The Dialectic of Castration and Jouissance — Işık Barış Fidaner

We thus cannot understand human existence in terms of an exclusive reference to the order of signifiers, and even less can we do so in terms of an exclusive reference to jouissance. We live out our existence, rather, in terms of an essential tension between these two poles. Precisely for this reason, we continually attach special significance to new objects, in a perennial dream of existence complete and without lack; on the other hand, we are confronted again and again with the limitedness of these objects of desire, and with the futility of our hope to be anything other than stretched between those poles—the equiprimordial determinants of our existence. Humans are in this sense an “in-between-being” whose existence is carried on in a dialectical relation between two antithetical terms: jouissance and castration. Human being is desire. (Philippe Van Haute, Against Adaptation)

As a Žižekian theorist, I published “Postmodern Alienation Model” (PAM) [1] in the first New Media Studies Congress (2013) in Istanbul. It described the dialectic of Exigency and Enjoyment in Turkish. I properly translated PAM into English in 2018. As you can see on the diagram, PAM describes Authorization and Embodiment as two parallel processes based on Exigency and Enjoyment respectively.

Later on, when I launched the Žižekian Analysis blog and started writing there, I realized that PAM in fact described a dialectic of castration and jouissance. I was able to make this association only several years after I invented PAM. What I called Exigency corresponded to what psychoanalysis calls “castration” and what I called Enjoyment in fact referred to what psychoanalysis calls “jouissance” [2]. This automatically suggested another parallel between the couple Authority-Body and the couple S1-objet a [3]. S1 is the castrating element which authorizes and objet a is the embodiment of jouissance.

In Žižek’s theory, there’s a double suture that combines S1 and objet a. I renamed this double suture, “Symbolic Suture” and “Real Suture”, and associated these two sutures with my terms Authorization and Embodiment [4]. This let me focus on Žižek’s description about subtracting the objet a from S1:

in Master-Signifier, objet a is coalesced with the signifying function, it is the mysterious je ne sais quoi which confers on the Master-Signifier its aura, while S1 changes into S(Ⱥ) when objet a is subtracted from the signifying space, i.e., when S1 and objet a are separated — through this separation, S1 appears in all its impotence and misery, as a mere filler of the lack. (Sex and the Failed Absolute)

This focus allowed me to distinguish Fetish and Symptom based on the terms of PAM [5]: Fetish happens when Authorization is confused with Embodiment; a Fetish embodies an Authority-Body complex (“objet a is coalesced with the signifying function”). Whereas Symptom happens when Authorization is separated from Embodiment; a Symptom is an embodiment that is at a distance from authorization (“objet a is subtracted from the signifying space”). This allowed me to distinguish Symbolic Authorization which is based on Fetishes, and Real Authorization which is based on Symptoms [6]. This distinction enabled a new approach to mourning and let me distinguish Symbolic Mourning of memorializing with monuments from the Real Mourning of the loss of the loss [7].

In PAM, the grounds of Authorization and Embodiment are defined as Will and System respectively. These two elements correspond to $ and S2, which are the agents and products of the Hysteric’s discourse and the University discourse, which make up the two essential aspects of the present capitalist system [8]. On the other hand, what Lacan describes as the Capitalist Discourse turns out to look an awful lot like PAM when you just flip it vertically [9].

In brief, PAM is a conceptual invention that makes the Lacanian dialectic of castration and jouissance quite easily comprehensible in everyday words: Authority, Body, Will, System. I made a recent addition to this conceptual invention: Desire and Malfunction. Desire disrupts the Will and Malfunction disrupts the System [10]. These two new terms let us locate the aspect of Freudian Parapraxis in the seemingly accidental failures of the Wills and Systems that make up the reality of capitalism. (I call this aspect the Combinatorial opposing it to the Spatial [11].) I recently wrote an essay that applies this toolbox of signifiers to the Coronavirus crisis. In a few days, it will be published in the second issue of a new Turkish psychology journal called Kimera [12]. I also have the English translation of that essay but I don’t know what to do with it.


Işık Barış Fidaner is a computer scientist with a PhD. Admin of Yersiz Şeyler (Placeless Things) blog, Admin/Editor/Curator of Žižekian Analysis, and one of the admins of “Žižek and the Slovenian School” group on Facebook. Twitter: @BarisFidaner


[1] See “Postmodern Alienation Model”

[2] See “Exigency and Enjoyment”

[3] See “What Makes a Symbolic Order?”

[4] See “The Separation of Authorization (Symbolic Suture) from Embodiment (Real Suture)”

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

[6] See “Symbolic Authorization of Fetishes and Real Authorization of Symptoms”

[7] See “Always Existed and Never Existed”

[8] See “Hysterics are the true hackers”

[9] See “Postmodern Alienation Model Rediscovers & Deciphers Lacan’s Capitalist Discourse”

[10] See “Desire and Malfunction”

[11] See “Spatial and Combinatorial”

[12] See “The Chimera” and “Yetki, Beden, İrade, Sistem, Arzu, Arıza ve Koronavirüs”


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