Das Unheimliche is (the) Real

This is an old post from 2011 when I was studying Lacanian psychoanalysis as part of my exploration of the 7FW and my Acéphalic Mysticism.  The concept of the Real is something which I still value. Lacan knew Bataille of course and Lacan admired Bataille’s philosophy/mysticism. What Lacan defined as the Real can be translated into the Sacred, the Numinous and it shows how ancient Gnostic and Alchemical teachings do surface in ‘new’ philosophical teachings (which frequently deny the eternal value of the Sacred).    

All our political and religious regimes (regardless of the cultural background) are based on the relentless pursuit of man’s well-being, and these systems have enslaved both its leaders and its followers. Communism defines happiness in terms of financial and material equality: the equality of the employer and employees; the equality of the industrial and developing countries. Capitalism, in contrast to the former, favours the entrepeneurs and neglects the interests of the workers,but it ensures material happiness. Both systems are universal as they both have the welfare and the future of the human animal in mind. Popular ecologism / environmentalism is the hottest ideology at the moment, and its prophets believe in material sustainability and the possiblity for the human animal to live on this planet in such a way that the ecological balance is not overthrown. And then we still have the major  religious regimes, such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. No matter how different these political and religious regimes are, they all have in common that they function as a screen on which their followers project their particular view on how the reality should be.

The French psychoanalyst  Jacques Lacan calls this the Symbolic Order; this is the order of laws and ethics and it necessarily structures our society for we need our language, our discourse to communicate with the others. We do  not control our discourse; we are controlled by it. As the Belgian philosopher Marc De Kesel puts it: we are a subjectum; we are carriers, form a bearing surface so to speak for the various signifiers, words that float around. In order to communicate and actually bring deliver a meaningful message we follow certain rules. Only poets have the liberty to violate and transgress these laws. Now, the Symbolic Order consists of various layers for signifiers can be intrepreted differently. And this is exactly what the various ideologies do, and somehow every ideologist assumes he speaks the truth.

Behind the screens of these ideologies lies, what Lacan calls, the Real. Those who think that the Real resembles the Platonian world of Forms, will be seriously disappointed. The Real is nothing like a a realm where the ideal forms exist, but the Real is the realm of that which cannot be represented, that which exists outside the text (Derrida), outside the Symbolic Order or that which ex-sists tout court. Our Symbolic Order may be necessary for our survival as a species: this order is and will never be complete. As soon as the child learns to speak, to communicate through language, it enters the Symbolic Order. Yet this Order lacks ‘something’, which cannot be expressed through language, and this can be found, be encountered in the Real.

The Lacanian concept of the Real is incredibly complicated for it can be approached in several ways (1), but the notion the Real that matters to us, is what Freud calls ‘das Unheimliche’. The Real is “(…) the Horrible Thing: the Medusa’s Head; the alien from the movie; the abyss; a monster.” (Zizek & Daly 2004: 68) And it is exactly the function of ideology “to regulate a certain distance with an encounter with the horrific Real.” (Zizek & Daly 2004: 70) In regard to encountering the Real, ideology appears to involve both sustenance and avoidance. In other words, ideology protects the human animal from an underlying order. “Not another reality (2), but something that would smash our Symbolic Order. And, according to the French philosopher Alain Badiou, we may ‘encounter’ the Real when it breaks through the screens that constitute the Symbolic Order.

(1) The well-known Slovenian philosopher and Lacanian Slavoj Zizek distinguishes three Reals (Zizek 2004: 68).

(2) This is exactly what turns ‘The Matrix’ trilogy into a pseudo-philosophical neoplatonian fairy tale that creates the illusion that its fans, the herd, can actually think for themselves. The fact is that the matrix itself constitutes the reality and not a screen created by an independent technological entity. Neo is not mankind’s redeemer, but he is a virtual false prophet. The Matrix is an outstanding illustration of mankind’s history: the human flock waiting for its shepherd to lead it to a better world.