Translated by Eugenia Konoreva
July 2022

The original can be found here and here

Alexander Smulyanskiy

Barring the Real vs. the Barred Real.

The Real – What’s Wrong With It?

In no way can we say that the Real suffers the deficit of political reflection today. Likewise, in my opinion, any categorization of the Real today is accompanied by the certainty that this famous Lacanian concept cannot become sustainable unless it is grounded politically. Today, everything suggests that without political dimension the hope to reveal that ultimate point to which the Real refers to is worthless. I do not say ‘the ultimate meaning’, since the political today is not produced by ‘meaning’, moreover those who produce it are not ‘individuals’.

Moreover, in what concerns the question of the Real, today there is a tendency to occupy the camps of two opposing possibilities. Here it is decided whether the Real can be defined via the political or, on the contrary, the Real itself baffles the political forcing it to reexamine its foundations. Essentially, what is questioned here is whether the political can surmount the notorious darkness of the Real or the political has to admit that this darkness is also of its own.

I will try to demonstrate the fallaciousness of this dispute below, for now it is suffice to point out that the actual ‘political disposition’ concerning the Real is exhaustively represented by the very possibility to talk about the Real in the first place. The fact of this possibility is practically not taken into account, perhaps, taking it for granted. Instead, I think it is necessary to take into consideration that the very possibility of talking about the Real is quite historical. What is more, once we speak about the ‘speakability’, the same should be said about the impossibility to pass an immediate judgement about the Real – the impossibility which became so celebrated and which was even elevated to the highest ‘democratic’ value (whose consequences will be discussed below). It should be stressed that this renowned impossibility of talking about the Real directly – along with the possibility of asking – are by no means ahistorical. That is why when someone is rapturously praising the ‘unspeakability’ of the Real, they make a move whose possible consequences should also be reflected.  

It has to be postulated right from the outset: the question of the Real is raised and solved with such a difficulty not because it is being shielded by higher apophatic frontiers, cutting of the sacred meaning from the nosiness of idle profanity. It is true that it is the impossibility of making any decision concerning the Real that stands on the way of comprehending it. But this very impossibility should be given an explanation that can demonstrate that it is not some inspiring mystery, nor some mystical impotence. The impossibility to find a satisfactory definition (humanitarian? academic?) for the Real is quite certainly a fully political impossibility; not in a sense that it is being borrowed from some political agenda, but in a sense that this impossibility as well as the rendition that prolongs it, is itself a practice of involving engagement and politization on the one hand, and a practice of depolitization on the other hand. What does this balancing look like and what role do the movements that identify themselves as contemporary critical theory, including gender criticism, play? At this point, I would like to make a provocative thesis that it is precisely gender criticism that held what could be called their ‘finest hour’ in their access to the concept of the Real. However, and this is the most intriguing part, for the modern Western, and therefore for the post-soviet gender theory this ‘finest hour’ remained unrecognized.


                                      The Real and the Subversive Stronghold.

I am talking about the text which brings together a number of issues left otherwise inevitably dispersed in the public field not only in post-soviet academic space. This is a book Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left (2000), written as a dialog between three authors – Ernesto Laclau, Judith Butler and Slavoj Žižek. It seems to me that as for the structure this book reminds of a braid, twisted from three strands. One by one they emerge to the surface bringing up the concepts of the ‘political’, ‘the universal’, ‘the hegemonic’ and ‘the Real’, which claims the central place in this intrigue. The Real manages to emerge when it is made clear that discussing the Real was deadlocked right from the start.   

The aim of this article is not to criticize. Instead, I would like to analyze the details of both – each analytic success and each failure of every author. At the same time, the key theme is the success and the failure of gender theory in particular, which is presented by Judith Butler in this discussion. It is precisely the gender theory in the face of Butler that is the preferred point of our triangular review of the concept of the Real. I hope that to the end of the article the path chosen by Butler would become obvious – the path chosen by her, but not taken to its end, which I would try to demonstrate. Yet at the same time it was precisely Butler, in my opinion, who managed to persist on something that escaped the other participants of the discussion.

So, at the start all the interlocutors fully embrace two attributes of the Real originally defined by Lacan. The first one is the consent that the Real is something ‘impossible’, in this way it has to be viewed outside of the symbolic perspective. The second one is the Lacanian thesis that the Real is what ‘returns’ – this is its urgency. However, it is precisely with the recognition of these two attributes of the Real that the interlocutors’ main difficulties begin.

Each of them solves these difficulties in their own way. So, the Real for Laclau is the initial splitting of any political intention, the antagonistic gap which is formed as a consequence of the impossibility of any discourse to be the universal which it claims to and which nobody gets eventually, but it remains spinning among the community and causing political shifts and rearrangements. This is being objected by Butler who is puzzled by the inevitability of this mystic gap which appears each time as deux ex machine. Not without reason Butler considers that here, at the core of the inflicting historical, Laclau admits an ahistorical breakdown. Laclau answers to this that Butler got him wrong, what he really meant: the Real is what interrupts the very order of the ‘historical’ as the unfolding of the plain of the unified history. Apparently, he talks about the Western European historicity.

Butler is not satisfied with this answer. “If formalism is disrupted by a radical gap or fissure within its structure, is this a gap or negation that remains in a relation to that which is fissured by its presence? In other words, is this a determinate negation of some sort, one which is defined by precisely what it negates?”[1]

In other words Butler wants to know if the gap is something historical. That her question is by no means an idle one could be demonstrated by referring to her book ‘The Psychic Life of Power’ where Butler, having critically analyzed all the options of emancipation, concludes: “[…] the subject exceeds precisely that to which it is bound.”[2]

As for Žižek, having twisted different options of this polemic Rubik’s cube and having refused the positions already discussed by other interlocutors, he concludes that the Real today is capitalism. Otherwise, how to explain the tenacity and simultaneous virtual ephemerality of its logic, which constantly brings back what happens in economy and in politics?

In other words, when starting the debates the interlocutors – except Butler – in my opinion, have already had quite recognizable views concerning the Real: it is amazing how effortlessly the Real finally fitted in the contours which had been already set up by the humanitarian, critical and generally publicly accepted context – the critique of identity, the critique of the global project of historicity, the critique of the universal hegemonic claims etc.

In this sense Butler hits the bull’s eye when she asks with provocative compliance: “We can agree that there is a limit to conceptualization and to any given formulation of sociality, and that we encounter this limit at various liminal and spectral moments in experience. But why are we then compelled to give a technical name to this limit, 'the Real', and to make the further claim that the subject is constituted by this foreclosure.”[3]

There is a lot to gain from it, I would say. Today the term ‘Real’ tends to be used in discussions basing on one or other point of the subversive program – the Real has to (it is almost a part of its duty) relieve from hegemonic illusions, to shock ‘the dormant consumer society’, to subvert the ‘symbolic disciplinary norms’, to breach the ‘One’ which the ‘repressive hegemony’ made a bet on etc. In terms of gender theory this means that the Real initiates the subversion of the phallocentric One or demonstrates the incompleteness and the constraints of the valid sexual norms. Consider the claim of Alenka Zupančič in this context: “[the Real is] something which appears only in the guise of the encounter, as something that 'happens to us', surprises us, throws us 'out of joint' , because it always inscribes itself in a given continuity as a rupture, a break or an interruption.”[4]

Note, however, that Zupančič does not say anything about what this ‘impossible’ is and how it can reach this level of efficiency. One can only wonder how this inconvenient – one of the most inconvenient, according to Lacan – ‘thing’ turned out to be so much caressed in the intellectual community: the purpose and the benefits ‘brought to the subject’ (read as ‘man’) by the Real are placed in the center as the main meaning of the Real. It does not matter that this purpose has a protesting, subversive character – it does not make it to loose a dimension of benefit. In any case, Lacan has barely even charted a way out of the perspective of ‘good’ and ‘morality’ by means of the Real when it turned into a trajectory which immediately drove the Real back. It is necessary to assess the scale of this short circuit and provide it with an analytic interpretation.

In this way, it does not matter that the Real is used to declare the renunciation of various goods – for example, the good of the consumer society. What matters in this case is only the structure of enunciation where this demand is presented. Today this structure is quite distinct and it gives the Real its ‘working’, businesslike character. The latter is, in fact, is a relation to something that regardless of its content receives a certain task and which is expected to provide an assistance on some front outlined beforehand. This is the reason why Žižek can talk about the existence of the ‘standard interpretation of the Real’ – the interpretation in which he himself, being carried away by the polemic, had a hand. It is impossible to overlook that there emerged certain common expectations among the appeals to the Real – it is associated with typical political hopes and aspirations, it is almost a Holy Grail. Let us note, in passing, that at the same time all of this indicates the fulfillment of Lacan’s most pessimistic expectations regarding the fate of the attempts to make the Real a subject of discussion.

It is not that the Real has to be purified from all the politics and all the attempts of ‘factual’ definition. What is confusing in the current usage of the concept of the Real is the fact that the Real today has no other task apart from the realization of those scenarios which the antihegemonic intellectual habitus is dreaming about – albeit with the best intentions. From the certain point – and this is the dictatorship of the term’s usage – the Real functions as something that can wound, put everything in its place, cut off, put a limit. Thus the understanding of the Real becomes inevitably lightweight. In this manner the Real is just a new name for those ways of objections which are already well-known and polemically tested earlier. The political meaning in this capacity is not disciplined by means of the thought about the Real, but gives it itself a discharging, satisfying context, where the thought can easily recognize itself thus confirming what was already known.

With regard to what is mentioned above, let us consider the reproaches addressed by Laclau and Žižek to Butler, referring to her stubborn refusal to introduce the Real into the research. The specific reproached that were brought against her would be discussed below. For now, I would like to point that Butler’s silence about the Real may have a very special meaning: doesn’t it demonstrate that it is precisely in this manner, it is precisely here in these debates, the Real loses an opportunity to be articulated, but not because it ‘escapes articulation’ as such, but because the latter has always a specific purpose and this purpose lies in the dimension of already known measures?

In any case, where the usage of the concept of the Rea is not restricted, there exist two possible outcomes, which I am going to present here. I have to warn that it is not about any ‘internally theoretical’ consequences of the concept’s  (mis)usage, but about the real fraught with a certain political situation, which emerges where the truth of the Real – as what is quite realistically considered to be the Real and declared as the one – is presented in this or other way.

Catastrophic Möbius’s surface.

So, as soon as the first news about the Real was taken seriously, there emerged two versions in its wake which are being used when it is necessary to speak about the Real.

The first of them is inspiring because it fits the Real perfectly into the long-standing, regrettably vacant place of the transcendent. This is how the ‘transcendent, non-symbolic Real’ is born, whose curious peculiarity is that it is being considered in the guise of some ultimate and last feature, viewing it sometimes almost as a personal challenge. To achieve this Real considered like this means reaching beyond ‘any possible limits’, breaking the shackles of any normativity, renouncing all and everything. We have already seen which act structures this sort of determination – considering itself to be a living and passionate experience, in fact it is inconceivable unless the Real remains something completely metaphysical within its framework. That is why the words about ‘transgressing all the limits’ are not innocent – their meaning is as politically (and theoretically, which is no less important for us) narrow, as the gesture that is established by it seems wide.  

But what interests me in the political fate of the Real is another version. The Real, according to this version, is something inducing limitation, therefore resulting in the split of any being. Today, the concept of ‘splitting’ is readily used today; it is being followed by the explanations according to which no speech reaches the fullness of meaning that it expected from it; the subject of this speech is barred and is deprived of any possibility to function directly in relation to what he wants (or even ‘desires’); his lot is the disappointment in the ‘cartesian perspective’ which he prepared for himself. In other words, this occasion opens up a lot of reasons to put the subject in his place, which was used by the authors of the project of radical democracy – the doctrine entirely founded on the consequences of the ‘split of the subject’. This doctrine is usually attested as ‘Lacanian’ or even ‘left-Lacanian’ which in both cases causes the equal – approaching the eternity – number of inconsistencies. For etymologic reasons we will pause it a bit later than its condition at the moment of its presentation by Laclau by highlighting the stage it achieved when out of the political question about the hegemonic malfunction it transformed into the ethical assistance.

The morality here is being directly derived from the necessity of realizing what is called in the late Lacan an ‘identification with the symptom’ – something that Yannis Stavrakakis, for example, collates with the notorious ‘lack’ – the term, which has been exhausted to the point of total incomprehensibility, but which for the first time receives program political formulation. The imperative of lack is understood as the necessity of remembering about the ‘radical incompleteness’ of the self and the other. This discouraging Real is performatively imputed to the subject with a demand to remember that from now on this gift will stay with him forever. Stavrakakis insists that the very remembering of this initial lack is the highest bar that could be reached via sublimation. In other words, it is a moral imperative inside out. This imperative has a perfectly Cartesian character, since it requires from the subject to be fully conscious of the consequences entailed by his unconscious structure. ‘The virtue of being consious of the lack’ – this is how I can call this paradoxical ethics. Moreover, Stavrakakis makes a remark which should help to clarify his position: “Democracy does not produce the ambiguity and the lack characterizing the human condition; it does not produce the irreducible division and disharmony characterizing every social form. It only attempts to come to terms with them [...].”[5]

It should be said right away: it is absolutely impossible to believe in this. It is unthinkable to consider this merely a matter of establishing the ‘right’ correspondence, an adjustment of a political system to some hominis essential – eternal human essence. Butler’s remark about the neglect of the historical specificity is appropriate here more than elsewhere. In any event, the radical democratic ethos is a specific political intentionality which is worth asking about: which dimension of the subjective are we exactly talking about here and what could be the reality of the thought that adopts the ‘subject’s lack’?

Obviously, this way of solving the question of the Real is primarily aimed at sobering up the community, at instilling the community with an ounce of common sense – a good wish addressed in the first place to any power claim in order to remind its carrier about the original weakness that relates and equates him with other mortals. In my opinion this new Solomon’s warning coming from the ‘radical democratic’ heart is not as objective as it claims to be. On the contrary, the premises of democratic demagogy (this word is used here in its literal Greek meaning bereft of the following negative evaluative connotations) emerge against the backdrop of intellectual panorama which does not fit well with the Enlightenment awareness implied here. Jacques Rancier called this panorama a ‘catastrophic ethical turn’ and demonstrated to what extent starting from the World War II and its obscene political underside, the society is touched by an illusion of some unknown, but irreparable mischief. Now, in order to nourish this illusion there is no need in smoking debris flying up to the sky – a simple hint that the subject has already something irremediably distorted (‘the lack’) in his structure, is enough. The fact that this distortion has an absolutely ephemeral, theoretic character makes it the most suitable for the emergence of the feeling of inhumane and irreparable damage which is supported by numerous historical ‘confirmations’ and ‘lessons’ right on cue.

The existing readings of the concept of the Real are anything but accidental/arbitrary – they are established in a certain way and in this way, in their turn, they can establish something that requires deconstruction. At the same time, it only seems to us that the first accident (the metaphysical failure of the Real as transcendental) and the second one (the ethical failure of the ‘radical democracy’) represent two unrelated scenarios. In my opinion, the second one is the reflection of the first one. It is obvious that the universal limitation caused by the ‘democratic Real’ (let us call it so in order to intensify the oxymoronism of this bizarre concept), is just another appearance of the first transgressive Real, which remains capable of everything in the imagination of its admirers.

The phantasm of the transcendental face of the Real is replaced here by the phantasm of another face whose features are more subtle, yet it is not difficult to recognize the original ecstatic savage in it. If the Real in the first case was conceived as yet unrealized and in anticipation of the subject bold enough to reach it, the second version portrays the Real that has already erupted over the heads of the subjects and it concerns everyone while acting in the form of an unambiguous demand to admit one’s own and other’s infirmity and build good unneighborly relations like it or not. Whereas it is perfectly clear that this kind of the Real, inducing universal ‘lack’, still remains mysteriously unknown (and thus ahistorical and apolitical again).

That is why in the question of the Real there is no need to incline to one or another version, rocking the boat of the agenda. I wanted to demonstrate, that this ‘rocking’ is in fact produced by the same force. Yet we need some different angle, which would remain inaccessible until we stop this insistent enquiring what kind of distinct (i.e. ‘giving an account’) ethical-political profit can be brought by the Real and start doing something that signals about the subtle distortions in already existing initiatives.

“From Caste to Caste: the Real Close to Itself.”

We should ask about the possibility of moving the Real outside of the constraints of its conventional interpretations (which risk turning into those beaten paths of satisfaction that Freud was talking about). At this point I would like to return to Butler again by reminding of her interpretation of Antigone: what Butler saw in the figure of Antigone is only her absence to the symbolic expression of her desire. Therefore, Butler altogether managed to avoid the argument of the Real, for whose sake the referral to this tragedy was initiated by Lacan in the first place.

On this occasion Žižek wonders if it is not precisely Butler who is incapable of accepting the existence of the Real and is trying to replace its primary dynamic role by the mere rearrangement of the symbols-signifiers. In this way, he argues that the Real has an advantage over the Butlerian operation of the symbolic rearrangement, since whereas, the latter merely deals with numerous contexts, the Real enables penetrating deep into the very logic of these contexts’ transformation. This thesis is also supported by those feminist critics for whom “[…] Antigone’s second violation of Creon’s law is not an example of the type of resistance Butler describes but an illustration of a more radical aspect in the relation between the subject and signification […].”[6]

The debaters try to persuade Butler by showing her that she is wrong. Anticipating his triumph Žižek asks: what could limit these numerous rewriting and resignifications? And without further delay he honestly answers – the Real, of course![7] This ‘manly’ (is there not  some purely demagogic gain in this manliness?) step makes the debates spectacular, but it does not bring us one iota closer to the understanding of how exactly and why the Real ‘works’. That is why it is not easy to discard Butler’s position. The entire dispute demonstrates a certain distinct obstacle that emerges but not between the debaters and their ‘different understanding’ of the Real, but from the place, invisible from the position of the dispute, where the claims together with all the consequences still invisible to the actors obtain their existence in the form of enunciation. That is why when the interlocutors attempt to jump a fence right off, the situation does not get any better.

In the final chapter of the book, ‘Holding the Place’, Žižek admits that he is losing a capacity of dealing with the force of pressure from his opponents. He has a suspicion that in their attempt to say something about the Real and having difficulties with that, the authors of the book already deal with ‘something Real’. It becomes obvious that that very urgency which is purely verbally constantly attributed to the Real, actually means only one thing: the Real is already at work, including in speech, which considers itself to be merely ‘analyzing its meaning’. Precisely contrary to that ‘objectivist’ illusion which could be unwillingly nourished by the analysts of the Real, the reality of the latter proves itself very soon on the level where the Real is quite ‘really’ dealt with, where the Real is called for cooperation and is ‘conjured’ in its coming (after Derrida we know that what this conjuration is fraught with – as befits the conjuration it gives birth to the ghosts – and no politics is possible without this outlay). We see that nowhere does the Real reveal its ‘real face’, but this does not mean that nothing eventually emerges from the efforts to clarify it, that nothing takes on truly problematic contours requiring analysis. On the contrary, without exception, all present discussion about the Real is entirely a problem.

Besides, it cannot but matter that it is precisely on behalf of gender thought that there appeared a certain inconvenience regarding the concept of the Real which won’t settle. It is neither Butler’s affiliation to gender theory and nor the suspicion to any categorization (starting with the ‘sex substance’) typical to her that made Butler’s doubt so insightful. Instead, the very modern gender theory itself owes its emergence to the analytic intuition which consists in doubting an unambiguous teleology of any public enunciation. It is precisely due to this intuition that it is easier for Butler to make certain sacrifices – one of them is the renouncement of the phantasm of the Real as ‘the ultimate and decisive threshold.’ It does not mean that we would be remain only at the symbolic level. On the contrary, Butler directly confronts us with the fact that the ambiguities inherent to the symbolic level are not abolished at the level of the Real (as the majority of Lacanians believe), but they reach the highest point of intensity.

Without doubt, the role of gender intervention here is overdetermined – besides, it functions here even above and beyond any common notion about gender criticism. For comparison one can recall Lacan’s observation when he notes that significant role of the concept ‘female masochism’ is given by female part of psychoanalytic movement. The question of ‘female masochism’, by its very existence, is endlessly irritating always gender neutral intellectual community. Butler is by no means an exception from this list, since the question of masochism extremely interested. Moreover, it is important that this interest cannot be explained and it does not have an explanation that would refer the realities of ‘female psychology’. This interest originates from a different source, therefore it is not the ‘truth’ about female masochism that is the most important, but some other reason why this question returns – the reason compared to which the ‘reality of female masochism’ is something absolutely mythological.

The same concerns the question of the ‘Real’, which should keep us alert. It should be admitted that this quite recognizable context where the Real is being politically-philosophically dealt with today, most probably never nail the Real and says nothing about it. However, there is no doubt that the miscue, the evading are caused precisely by the fact that the perspective which is directly related with the Real takes part in the production of this context.

Here, I would try to get to the core of the uneasiness which forces Butler to stubbornly reject any unambiguous understandings of the Real. Butler formulates the main point: the Real can have more than one place. It is at this point that Butler’s seemingly amplified attention to the symbolic can be explained – in the context of what other instance could the question of ‘place’ be raised with such an urgency?

To be fair, must be said that other Lacanians who worked with the Real already noted the oddities that do not allow to give it an unambiguous definition. Laclau even suggests following one of the commentators by distinguishing the pre-letter and the ‘post-letter’ Real, in order to be able to differentiate the initial condition of the impossibility of symbolization from its second failure. It should be said that careful reading of Lacan shows how little use such a differentiation has, in particular, it gives a false impression that somewhere the Real is already present and it only has to happen somewhere else.

Actually, neither in the first nor in the second case this corresponds to reality. Instead, it should be stressed that in actual perspective the Real is completely identified with the splitting which marks the subject, the project, phantasm, enunciation etc. it is striking how confident are the intellectuals who talk about the Real as if it were at once the hand of Midas, that is able of effecting the things in the same way, and gold itself – the symbol of materiality’s limit and the mystery of substance. Deconstruction has already showed that the instrumental and the substantial perspectives are anything but contradictory, on the contrary, as a rule together they form the bulwark of metaphysics together with all its (de)political consequences. Whereas none of the debaters could admit the idea that the Real itself can be split – in the same way as what the Real splits is split – the subject or the speech. None accepts that the Real itself is the first example of ‘barring’. My position is the assertion that it is not the Real that is conjugated with the political, providing the latter with meaning or gaining meaning from it. It is the question about the Real that is political in the first place. This makes one more vigilant about the consequences of the situation when the Real is talked about directly.

It is instructive that trying to capture the ambiguity of the Real none of the debaters considered that the obvious splitting of the Real is already determined by the fact that at some historical point the Real turns into the object of exposition – it is suddenly openly talked about. There is a borderline beyond which the Real became publicly identified and declared to be the greatest influence on the subject’s fate and his speech. In any case, the doubling experienced by the Real in the act of questioning it is obvious – and it can by no means be reduced to the notorious ‘objective position of researcher’.  

For this reason a direct appeal, a naïve question addressed to the Real in the manner ‘what it is and what it is for’ are not available for us, yet far short of the Real’s transcendental character. On the contrary, the ineffability originates, in the first place, from the impossibility to ask about the Real without asking why this sort of question could be raised in critical theory at all.

Obviously, the first could not be explained unless we realize that we do not yet fully understand the meaning of the second event. At the same time this does not in the least contradict what was stated initially – that the Real in its very essence cannot just wait to be requested, that it already has to influece not only its researches but also the very manner which it is being asked about. The contradiction between these two positions could be seen only if the thought still adheres to the scenario where the Real is reserved a certain measure of involvement and a certain fate, which in most cases is only duplicating current ideas about the essence of humanistic and democratic processes.

One has to assume that if the Real remains the unshakable bulwark, the decisive limit, the ‘opus magnum’ of any accomplishment, then whether the Real is considered a ‘fissure’, ‘an elusive nothing’ or anything else, no real change on this basis will take place. Instead, it is the already happened evading of each act and each statement that makes visible the real influence of the Real, which, however, never acts directly. It’s not that, for example, the pressure of the Real forces us to reconsider the fact of the existence of sexual divergence. The source of mitigation of sexual rigorism, the strengthening of women’s rights is by no means located directly in the Real, on the contrary, as Butler has repeatedly shown, the most illusionary stakes could be engaged here. It is precisely the Real that rules within the horizon of the fight for the rights. Relying on Lacan’s maxim about the absence of sexual relations (which is caused precisely because of sexual definiteness) Žižek claims that the irreducibility of sexual difference is a presentation of the pure Real, which remains untouched under the surface of liberal endeavor in the question of gender equality. However, this is much more fundamental. What makes the Real a political agent is the fact that it never acts as a single agent, but it simultaneously effects two different dimensions, one of which remains always omitted, dropped off, which ultimately forces the question to be raised anew, depriving the already happened public statement of its presumption as both the objective and the political. This is how the Lacanian ‘there is no lack in the Real…We can only speak about the lack of the Real’ comes true.

That is why there is no need to judge between the ‘politico-historical’ and the ‘Real’, figuring out which of them comes first and how subversive one of the is for another. It is impossible to find satisfaction in Žižek’s formula ‘the Real is what drives the historical’, since neither ‘the historical’ nor ‘the political’ has any presumption of unity by its own: even as a concept. In this sense Laclau is right that ‘the historical’ can be shacked and disrupted, but his trust in one Real is, in my opinion, unfounded. It is quite possible that the Real interrupts any dream, any flow of the Imaginary. But when we see how, demonstrating full readiness to deal with the Real (we have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the authors, whose list reaches far beyond the limit of the three authors of the book …), the dream of one or another project is being prolonged before our eyes, such as assumption has little value.  

That is why the title of Žižek’s chapter ‘Da Capo senza Fine’ is symptomatic. Hence the conclusion of this article: the story of the Real as a category with all the typical consequences of this situation has to be ended. Instead of keeping the Real in the service of the polemic on preestablished problematic topics, it should be demonstrated that, in fact, all the problematic character is on its side – and in this sense it is no longer a ‘problem’ in its usual sense. The repoliticizing perspective today relies on the ability to admit this state of affairs.

[1] Alenka Zupančič, Ethics of the Real: Kant, Lacan (London: Verso, 2000), p. 235.

[2] Judith Butler, E. Laclau, S. Žižek, Hegemony, Contingency, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left (London: Verso, 2000), p. 152.

[3] Judith Butler, The Psychic Life of Power. Theories of Subjection (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1997), p. 17.

[4] Judith Butler, E. Laclau, S. Žižek, Hegemony, Contingency, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left (London: Verso, 2000), p. 272.

[5] Yannis Stavrakakis, Lacan and the Political (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 125.

[6] Amy Swiffen, «Politics of Law and the Lacanian Real», Journal Law and Critique Publisher, (Volume 21, N. 1, February, 2010), p. 46.

[7] Slavoj Žižek, J. Butler, E. Laclau, Hegemony, Contingency, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left (London: Verso, 2000), p. 222.


Butler, Judith (1997). The Psychic Life of Power. Theories of Subjection. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Butler, J., Laclau E., Žižek S., Hegemony, Contingency, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left. London: Verso.

Stavrakakis, Yannis (1999). Lacan and the Political. London: Routledge.

Swiffen, Amy (2010). «Politics of Law and the Lacanian Real», Journal Law and Critique Publisher. Volume 21, N. 1, February.

Zupančič, Alenka (2000). Ethics of the Real: Kant, Lacan. London: Verso.