Separation of Authorization from Embodiment — Işık Barış Fidaner

In this text, I articulate the separation of authorization from embodiment [1] in a variety of terms. In psychoanalysis, the word “separation” commonly refers to a baby’s separation from its mother (weaning) but it also refers to one’s physical or psychical separation from a loved one that recalls (by a process of mourning) all previous separations that the subject has undergone. Separation is sometimes considered a necessary step in a subject’s development and an achievement. Lacan and Žižek give this word a different abstract sense that refers to a specific way of relief from alienation. I use this word to underline the distinctness of authorization from embodiment. Let’s begin with Klein.

For Melanie Klein, the paranoid-schizoid position refers to a splitting between the good object and the bad object, whereas the depressive position is achieved when one acknowledges that the good object and the bad object can be one and the same. Since “good” means authorized and “bad” means unauthorized, the paranoid-schizoid splitting of the authorized objects from the unauthorized objects is the condition of a perceived correlation between the authorizations and the embodiments of the world’s objects. Since the authorization of a “good object” is (perceived as being) correlated to its embodiment, “good object” is a fetish [2]. A “bad object” can also be a fetish by virtue of its inverse correlation. When one acknowledges that good and bad can be aspects of the same object, the authorizations can no longer divide and segment the embodiments of the objects, and thus the perceived correlation of authorization and embodiment is revealed to be an fetishistic illusion. One thereby achieves a sense of separation between authorization and embodiment, and the embodiment thereby becomes that of a manifesting symptom. I thereby paraphrased the Kleinian depressive position in my terms.

Now let’s turn to Žižek’s notion of separation:

Lacan defines separation as the overlapping of two lacks: when the subject encounters a lack in the Other, he responds with a prior lack, with his own lack. (Interrogating the Real)

These two overlapping lacks are the lack of the Other and the lack of the subject. Let’s call these two lacks the “symbolic lack” and the “real lack” respectively, following Lacan’s own terms:

Sexuality is established in the field of the subject by a way that is that of lack.

Two lacks overlap here. The first emerges from the central defect around which the dialectic of the advent of the subject to his own being in the relation to the Other turns – by the fact that the subject depends on the signifier and that the signifier is first of all in the field of the Other. This [symbolic] lack takes up the other lack, which is the real, earlier lack, to be situated at the advent of the living being, that is to say, at sexed reproduction. The real lack is what the living being loses, that part of himself qua living being, in reproducing himself through the way of sex. This lack is real because it relates to something real, namely, that the living being, by being subject to sex, has fallen under the blow of individual death. (Seminar XI)

Symbolic lack is the basis for the authorization of the subject by the signifier. Real lack is the basis for the embodiment of the living being. These two lacks basically correspond to the radical feminist “gender critical” distinction between gender (authorization) and sex (embodiment). Note that Lacan explicitly denies the existence of “gender identity”:

In the psyche, there is nothing by which the subject may situate himself as a male or female being. (ibid)

To have a sex is to be an embodied living being, to be tested by the fact of mortality. However, to have a gender is quite different, it is to be authorized (or unauthorized) by the signifiers that originate from the field of the Other. Thus “gender nonconformity” is another name for the separation of authorization from embodiment.

Let us now turn to Descartes. Lacan emphasizes that “I think therefore I am” involves a split and choice between thinking and being. Žižek associates this choice with sexuation:

In the span of three years, Lacan elaborated two opposed readings of the cogito. In both cases, he broke up the unity of cogito ergo sum: cogito is conceived of as the result of the forced choice between thought and being, i.e., “I am not where I think.” However, in the Seminar on the four fundamental concepts (1964-65), the choice is that of thought; the access to thought ( “I think”) is paid for by the loss of being. Whereas in the unpublished Seminar on the logic of fantasy (1966-67), the choice is that of being; the access to being ( “I am”) is paid for by the relegation of thought to the Unconscious. “I am not where I think” can thus be read in two ways: either as the Kantian “I think” qua pure form of apperception founded on the inaccessibility of the I’s being, of the “Thing which thinks,” or as the Cartesian affirmation of the subject’s being founded on the exclusion of thought. Our idea is to read these two versions of “I am not where I think” synchronously, as the duality which registers sexual difference: the “masculine” cogito results from the “subreption of the hypostasized consciousness”; it chooses being and thus relegates thought to the Unconscious (“I am, therefore it thinks”), whereas “la femme n’existe pas” involves a cogito which chooses thought and is thus reduced to the empty point of apperception prior to its “substantialization” in a res cogitans (“I think, therefore it ex-sists”). (Tarrying with the Negative)

“I think” and “I am” can be pretty straightforwardly associated with “I am authorized” and “I am embodied”, respectively. In other words, “I have a gender” and “I have a sex”. According to Žižek, the masculine subject chooses being-embodiment-sex, and his thinking-authorization-gender is thereby relegated to the Unconscious. He dons his male sex as his ego-body, and represses his gender, which grounds his authorization. He is not conscious of it, but all his acts betray his gender’s unconscious authorizing pressure. On the other hand, the feminine subject chooses thinking-authorization-gender, and her being-embodiment-sex cannot be substantialized. She is conscious of the gender roles, thinking how she is or is not authorized to do certain things, but this constant thinking alienates her from her own embodiment and sex. Her body moves away (from others as well as from itself) and the woman thereby leaves the space of coordination to the men. This is the origin of the hysteric’s difficulty and the symptom as an alien being. Psychoanalysis as an effort was founded in order to come up with a system that can ground the embodiment of such symptoms. An important step of this effort is to acknowledge and understand the separation of authorization from embodiment.


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 “The Separation of Authorization (Symbolic Suture) from Embodiment (Real Suture)”

[2] See “Authorization and Embodiment in Fetish and Symptom”


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