Clips on Symbolic/Imaginary/Real

Jacques Lacan: Critical Evaluations in Cultural Theory; edited by Slavoj Zizek (introduction)

2: “the elementary matrix of human experience: ‘Imaginary‘ is the deceptive universe of fascinating images and the subject’s identifications with them; ‘Symbolic‘ is the differential structure which organizes our experience of meaning; ‘Real‘ is the point of resistance, the traumatic ‘indivisible remainder’ that resists symbolization.”

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Tarrying With the Negative, by Slavoj Zizek

178: “The triad ImaginaryRealSymbolic renders the fundamental coordinates of the Lacanian theoretical space; but these three dimensions can never be conceived simultaneously, in pure synchronicity, i.e., one is always forced to choose one pair at a time (as with Kierkegaard’s triad of the aesthetical-ethical-religious): the Symbolic versus the Imaginary, the Real versus the Symbolic. The hitherto predominating interpretations of Lacan tended to accent either the axis ImaginarySymbolic (symbolization, symbolic realization, against imaginary self-deception in the Lacan of the fifties) or the axis SymbolicReal (the traumatic encounter of the Real as the point at which symbolization fails in the late Lacan). What Boothby offers as a key to the entire Lacanian theoretical edifice is simply the third, not yet exploited axis: the Imaginary versus the Real. That is to say /…/ the theory of the mirror-stage /…/ designates also the original fact which defines the status of man: the alienation in the mirror image, due to man’s premature birth and his/her helplessness in the first years of life /…/ it introduces an irreducible béance, gap, separating forever the imaginary ego – the wholesome yet immobile mirror image, a kind of halted cinematic picture – from the polymorphous, chaotic sprout of bodily drives – the real Id. From this perspective, the Symbolic is of a strictly secondary nature with regard to the original tension between the Imaginary and the Real: its place is the void opened up by the exklusion of the polymorphous wealth of bodily drives. /…/ it is therefore a kind of compromise formation by way of which the subject integrates fragments of the ostracized Real.”

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The Other Side of Desire: Lacan’s Theory of the Registers; by Tamise Van Pelt

49: “the methodological danger in register theory is that it tempts the critic to define the imaginary and the symbolic ‘relationally in terms of [each] other’ as opposed functions. /…/ Instead, critics ‘ought to be able to distinguish Imaginary from Symbolic at the moment of emergence of each'”

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History of Structuralism: 1967-Present; by Francois Dosse

119-120: “Lacan called this his theriac, the name of the best-known medication in antiquity, which long sustained the hope of finding a panacea. This was also his ternary, and later, simply RSI, or his heresy with respect to Freud. /…/
Linguistic binarism became a triadic order, consonant with the structure of Hegelian dialectics and with the Freudian topic separating the id, the ego, and the superego /…/ Lacan reversed Freud; the symbolic governed the structure whereas the id, which Lacan assigned to the Real, was at the core of the drives for Freud. This was the major shift, both in language and in structure; the unconscious was no longer assigned to a sort of interred Hell from which it had to be driven out, but could be grasped at the surface of words and in slips of the tongue.”

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The End of Dissatisfaction: Jacques Lacan and the Emerging Society of Enjoyment; by Todd McGowan

19: “The status of enjoyment, in fact, provides an easy way of grasping Lacan’s symbolicimaginaryReal triad: in the Real, we can enjoy; in the imaginary, we imagine that we enjoy; and in the symbolic, the symbolic enjoys in our stead. Even though it only provides an imagined enjoyment, the imaginary nontheless seems to provide enjoyment as such, while the symbolic order only offers desire. This is why one cannot think the society of prohibition without the imaginary housing the image of the denied enjoyment. /…/
The imaginary, however, does not exist outside of or prior to the symbolic. It is the Real that marks the limit point – the failure – of the symbolic order, not the imaginary. The imaginary is simply a perspective within the symbolic, a way of seeing that fails to grasp its own symbolic determination. /…/
Lacan minimizes the distinction between imaginary and symbolic /…/ imaginary experience never actually breaks from the structure of the symbolic order.”

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For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor; by Slavoj Zizek

xii: “There are three modalities of the Real: the ‘real Real‘ (the horrifying Thing, the primordial object, from Irma’s throat to the Alien); the ‘symbolic Real‘ (the real as consistency, the signifier reduced to a senseless formula, like quantum physics formulas which can no longer be translated back into – or related to – the everyday experience of our life-world); and the ‘imaginary Real‘ (the mysterious je ne sais quoi, the unfathomable ‘something’ on account of which is the sublime dimension shines through an ordinary object). The Real is thus, in effect, all three dimensions at the same time /…/
And, in a strictly homologous way, there are three modalities of the Symbolic (the real – the signifier reduced to a senseless formula; the imaginary – the Jungian ‘symbols’; and the symbolic – speech, meaningful language); and three modalities of the Imaginary (the real – fantasy, which is precisely an imaginary scenario occupying the place of the Real; the imaginary – image as such in its fundamental function as decoy; and the symbolic – again, the Jungian ‘symbols’ or New Age archetypes).”

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Symbolic Exchange and Death; by Jean Baudrillard

31: “From now on political economy is the real for us, which is to say precisely that it is the sign’s referential, the horizon of a defunct order whose simulation preserves it in a ‘dialectical’ equilibrium. It is the real, and therefore the imaginary, since here again the two formerly distinct categories have fused and drifted together. /…/

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Re-Inventing the Symptom: Essays on the Final Lacan; edited by Luke Thurston

2: “Lacan’s work is often divided into three periods: the Imaginary (1936-1952), the Symbolic (1953-1962), and the Real (1963-1981).”

4: “It is only through the identification with an external point that the illusion of unity is installed and can be maintained. It is as if unity can only be realized in a unity that is not one but in fact two. For this reason, the Imaginary relation is called a dual relation.”

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The Fugitive’s Properties: Law and the Poetics of Possession; by Stephen Michael Best

59: “The novelty of piano secondi reproduced ‘without understanding a single Rudiment or Written Music,’ is, in fact, the novelty of the mechanical reproduction of sound before its technical achievement – an imagining, in short, of acoustic property (of the acoustic as alienable and commodity) in advance of the phonograph and the application of the law of intellectual property to sound.”

60: “By the formal associations of the law, by its apparent logic, writing stands as the necessary analogue to all forms of intellectual and awsthetic property. Writing provides the cornerstone to the social contruction of authorship and the cultural legitimation of literary proprty. /…/
The metaphoric abstraction of the ‘book’ into the author’s ‘grounds’ joins literary property and real estate in an imaginary complex, a counterfactual synthesis of the immaterial and the material /…/
Acoustic phenomena resist such synthesis yet come nearer than any other class of phenomena (nearer, even, than literary property) to what may be called the ‘metaphysics’ of intellectual property; for, intangible and evanescent, sounds typify a whole class of disembodied and immaterial items that, seemingly incapable of clear demarcation, often require the translation of property claims into secondary symbolic systems.”

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Catherine Liu, in: The Cambridge Companion to Lacan; edited by Jean-Michel Rabaté

264: “Kittler /…/ underlines what Zizek, Krauss, and Cultural and Visual Studies miss when they intellectualize mass media and popular culture by making it the bone of academic contention:

‘Technical media have neither to do with intellectuals nor withg mass culture. They are strategies of the Real.'”

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Larson Powell, in: Sound Matters: Essays on the Acoustics of German Culture; edited by Nora M. Alter, Lutz Koepnick

236: “Cage – pace his apologists – could not reduce art to nothing more than a direct transcription of the real, which would be a contradictio in adjecto

238: “From the real of radio noise, the piece has arrived finally at the real of the composer’s body /…/ The periodicity of breathing is an exact answer to commercial music’s tautological reinforcement of pulse-beats, the diciplinary rituals of aggressive imaginary periodicity. Stockhausen can only return to this real of breathing /…/ Almost all the rhythms in Western music are those of the human body – when we march or run or walk or move slowly – the rhythms of our limbs and their subdivisions and multiplications. A work like Hymnen incorporates rhythms and durations that are no longer bound to the body. ‘Western music’ (in Stockhausen’s view) has been tied to the imaginary, ego-bound, conscious body. Rather than simply overwhelming the listener with the noise of the insane real (as Kittler would have it, which is an impossibility), Stockhausen’s piece has, as Christian Metz wrote of film, inscribed a new area of the real into the symbolic, thereby changing the latter itself. /…/
Stockhausen risked the va banque gambit of turning to the electronic instruments that the mass public still associates only with pop – even though the latter most often did little more than borrow Stockhausen’s technocal inventions and incorporate them as decorative, illustrative sound effects over a restoration of tonal harmony at its most symmetrical and repetitive. Nothing could be further from the mark than Kittler’s claim that pop and rock are a direct irruption of madness and the real. In fact, in most pop, electronics function as a conventional version of the sublime /…/ Nor can Kittler’s notion that media are opposed to the subjectivity of high art hold up (an idea depending, in fact, on the systematic exclusion of musical modernity from Kittler’s historiography).”

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Symbolic Logic Game of Logic; by Lewis Carroll

2: “As this Process is entirely Mental, we can perform it whether there is, or is not, an existing Thing which possesses that Adjunct. If there is the Class is said to be ‘Real‘; if not it is said to be ‘Unreal‘, or ‘Imaginary.”

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