 132</ref>
In his work on kinship [[Lévi-Strauss]] argues that any culture can be seen as a set of [[symbolic]] [[structure]]s such as the rules governing kinship and alliance, [[language]] and [[art]].
He also demonstrates that in primitive societies the ritual exchange of gifts has an important role in the creation and perpetuation of social stability.
The application of [[Saussure]]'s theory of the [[sign]] allows these structures and exchanges to be analyzed as exchanges of [[signifier]]s.
The emergence of [[symbolic]] [[structure]]s is an essential feature of the human transition from [[nature]] to [[culture]].
Adapting [[Lévi-Strauss]]'s study of how kinship rules and exogamy govern exchanges between human groups to the field of [[psychoanalysis]], [[Lacan]] now describes the [[Oedipus complex]] as a process which imposes [[symbolic]] [[structure]]s on [[sexuality]] and allows the [[subject]] to emerge.
[[Pre-oedipal|Pre-oedipal sexuality]] is likened to a state of [[nature]] and unbridled sexuality; the role of the [[Name-of-the-Father]] is to disrupt the [[dual relation]]ship in which the [[child]] tries to fuse with the [[mother]] in an incestuous union, and to establish a legitimate line  of descent ("son of...", "daughter of...").
[[Culture]] and the [[symbolic]] are thuse imposed upon [[nature]].
The [[subject]] gains access to the [[symbolic]], to a name and a lineage, but does so at the cost of a [[symbolic|symbolic castration]].
Although the exchange of [[signifier]]s in [[speech]] is an obvious example of [[symbolic|symbolic exchange]], [[Lacan]]'s [[symbolic]] is not simply synonymous with [[language]], and should be understood as comprising the entire domain of [[culture]].
Since the most basic form of exchange is [[communication]] itself (the exchange of words, the gift of [[speech]]);<ref>{{S4}} p. 189</ref> and since the concepts of [[law]] and of [[structure]] are unthinkable without [[language]], the [[symbolic]] is essentially a [[linguistic]] dimension.
Any aspect of the psychoanalytic experience which has a [[linguistic]] [[structure]] thus pertains to the [[symbolic order]].
However, [[Lacan]] does not simply equate the [[symbolic order]] with [[language]].
On the contrary, [[language]] involves [[imaginary]] and [[real]] dimensions in addition to its [[symbolic]] dimension.
The [[symbolic]] dimension of [[language]] is that of the [[signifier]]; a dimension in which elements have no positive [[existence]] but which are constituted purely by virtue of their mutual differences.
The [[symbolic]] is also the realm of radical alterity which [[Lacan]] refers to as the [[Other]].
The [[unconscious]] is the [[discourse]] of this [[Other]], and thus belongs wholly to the [[symbolic order]].
The [[symbolic]] is the realm of the [[Law]] which regulates [[desire]] in the [[Oedipus complex]].
It is the realm of [[culture]] as opposed to the [[imaginary]] [[order]] of [[nature]].
Whereas the [[imaginary]] is characterised by [[dual relation]]s, the [[symbolic]] is characterised by [[triad]]ic [[structures]], because the [[intersubjective]] relationship is always "mediated" by a third term, the [[big Other]].
The [[symbolic order]] is also the realm of [[death]], of [[absence]] and of [[lack]]. 
The [[symbolic]] is both the [[pleasure principle]] which regulates the distance from the
[[Thing]], and the [[death drive]] which goes "[[pleasure principle|beyond the pleasure principle]]" by means of [[repetition]];<ref>{{S2}} p. 210</ref> in fact, "the [[death drive]] is only the mask of the [[symbolic order]]."<ref>{{S2}} p. 326</ref>
The [[symbolic order]] is completely [[autonomous]]: it is not a superstructure determined by [[biology]] or [[biology|genetics]].
It is completely contingent with respect to the [[real]]:
<blockquote>"There is no biological reason, and in particular no genetic one, to account for exogamy. In the human order we are dealing with the complete emergence of a new function, encompassing the whole order in its entirety."<ref>{{S2}} p. 29</ref></blockquote>
Thus while the [[symbolic]] may seem to "spring from the real" as pre-given, this is an illusion, and "one shouldn't think that symbols actually have come from the real."<ref>{{S2}} p. 238</ref>
The totalising, all-encompassing effect of the [[symbolic order]] leads [[Lacan]] to speak of the [[symbolic]] as a universe:
<blockquote>"In the symbolic order the totality is called a universe. The symbolic order from the first takes on its universal character. It isn't constituted bit by bit. As soon as the symbol arrives, there is a universe of symbols."<ref>{{S2}} p. 29</ref></blockquote>
There is therefore no question of a gradual continuous transition from the [[imaginary ]]to the [[symbolic]]; they are completely heterogeneous domains.
Once the [[symbolic order]] has arisen, it creates the sense that it has always been there, since "we find it absolutely impossible to speculate on what preceded it other than by symbols."<ref>{{S2}} p. 5</ref>
For this reason it is strictly speaking impossible to conceive the origin of [[language]], let alone what came before, which is why questions of [[development]] lie outside the field of [[psychoanalysis]].
[[Lacan]] criticises the [[psychoanalysis]] of his day for forgetting the [[symbolic order]] and reducing everything to the [[imaginary]].
This is, for [[Lacan]], nothing less than a betrayal of [[Freud]]'s most basic insights;
<blockquote>"Freud's discovery is that of the field of the effects, in the nature of man, produced by his relation to the symbolic order. To ignore this symbolic order is condemn the discovery to oblivion."<ref>{{E}} p. 64</ref></blockquote>
[[Lacan]] argues that it is only by working in the [[symbolic order]] that the [[analyst]] can produce changes in the subjective position of the [[analysand]]; these changes will also produce [[imaginary]] effects, since the [[imaginary]] is [[structure]]d by the [[symbolic]].
=====See Also=====
* [[Communication]]
* [[Death drive]]
* [[Imaginary]]
* [[Language]]
* [[Law]]
* [[Linguistics]]
* [[Name-of-the-Father]]
* [[Oedipus complex]]
* [[Other]]
* [[Order]]
* [[Real]]
* [[Signifier]]
* [[Structure]]
* [[Unconscious]]

Revision as of 13:43, 19 October 2006