Three Lacanian True Choices — Işık Barış Fidaner

Lacanians commonly prioritize the Symbolic (expression of the Real) over the Imaginary (expression of the Real): It is much preferable to be alienated in a Symbolic articulation of signifiers instead of being alienated in an Imaginary misrecognition which always risks aggressive rivalry [1]. Since the Symbolic order is founded on substituting the Name-of-the-Father for the mother’s desire, this preference prioritizes the masculine over the feminine. It surpasses the naivety in the notion of “Nature” by emphasizing the value of masculine distinction over feminine confusion [2].

On the other hand, Lacanians also prioritize the Real (surpassing of the Imaginary) over the Symbolic (surpassing of the Imaginary): The Real marks the limit of the Symbolic articulation and as such it is stronger than the bulk of the Symbolic itself. Real separation is better than symbolic separation [3]. Since the limits of the Symbolic order are delineated by hysterical questioning and feminine subjectivity, this second preference prioritizes the feminine over the masculine. It surpasses the naivety in the notion of “God” by emphasizing the value of feminine distinction over masculine confusion.

Let us complete this circle by adding a third Lacanian preference: an Imaginary (disruption of the Symbolic) is better than a Real (disruption of the Symbolic). From within the Symbolic order, its Real limit has the immense value of marking the frontier of this order and pushing it forward. But when the Symbolic order totally breaks down (as in the case of psychosis), the Real loses its bearings and turns into a horrible catastrophe; this is when one urgently needs to have an Imaginary construction to hold onto. One can re-initiate the Symbolic construction only by experiencing a temporary regression to the Imaginary, as in a Utopia that fuels a revolution. This third choice does not take place between the feminine and the masculine; instead, it is a choice that belongs entirely to the feminine subject who confronts the breakdown of the masculine basis of reality. That’s why this choice is also between different feminisms: It chooses a feminism that traverses the Phallus over a feminism that totally rejects the Phallus [4].

The Lacanian answers to these three choices are the true ones. They are not properly the right choices, they are not exactly the correct choices, but they are precisely the true choices. They just follow the arrows in Lacan’s schema from Encore page 90.


Now let us include Lacan’s three fundamental passions (illustrated in the figure) in the discussion: The passion of love (based on truth) takes place between the Imaginary and the Symbolic, the passion of ignorance (based on semblance) takes place between the Symbolic and the Real, the passion of hatred (based on reality) takes place between the Real and the Imaginary.

The choice of the Symbolic (expression of the Real) over the Imaginary (expression of the Real) mainly concerns love, and it chooses between ignorance and hatred. The Imaginary aggressive rivalry feeds a hatred of ignorance, which creates an obsession about knowing-all, which absorbs love. This problem is resolved by turning it into an ignorance of hatred which creates an hysterical questioning of knowledge that exudes love and triggers the Symbolic articulation [5]. Even though this choice explicitly (in the Symbolic) prefers a masculine order over a feminine order, it also implicitly (in the Real) prefers a feminine attitude over a masculine attitude. If we apply the other terms, it chooses the semblance of reality over the reality of semblance: Mere imaginary semblances cannot define a reality by themselves, one must construct a symbolic reality for these semblances to belong to.

The choice of the Real (surpassing of the Imaginary) over the Symbolic (surpassing of the Imaginary) mainly concerns ignorance. The ignorance prioritized in the previous choice has now become dominant, and we reach at a new crossroads of passions: hatred versus love. Since one can never entirely avoid the reality of hatred, explicitly choosing love at this junction will unavoidably lead to loving-to-hate. The bulk of the Symbolic order openly declares its love for the Master-Signifier, but this love for the One is always based on loving-to-hate “the others”, “them”, the Neighbour who embodies the Real Thing. So one must explicitly choose hatred, so that one can hate-to-love the objet petit a at the limits of the Symbolic order. This second step intensifies the feminine hysteria that was already at work in the previous step. If we apply the other terms, it chooses the reality of truth over the truth of reality: It does not search for a hidden truth behind the visible accepted reality; instead, it grounds the whole reality on the truths that limit its existence.

The choice of the Imaginary (disruption of the Symbolic) over the Real (disruption of the Symbolic) mainly concerns hatred. The hatred that was chosen in the previous step has now become dominant, and the new crossroads is between love and ignorance. Since we are now literally facing the hatred that annihilates the Symbolic order, we no longer have the luxury to choose ignorance, which essentially would be an ignorance of love, which would dismiss all potential Symbolic reconstructions. We must explicitly choose love and imagine a Utopia, which will eventually turn into a more neutral love of ignorance that will prepare us for the reconstruction of the Symbolic order. If we apply the other terms, we choose the truth of semblances over the semblances of truth: We do not wait for a future semblance that would be authorized by a truth; instead, we hold onto the imaginary truth of the semblances themselves.

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 “Imaginary Alienation (Posturing Wholeness) and Symbolic Alienation (Posturing Allness)”

[2] See “The Authority-Body Complex”

[3] See “Symbolic Separation and Real Separation”

[4] See “The Traversal of the Phallus”

[5] See “Making the combinatorial unworld of the unconscious permeable”


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