Symbolic Mourning and Real Mourning, Paranoia and Cynicism — Işık Barış Fidaner

Let’s distinguish “symbolic mourning” in the Griggian-Žižekian sense of memorialization-symbolization of the lost object from “real mourning” in the sense of the Žižekian authentic fidelity to the void (object-loss), or (in my definition) the drive to mourn by working through the metonymy of desire [1]. Symbolic mourning is masculine because it leads to a “memorial” which is a Master-Signifier in the precise sense of being a signifier without its signified. Real mourning is feminine because the subject works through the metonymy of her desire to become “free and uninhibited again” (Freud).

Since the difference between “symbolic mourning” and “real mourning” goes to the heart of the symbolic order, we must re-examine Lacan’s axiom “There is no big Other”. Does it simply point to its inexistence? For Žižek, “inexistence” is not strong enough, and the strongest meaning of this axiom points to the Other’s inconsistency, lack, flaw, antagonism:

“there is no big Other,” and we should take this statement in its strongest sense, as opposed to a mere “doesn’t exist”: “le grand Autre n’existe pas” would still imply that there is a big Other as a virtual order, a symbolic fiction which structures our activity although it exists only in its effects, as a normative reference of our symbolic acts, while “il n’y a pas de grand Autre” has a much stronger meaning, it implies that the big Other cannot even persist as a coherent symbolic fiction since it is thwarted by immanent antagonisms and inconsistencies. (Sex and the Failed Absolute)

This interpretation of the axiom explains Žižek’s negative attitude towards God and Nature [2] where his last words on these fictions point out their deep flaws: Žižek complains that God is “stupid, indifferent, and maybe outright evil” and that Nature is “a crazy bitch”. I think this negative transference to God (Other of the Other) and Nature (big Other) is an acting out that preserves a certain melancholic attachment to these fictions. What must be done instead is to relativize God-Nature and mourn them by recognizing the inexistence of both [3] which leads to the notions of barred subject and barred Other (“will” and “system” in my terminology). We can complain about the flaws of God and Nature only until we recognize the inexistence of both. Repeated complaints stick to the melancholy of the lost objects (and preserve their memorials by “symbolic mourning”) whereas the recognition of the objects’ inexistence achieves “real mourning” and sublation. In this precise sense, inexistence is stronger than inconsistency. One can reveal the inexistences of God and Nature only by linking the axiom “There is no big Other” (no Nature) to the other axiom “There is no Other of the Other” (no God).

Let us now distinguish God and Nature by examining what happens if they are believed to exist. According to Žižek, paranoia is the belief in the Other of the Other (which I call God):

paranoia is at its most elementary belief in an ‘Other of the Other’, another Other who, hidden behind the Other of the explicit social texture, determines (what appears to us as) the unforeseen effects of social life and thus guarantees its consistency. (Interrogating the Real)

The evidence for the existence of the “Other of the Other” is the abuse of power attributed to him. The paranoid subject reifies a single User (controlling figure of power) and complains about his/her abuses. So when Žižek complains that God is “stupid, indifferent, and maybe outright evil”, he is expressing a certain amount of paranoia. This attitude is also a refusal to accept God’s inexistence, eventhough Žižek believes that he is “destroying the very fiction of god from within” by complaining about his abuse of power.

What about the belief in the big Other? Following Žižek, I think the ultimate believer in the big Other is the cynic; of course, the cynic’s belief is indirect and it functions through fetishes. Žižek defines cynicism as follows:

The fundamental gesture of cynicism is to denounce ‘genuine authority’ as a pose, whose sole effective content is raw coercion or submission for the sake of some material gain. (Interrogating the Real)

The cynic also complains like the paranoid, but his/her complaint shifts from “abuse” to “selfishness”. Since the paranoid confronts a User (a controlling agent like God) his/her complaint is mainly about “abuse”. The cynic, on the other hand, confronts a Player that plays the social game of exploitation “for the sake of some material gain”, so the complaint is mainly about the Player’s selfishness (his/her selfish Nature) [4]. So when Žižek complains that Mother Nature is “a crazy bitch”, he is expressing a certain amount of cynicism. This attitude is also a refusal to accept Nature’s inexistence, eventhough Žižek might believe that he is thus undermining the fiction of nature from within.


Işık Barış Fidaner is a computer scientist with a PhD from Boğaziçi University, İstanbul. Admin of Yersiz Şeyler, Editor of Žižekian Analysis, Curator of Görce Writings. Twitter: @BarisFidaner


[1] See “Authentic Fidelity is the Drive to Mourn”

[2] See “Žižek’s Attitude towards God and Nature”

[3] See “Two inexistences and a separation: God-Nature to will-system”

[4] About User, Player, abuse and selfishness, see “Postmodern Alienation Model”


  1. Is God a fetish only when we claim God as Other with controlling power, like Santa Claus – what about G_D as mystery, the unnamable and unknowable – and not an entity? A way of interacting with the Real that otherwise we would not be able to ask questions of – because otherwise, if no G_D, wouldn’t we stop at the limit?


    • Zizek tells that Lacan prefers to say “God is unconscious” rather than “God does not exist”. He says that whenever someone speaks, God is present as the addressee of whatever is said. This is close to the analyst’s position as a subject supposed to know.

      I perceive God as a question of will. If a person recognizes one’s own will, the reference to God will be redundant. There will still remain a mystery of desire beyond one’s will.


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