Primordial Flesh

September 14, 2008

In On Belief (2001) – and probably elsewhere – Zizek says “the look into Irma’s throat renders the Real in the guise of the primordial flesh, the palpitation of the life substance as the Thing ifself, in its disgusting dimension of cancerous outgrowth.  However, in the second part [of Freud’s dream of Irma’s injection] the comic symbolic exchange/interplay of the three doctors also ends up with the Real, this time in its opposite aspect – the Real of writing, of the meaningless formula of trimethylamine.  The difference hinges on the different starting points:  if we end with the Imaginary (the mirror-confrontation of Freud and Irma), we get the Real in its imaginary dimension, as a horrifying primordial image that cancels the imaginary itself; if we start with the Symbolic (the exchange of arguements between the three doctors), we get the signifier itself transformed into the Real of a meaningless letter/formula.  Needless to say that these two figures are the very two opposite aspects of the Lacanian Real:  tehy abyss of the primordial Life-Thing and the meaningless letter/formula (as in the Real of modern science).  And, perhaps, one should add to them the third Real, the ‘Real of illusion,’ the Real of a pure semblance, of a spectral dimension which shines through our common reality” (p. 81, emphasis added).

The point I want to make with this quote is the following:  I realize that Zizek gives these examples in order to explain the three Reals.  What I’m having trouble with is translating these examples into something that makes sense to me.

So far, I’m satisfied with my understanding of the real Real as inherent impossibility (i.e. fundamental fantasy, ‘society doesn’t exist’, ‘there is no sexual relationship’, and so forth); and the imaginary Real represents an externalized obstacle that is developed out of this inherent impossibility – it presents a situation of possibility, and it is only this obstacle that is preventing the possible (objet petit a, capital, Jew).

When Zizek says that the Real is presented in the dream of Irma’s injection as the primordial flesh, the cancerous outgrowth, I feel like he is merely using this as an example of inherent impossibility.  Same thing with the idea of meaningless formula…  it seems that it is an example of something that he is trying to get across regarding the symbolic Real.  But what does this mean??  How can this be translated back into the Lacanian theory that he is using?

My guess is that the symbolic Real is the master-signifier, or phallus.  If we start from the real Real as inherent impossibility, we get the imaginary Real as externalized obstacle, and the master-signifier as symbolic Real holds together the Symbolic order in a way that allows us to make sense out of the not-all set of the Symbolic so that the we can imagine that the externalized obstacle really is the thing we are missing, or the Thing that is preventing us from realizing the inherent impossibility.  The master-signifier as symbolic Real (S1), transforms the not-all set into meaningful language, into the symoblic Symbolic, the big Other (S2).  In other words, it is necessary for the master-signifier (symbolic Real, S1) to transform the not-all symoblic set into meaningful language (symbolic Symbolic, big Other, S2), so that it will make sense to people that the externalized obstacle (imaginary Real, objet a) really is the Thing that is preventing that which is imagined as possible (but which is actually inherently impossible, real Real).

When we say, along with Zizek, that fantasy structures reality, it is in this sense that the Symbolic needs to be transformed into meaningful language so that the externalized obstacle (objet a) preventing us from achieving absolute knowledge, in the Hegelian sene, (Real) will make sense to us.



3 Responses to “Primordial Flesh”

  1. sonnyburnett said

    The first question that occurs to me is:

    Does the Real ‘make sense’?

    I don’t know about the rest of you all, but to me, it doesn’t.

    Or, the moment it does, it doesn’t.

    I’ve always taken comfort in the fact that meaning is in the Imaginary, so when I dream fiercely

  2. sonnyburnett said

    whoops…. hit the ‘Submit Comment’ button when I mean to do something else…. to continue my thought….

    and end up invariably axing that question ‘now, what the hell did THAT all mean?’, I can (usually) pull back at some point after that question & say, ‘ah yes, wrong question’ & try to work thru the manner in which my latent dream thoughts are expressed in the manifest dream content, thereby momentarily touching the dimension of the Real.

    And it’s only a brief touch & is never satisfying. In fact, it rarely makes ‘sense’ and only does so because of my studies of freud, lacan & zizek.

    Not much of an answer – but I’ve been afraid to look at the whole IRS breakup into individual triads, as you are doing. My imagination can’t distinguish so many different dimensions as of yet.

    One question back at everyone: I see, for instance, that symbolic Real is different that real Symbolic. And so on. So we get 9 in total.

    Does that jive with everyone else?

  3. The Universal Singular said

    Actually, in reviewing the triads, I feel as though there are only six combinations.

    For example, on page xii of the foreword to FTKNWTD, Zizek says that the symbolic Real is “the real as consistency: the signifier reduced to a senseless formula, like quantum physics formulas which can no longer be translated back into – or related to – the everyday experience of our life-world”.
    Further down, when talking about the real Symbolic, he says that it is “the signifier reduced to a senseless formula.” It seems like these are the same thing.

    Same thing with imaginary Symbolic and symbolic Imaginary. He relates both to the Jungian symbols.

    So my guess is that the symbolic Real and the real Symbolic are the same thing, and that the same goes for the imaginary Symbolic and the symbolic Imaginary.

    However, as I’m reading this, there seems to be a difference between the imaginary Real and the real Imaginary.

    I feel that the imaginary Real is the objet petit a, whereas the real Imaginary is fantasy.

    He defines the real Imaginary as “fantasy, which is precisely an imaginary scenario occupying the place of the Real”. Is this fundamental fantasy?

    I’m gonna try to break it down:

    1) real Real – inherent impossibility

    2) imaginary Real – objet petit a (transforms, displaces, the inherent impossibility into something possible)

    3) symbolic Real/real Symbolic – S1, master-signifier, Ego ideal (symbolic identification)

    4) symbolic Symbolic – S2, big Other, meaningful language

    5) imaginary Symbolic/symbolic Imaginary – like the Jungian symbols (does he mean here something like the collective unconscious? something like social imaginary – imaginary community??)

    6) real Imaginary – (fundamental?) fantasy

    7) imaginary Imaginary – “image as such in its fundamental function of a decoy” (what does this mean?? ideal ego??)

    So I guess there are actually seven combinations, from the looks of things.

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