The Traversal of the Phallus — Işık Barış Fidaner

We can summarize the roles assigned to man and woman in the present gender regime by two concepts: authorization and embodiment [1]. Psychoanalysis tells that the mother helps the child’s embodiment and the father helps the child’s authorization [2]. By discriminating between the roles assigned to woman and man with these two simple terms, we are not justifying or naturalizing the present gender regime; on the contrary, we are revealing the disavowed contingent basis of this regime and enabling its analysis, because the words that constitute the language are as contingent as the gender roles that they discriminate. As in the case of the dream interpretations in psychoanalysis, the words we use enable us to mould the analyzed gender regime into a symptom to be interpreted.

We can identify the significations of the words “womanly” and “manly” via these two terms: Due to the role assignments in the current regime, “womanly” signifies something about embodiment, and “manly” signifies something about authorization [3]. The positive or negative use of these adjectives do not affect this difference of signification between them.

In the development of the dialectical relation that is established between authorization and embodiment [4] two fundamental movements can be identified [5]:

M1) Separating authorization from embodiment and making it independent

M2) Acknowledging the dependence of authorization to embodiment

M1 and M2 can take place serially (in different orders) or in parallel. The standard Oedipal development story of psychoanalysis begins with the child’s dependence to his/her mother (M2) and moves on to the father separating the child from the mother and making him/her independent (M1). Psychoanalysis tells that the mother’s effect is “alienating” (therefore problematic) and that the father’s effect is “separating” (therefore necessary). But there is a confusion here: Separation is reduced to becoming independent (the separation of S1 from S2). But “becoming independent” is another kind of alienation and is deceptive. Dependence is an alienation at the level of embodiment, “independence” is an alienation at the level of authorization. In order to separate from the “independent” alienation of authorization, one must return back to the dependent embodiment. Thus one must see that both M1 and M2 are both alienation and separation; we can enumerate these four judgments as follows [6]:

J1) M2 is alienation, because it remains dependent on embodiment.

J2) M1 is separation, because authorization becoming independent from embodiment enables a kind of separation (S1).

J3) M1 is alienation, because it remains dependent on authorization (S2).

J4) M2 is separation, because it separates the authorization from the embodiment by acknowledging the dependence of authorization to embodiment.

We can distinguish the processes enumerated in these judgments by using the Lacanian terms imaginary-symbolic-real: J1 indicates imaginary alienation. J2 indicates symbolic separation. J3 indicates symbolic alienation. J4 indicates real separation [7]. Thus we can summarize M1 and M2 as follows:

M1) Symbolic alienation and symbolic separation

M2) Imaginary alienation and real separation

Remember that the present gender regime assigns M1 to the father and the man and M2 to the mother and the woman. Considering the three passions [8] that Lacan defines over the tensions among imaginary-symbolic-real, we can make the following three judgments about the present gender regime:

1) The “relationship” (or rather the non-relation) between the woman and the man relies on the parallel operation of the passion of love (symbolic-imaginary) and the passion of ignorance (symbolic-real). Love and ignorance are two sides of the same “relationship” coin: Ignorance fascinates by evoking mystery (in the form of objet petit a) and generates love. Love expands the field of ignorance by opening new topics for the subject ($). These two passions sustain the fantasy ($ ◊ a). “There is no sexual relationship” signifies this fact.

2) The being of the symbolic order relies on the “self-consistency” of the man that is supposed to constitute his “essence”. But this “self-consistency” is a mere appearance, it’s “pseudo-consistency” and “pseudo-essence” par excellence; in fact, it’s a parasitic symbolic structure that is installed into the fantasmatic gap between the passion of love and the passion of ignorance. Two main components of this symbolic order are the contingent intervention of the Master-Signifier (S1) and the knowledge (S2) that appears as necessary insofar as it clings to the S1. Masculine imposture indicates that the symbolic structure is in fact an inconsistent “pseudo-essence” (false). “There is no big Other” signifies this fact. In Turkish we may call this “There is no interlocutor” [9].

3) The woman, both separately from and dependent to her non-relation with the man, is burdened with a passion of hatred (imaginary-real) that is directed to herself. This hateful inner tension with which the gender regime burdens the woman functions as the engine of the masculine symbolic order through the pseudo-“relationship”. That’s why the woman is the truth of the symbolic order, she is the primal repression that constitutes it, she is the signifier of the Other’s lack S(Ⱥ). The inner tension that burdens the woman finds its clearest expression in the concept of “hysteria” that consitutes the point of departure and symptom of psychoanalysis. Feminine masquerade is the disguising and mystification of this tension. “Woman does not exist” signifies this fact.

This schema carries great significance for feminism [10]. The Phallus that symbolizes the patriarchy finds its expression in J2 and J3: J2 is the affirmation of the Phallus, and J3 is the negation of the Phallus. In order to move away from the Phallus, feminism has two options: Is it going to be J1 or J4? Is it going to completely exclude the Phallus and remain on this side of the Phallus (and psychoanalysis calls the extreme point of this option “psychosis”) or is it going to traverse the Phallus and move beyond the Phallus?


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] About authorization-embodiment and related concepts, see “Authority, Body, Will, System, Desire, Malfunction and the Coronavirus”

[2] See “Beyond the Abstract Fetish of the Phallus”

[3] Masculine-feminine and manly-womanly are different pairs of terms that mustn’t be confused. About this, see Jennifer Friedlander’s book Feminine Look pages 61-66.

[4] About the dialectic of authorization-embodiment, see “The Dialectic of Castration and Jouissance”

[5] For the first definitions and descriptions of these two movements, see “Cinsiyetsiz Ödül ve Ataerki”

[6] These four steps are described in my Oedipal development model, see [2].

[7] As to why imaginary-symbolic-real follows this order, see [2].

[8] The passion of love is at the intersection of Symbolic and Imaginary; the passion of hatred is at the intersection of Imaginary and Real; the passion of ignorance is at the intersection of Real and Symbolic (Lacan’s Seminar 1, p. 271). About the passion of ignorance, see “Ignorance’a Cehalet Değil Bilmezlik Denmelidir”

[9] Interlocutor (muhatap) is a very common term in Turkish. “Taking (someone) as your interlocutor” (birini muhatap almak) is a very common phrase. This concept is related to the Other of Lacanian psychoanalysis. About this, see “Interlocutorship and the Four Discourses”

[10] For the description of the role that authorization and embodiment plays in the conflict within feminism, see “The Conflict About Sex”

Thanks to Öznur Karakaş who convinced me that becoming independent and autonomous is deceptive.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s