Breaking the Fetishistic Mystery and the Third Sex — Işık Barış Fidaner

The schema in the part “Knowledge and truth” in Lacan’s 20th seminar:


Both Master-Signifier (S1) and phallus (Φ) are defined as “signifier without signified” but these two are not the same thing. Master-Signifier is the inscription of the phallus. Master-Signifier, as the inscription of the phallus, constitutes masculine imposture [1]: Master-Signifier represents the exceptional primal father who castrates everyone. Although Master-Signifier is the element that establishes the Symbolic; the phallus that it inscribes is the Imagining of the Real, it’s the blind spot where the Symbolic cannot reach (this is seen in the triangular schema, see also [2]).

The content of the phallus inscribed by the Master-Signifier is empty, that’s why we call it an “imposture”; nonetheless it’s possible to traverse the phallus [3]. Traversing the phallus begins from Φ on the triangular schema, it passes counter-clockwise through Imaginary-Symbolic-Real and then again arrives back at Φ. Since Φ indicates the fantasmatic basis of reality, Lacan called it “traversing the fantasy”. By traversing the phallus one does not reach wild forests “beyond the phallus” or anything, one comes full circle and arrives back at the phallus; but this traversal is not in vain, because it breaks the fetishistic mystery. The fetishistic mystery is the magical correlation established between the semblance of objet a and the truth of S(Ⱥ) (see [2]).

The alternative of the masculine imposture which merely inscribes the phallus as the Master-Signifier is to really traverse the circuit Φ-S(Ⱥ)-a-Φ. These two are respectively symbolic authorization based on the fetish and real authorization based on the symptom [4]. These two are also decryption which unlocks by the key of the Master-Signifier and decipherment which makes truth its own key [5].

Žižek says that the dazing charisma of Φ in masculine imposture is deceptive and that the inconsistency of the Other S(Ⱥ) hides behind Φ [6]. One should say the opposite for feminine masquerade: The love-inducing truth of the incomplete S(Ⱥ) that emerges one step after the semblances (objet a) that our desire follows is deceptive, because in fact the dazing repulsive Φ hides behind S(Ⱥ) [7]. In masculine imposture, S1 that inscribes Φ conceals the incompleteness of S(Ⱥ); in feminine masquerade, objet a which turns towards the incompleteness of S(Ⱥ) conceals the reality of Φ. Their common feature is that they both rely on the mystery of the fetish. Traversing the phallus/symptom/fantasy breaks this fetishistic mystery and undermines both strategies; both are tactics for circumventing the traversal of the symptom.

The will functions differently in masculine and feminine strategies. The masculine strategy appears tough and assertive, so it signifies the will to master Φ via the Master-Signifier (S1). But this is an “imposture” because Φ is not really traversed, S1 merely creates an effect of fetishistic mystery. Feminine masquerade, in contrast, appears gentle and tender, so it veils the will to master Φ, it “masquerades” it. This is also deceptive, because this too relies on the effect of fetishistic mystery. The real will that traverses the symptom by breaking the fetishistic mystery remains outside of both sexual strategies.

Maybe we should call the traversal of the symptom the “third sex”. In Sex and the Failed Absolute, Žižek mentions three sexes that Kierkegaard talks about: The officer, the maid and the chimney sweeper. The “third sex” that I mention here does not fit Žižek’s chimney sweeper that includes transgender individuals, because gender identity is a paradoxical strategy that combines S1 and S(Ⱥ), it is both masculine imposture and feminine masquerade at the same time, and it relies entirely on fetishistic mystery.


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 pages 61-66 from Jennifer Friedlander’s Feminine Look (2008).

[2] See “Will is the Power to Endure the Reality of the Symptom”

[3] See “The Traversal of the Phallus”

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

[5] See “Decryption and Decipherment”

[6] “Φ, the signifier of the phallic power, phallus in its fascinating presence, merely gives body to the impotence/inconsistency of the Other” See “Woman is One of the Names-of-the-Father” Slavoj Žižek

[7] Žižek occasionally mentions this. For instance in Pervert’s Guide to Cinema he says the following about Scott’s terrifying dream in Vertigo:

“The fascination of beauty is always the way which covers up a nightmare. Like the idea of a fascinating creature but if come you too close to her you see shit, decay, you see worms crawling everywhere. The ultimate abyss is not a physical abyss. But the abyss of the death of another person. It’s what philosophers describe as the night of the world. Like when you see another person into his/her eyes you see the abyss. That’s the true spiral which is drawing us into.”


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