Symbolic Separation and Real Separation — Işık Barış Fidaner

Independence and being conditioned are two fundamental concepts in politics. These concern symbolic relations and thereby confirmation. One can confirm symbolically that a person, institution or country is either independent or conditioned. In fact their difference concerns the manner of confirmation: Being conditioned is to depend on others’ confirmation; independence is to oblige others to confirm oneself. Since these two concepts’ relation is managed by way of signifiers, Lacan expresses political independence with the symbol S1 and being politically conditioned with the symbol S2. S1 is the Master-Signifier that obliges others to confirm itself through its independent power. S2 is the knowledge that is conditioned by S1, dependent on its confirmation.

According to Lacan, throughout the history of modernization, there was a transition from the power of S1 (Master’s discourse) to the power of S2 (University discourse). In the Master’s discourse, S1 indicates the master’s power and S2 indicates the know-how of the slave conditioned by the master. In the University discourse, S2 is the power of the knowledge that appears to be universal (episteme), but the S1 which conditions the knowledge is concealed behind the curtain; we can think of this hidden conditioner as either the ruses carried out in the lobby or the drives hidden in the unconscious.

Politics in the classical sense is stuck between the alternatives of independence and being conditioned (S1 and S2). But this binary alternative is merely symbolic, there are also other alternatives. Lacan recounts two other discourses in addition to the power of S1 (Master’s discourse) and the power of S2 (University discourse): The hysteric’s discourse which means the power of the subject and the analyst’s discourse which means the power of the object.

Hysteric’s discourse as the power of the subject concerns the ideal of “freedom” at the basis of the capitalist ideology. In this sense, it’s telltale that the symbol of the divided subject $ is at the same time the dollar sign. The power of the subject is to criticize and question everything, not to accept any obligations, to be creative and free spirited, even to be a radical rebel and a revolutionary, to be a “beautiful person” or “beautiful soul” in a Hegelian sense. Slogans like “There is an alternative! Another world is possible!” usually indicate the alternative of the hysteric’s discourse. In fact, this discourse is essentially about complaining, the “free subject” always complains about the hegemony of S1 and thus remains negatively dependent on S1. S1 establishing its own hegemony is at least a symbolic separation and independence; the subject freely complaining about S1 does not even count as a symbolic separation or independence. Hysteric’s discourse challenges the master and forces him/her to produce new knowledge. In this sense, it accompanies the University discourse.

The fourth alternative, analytic discourse, is the power of the object. By “object” we don’t mean the physical objects in the world, but that object: objet petit a as the object-cause of the subject’s desire. S1 always dons the aura of the objet a; thus all S1s owe their power and glory to the subject’s desire and thereby to the objet a that causes that desire. That’s why every symbolic “independence” is in fact dependent on the object-cause of desire.

The separation of the Master-Signifier S1 from the knowledge (S2) that it had conditioned upon itself, thus the S1 gaining symbolic independence, is a symbolic separation. On the other hand, the separation of the objet petit a from the S1 which took its glory from the aura of the objet a, thus the objet a gaining a real independence, is a real separation. But when the objet a is separated from S1, the content (glory) is also lost with the form (S1). When the signifiers cannot repress the objet a, the objet a takes the appearance of a refuse, litter, waste; because its essence is entropic sacrifice [1]. That’s why the analytic discourse means mourning [2].


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 “Always Afterwards: Entropy and Sacrifice” and “All Success is a Success of the Repression of Sacrifice”

[2] See “Modern Mourning of God and Nature” and “Authentic Fidelity is the Drive to Mourn”


  1. […] [6] Here is Žižek’s description of separation: “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) I call this ‘real separation’, see “Symbolic Separation and Real Separation” […]


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