Interlocutorship and the Four Discourses — Işık Barış Fidaner

In Turkish, when we cannot hear well something that somebody has said to us, it is rude to request its repetition by saying “What?” (Ne?); we should request its repetition by saying “My master?” (Efendim?) out of courtesy. In Turkish, this does not indicate any subjugation, it’s just a way of saying “Excuse me, what did you say?” This particular detail in Turkish shows the relation of interlocutorship to authorization. This is why the concept of “interlocutor” has a special place in Turkish. The act of “taking (someone) as your interlocutor” (birini muhatap almak) is very important for Turkish speakers.

Of course the person that wishes to speak to us is not our Master and we are not his/her slave. We just have to create a temporary appearance of Mastery for that person for a moment out of courtesy. To take someone as your interlocutor does not attribute absolute power to that person but it still needs a temporary appearance of absolute power, because the interlocutor’s word will ultimately take your time and the loss of time is an irreversible absolute loss.

Assuming that the interlocutor is the “Master” for a few seconds is a proportional measure for him/her to assume responsibility for the absolute value of the time that is sacrificed by being allocated to him/her. The paradigmatic form of authorization is to take someone as your interlocutor. The question “What?” sounds rude because it questions the interlocutorship in addition to the word that wasn’t heard properly. In Turkish “What do you mean?” is a reaction. The step that follows not being heard properly is to be (deemed) meaningless, the step that follows that is to be (deemed) nonsense, the step that follows that is to be (deemed) wrong.

We say that the reality is founded on the symbolic order, because not being taken as an interlocutor may have fateful consequences. Physical violence and destruction often accompanies not taking someone as your interlocutor and it should even be interpreted as its consequence. The relations of exploitation can be identified via people’s conditional exclusion from interlocutorship. The fact that some allusive words turn into insults and become subjects of political correctness is again about interlocutorship. Politics in its most fundamental form, before being an effort to convince others about your ideas, is the effort to be taken as an interlocutor and thereby get authorized.

The fundamental form of being is to be in a symbolic order, to be taken as an interlocutor. Even Descartes who says “I think therefore I am” should presuppose the possibility of articulating his thought via language and communicating it to others. Our interlocutorship orients the flow of our consciousness. Often, as a deeper (unconscious) undercurrent of our superficial consciousness, we think of what to say to the Other. The basis of the notion of the Other (that took the center stage in psychoanalysis with Lacan) is interlocutorship. One can define the categories of psychoanalysis from the perspective of interlocutorship. For instance, the difference of psychosis from neurosis is the loss of interlocutorship and the attempts to regain it via reactions like paranoia.

The word “My master?” that founds the interlocutorship invites the “Master’s discourse” which is the first of Lacan’s four discourses. Master’s discourse is the concealment as well as representation of the subject ($) by the signifier (S1). For the symbolic representation to succeed, the subject must be concealed. We avoid the question “What?” in order to help the Master’s discourse conceal the subject.

If the subject jumps out, the signifying representation falters and we pass to the “hysteric’s discourse”: The subject ($) starts complaining about the signifying representation (S1). Thus we pass from the founding of interlocutorship to a “search for an interlocutor”, but this kind of search does not find an interlocutor, it instead causes the interlocutor to falter and produce new knowledge (S2).

Another alternative is the concealment of the interlocutor (S1). When the interlocutor is concealed, there emerges a power of a knowledge (S2) that pretends to address everyone. Lacan calls this the “university discourse”, this discourse historically follows the Master’s discourse. With Enlightenment and capitalism, knowledge has become the new Master of the world. This knowledge claims universality but since it hides the real interlocutorship (power relations), this appearance of universality is fake.

Fourth and last alternative is the “analytic discourse” which leads to the production and authorization of the interlocutor (S1). The main feature of the analytic discourse is that the knowledge that shows its effects is veiled. Analytic discourse lets the object (a) speak. When the knowledge is veiled, individual words are objectified; they are still based on knowledge but they gain an existence (embodiment) separate from the united structure of knowledge. Thus they enable the subject to become an interlocutor (get authorized) by relying on these words.


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


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