Kantian Turn: “sapre aude,” or, dare to know, the end of rational or empirical guarantees. Limiting knowledge to make way for faith. The turn toward the autonomous, knowing subject rather than the independent, known, object.

Lacan, Jacques: French psychoanalyst and structuralist, 1901-1981. Major influence in psychoanalytic community and beyond (second only to Freud). Crucial theoretical resource for contemporary philosophy. Known for an obtuse teaching style and “Talmudic” readings of his texts.

Master-Signifier: (def. from nosubject.com) This is a Lacanian concept derived from Saussurean structural linguistics. In structural linguistics, language is a a system in which there are no positive terms, only differences. This means that language only refers to language; that words are only distinct because they are not other words. Imagine looking for a definition of a word in a dictionary. When one finds the definition it consists of only other words. This endless chain of signifiers is halted by the master-signifier. The master-signifier is a signifier that points to itself instead of other signifiers. Žižek refers to Marx’s conception of commodity fetishism as an example of a master-signifier. Just as money in Marx’s conception of commodity fetishism is in-itself devoid of value, the master-signifier is devoid of value, but provides a point around which other signifiers can stabilize.

Modernism: the philosophical movement. Idealism, rationalism, science, knowledge, progress, State power, the Apollonian, discourse, hegemony. The break with a mytho-magical worldview.

object a: the object of desire, although this object is not that towards which desire tends, but rather the cause of desire, the “je ne sais quoi,” that keeps one desiring; a lack in the Symbolic, a manifestation of the Real, that is, the hole or gap in understanding that makes everything around it seem inadequate; thus desire is not a relation to an object but a relation to a lack. Žižek defines it as “the mere appearance of some secret to be explained, interpreted, etc.”  (Also called objet a, objet petite a — ‘petite’ representing how object a is like a small piece of the Big Other, the common set of social norms/superego injunctions; object a is a stand-in for all those things that should make one desirable).

Postmodernism: the philosophical movement. Skepticism, deconstructivism, theory, belief, cyclical time, social power, the Dionysian, text, difference. The break with the reliability of the modern ideals of autonomy, progress, and the historical macrosubject (i.e., The “Proletariat” or The “Followers of Christ”).

Signifier: a symbol, a word, a ‘Thing’ that cannot be defined except by its relation to other words/symbols (‘table’ doesn’t inherently refer to a four-legged pice of furniture; thus it only has meaning because of what it is not — it’s not a chair or a stove or the color blue). The referent (that to which a signifier refers) is the ‘signified.’ Again, whereas the signified has a demonstrable content (the table), the signifier is purely arbitrary — the signifier ‘table’ has no necessary relation to the object in question (it might as well be called ‘mesa’). In Lacanian psychoanalysis, the ‘subject’ (i.e., the object of analysis, not exactly the person studied/analyzed) is a signifier; it is pure nothingness/potential; literally, ‘no thing’ in particular, undefinable; thus Lacan’s subject is ‘barred’ from any sociosymbolic representation, since no actual content could fill all of the lack that is the subject.

The Subject: for Lacan, the subject is pure Void; it is not the person studied (the analysand), but, rather, the non-objectifiable, non-symbolizable nothingness that remains beyond any known thing that person could ‘be,’ could be called, could be known as, could know him/herself as; thus subject is the lack of any concrete content, a disruption or liability of the functioning of the Symbolic.

The Three Orders: Lacan’s categories, arrived at as “tools” for psychoanalytic interpretation and deployed operationally.

The Imaginary: the field of images and imagination, and deception; fantasy.

The Symbolic: the field of cultural, linguistic, etc., meanings; culture as opposed to the imaginary domain of ‘nature’ (a fantasy-image built into the functioning of the Symbolic itself in order to situate itself as the logos/order of things opposed to ‘natural’ chaos).

The Real: everything that escapes the circuitry of the Symbolic, but of which the Symbolic is always unaware — the Symbolic doesn’t even realize the absence of the Real; the Real impinges on the contours of the Symbolic, but precisely within these contours, the Symbolic defines its own set of oppositions, like presence/absence — the Real is thus not absent the Symbolic; rather, the Symbolic is the domain of both what is present and what is absent, whereas, in the Real, these oppositions are meaningless, because there is neither presence nor absence, just senselessness, emptiness. This emptiness is revealed in the ‘gaps’ between signifiers of the Symbolic; where the Symbolic fails to capture (understand) reality, there is the Real.

Žižek, Slavoj: Slovene philosopher and cultural theorist. Known for groundbreaking insights derived from a synthesis of nineteenth-century philosophy (Kant, Hegel, Schelling, et al.), psychoanalysis (Freud and Lacan), politico-ideological theory (Marx), and theology (Christianity; special emphasis on St. Paul). Major influence on contemporary philosophy and critical theory. Known for exceptional clarity in his writings and far-reaching appropriation and interpretation of cultural landmarks in both “high” and “low” realms. Loves Hitchcock.