Will is the Power to Endure the Reality of the Symptom — Işık Barış Fidaner

The part “Knowledge and truth” from Lacan’s 20th seminar opens with the following schema:


Slavoj Žižek explains this schema in this book The Plague of Fantasies as follows:

The three angles of the triangle stand for the three fundamental dimensions which, according to Lacan, structure the human universe: the Real (the ‘hard’, traumatic reality which resists symbolization), the Symbolic (the field of language, of symbolic structure and communication), and the Imaginary (the domain of images with which we identify, and which capture our attention), ‘J’ in the middle of the triangle designates Jouissance, the abyss of traumatic/excessive enjoyment which threatens to swallow us up, and towards which the subject desperately endeavours to maintain a proper distance (like the hero in Poe’s ‘A Descent into the Maelstrom’, who barely succeeds in not being dragged into the maelstrom). The three objects on the sides of the triangle specify the three ways in which to ‘domesticate’ or ‘normalize’ this horrible Thing in the middle, to perceive it in a way which is no longer directly threatening: S(Ⱥ) is the signifier of the barred Other (Autre), and marks the inherent inconsistency of the symbolic order, the fact that there is something (jouissance) which resists symbolization and causes gaps and ruptures in the symbolic order; a, the Lacanian objet petit a, is the partial object which sets in motion the metonymic movement of desire (nose, feet, hair … in perversion); Φ is the fascinating image which represents the impossible Thing (the femme fatale in the noir universe, for example).

Let’s examine this schema in terms of authorization and embodiment.

The two objects bridged by symbolic authorization, S(Ⱥ) and objet a, fuel the passion of love and the passion of ignorance respectively. The passion of love relies on the truth of the signifier of the lack in the symbolic order S(Ⱥ); because the demand for love that accompanies every verbal addressing turns towards this ‘missing signifier’ (primal repression) and originates from it. The passion of ignorance relies on the semblance of the objet a that mobilizes desire by evoking mystery; because repression and censorship forms a defense against the metonymic movement of desire.

Symbolic authorization combines the passion of love and the passion of ignorance to form the formula of fantasy ($ ◊ a): While the subject ($) constantly demands love in the face of the permanent lack of symbolization (truth) and thereby progresses the symbolizations of the signifiers, the passion of ignorance endeavors to repress and censor the desires that turn towards the Real due to the objet a (semblance) that is the by-product of symbolization. Insofar as the symbolization operation triggered by the truth that comes from the Imaginary manages to repress and stop the movement of the objet a towards the Real, symbolic authorization succeeds.

In the rest of the schema: The reality of Φ that dazes with its impossibility fuels the passion of hatred; because unsymbolizable traumatic images can only evoke hatred and repulsion.

When symbolic authorization manages to take the stage in human consciousness, it almost “deactivates” the Φ that evokes hatred, so it conceals its effect, it expels it to the unconscious or the backstage; instead, it establishes a magical “correlation” between the semblance of the a that disappears in the line of flight towards the Real and the truth of S(Ⱥ) that suddenly appears on the Imaginary horizon and presents itself as the guarantee of this correlation. This magical correlation that confuses the authority with the body (e.g. the royal truth with the personal semblance of the king) embodies a fetish that is an authority-body complex. Symbolic authorization always relies on fetishes. The famous saying in statistics “Correlation is not causation” is related to the deceptive magicianship of fetishes.

When the passion of hatred cannot be “deactivated”, the whole triple circuit emerges and the magical semblance-truth correlation is wiped away. The whole triple circuit is called a symptom (or sinthome) [2]. So we can write the following formulas:

Fetish = Truth + Semblance

Symptom = Truth + Semblance + Reality

Fetish = Symptom – Reality

One can also achieve authorization without “deactivating” the passion of hatred: This is real authorization that relies on the symptom. Real authorization takes “will” as the ground in linking the semblance to the truth. The concept of “will” designates the power to endure the hatred and repulsion that comes from the reality of the symptom. Having the will leads to not taking refuge in the magical semblance-truth correlations staged by the symbolic authorities.

On the other hand, one cannot expect a total will from anyone; it is in some sense “natural” to avoid hatred and repulsion; as a matter of fact, the main factor that opens the field of symbolic authorities is this “natural” avoidance. One of the consequences of the avoidance of hatred is the focusing of hatred on racist, sexist, etc. fetish objects. The patriarchal gender regime burdens women with the responsibility to “have the will” and endure the passion of hatred and causes a hatred of women [3]. The capitalist system does the same to the lower classes.

We have said that the symbolic authority presents itself as the guarantee of the fetish. There is no such link of guarantee between real authorization and the symptom. When the three elements that form the symptom are traversed, authorization and embodiment gets separated from each other. The concept of “system” designates the ground where symptoms repeat themselves. For instance one can speak about Joyce or Žižek having a system that grounds his symptom (his textual production). Since the full traversal of the symptom requires a will, system is the other side of will.


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 “Symbolic Authorization of Fetishes and Real Authorization of Symptoms”

[2] In this text we ignore the difference between symptom and sinthome.

[3] See “The Traversal of the Phallus”


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