Thursday, May 25, 2006


A farmer finds himself stranded on a desert island with only Jessica Simpson for company. They start talking, get to know each other, and eventually the farmer succeeds in getting Jessica into bed. They make love in every position imaginable, and Jessica caters for the farmer’s every sexual whim.

When they have finished, the farmer turns to Jessica and says: “I have one more request. I would like you to cut your hair short, draw a fake moustache on your face, wear a man’s suit, and talk with a deep voice.”

“But why?” Jessica asks. “Is this how you get your kicks? Are you really into transvestites?”

“No no, it’s nothing like that,” says the farmer. “But please, just do this for me.” So while the farmer walks away to give her some space, Jessica shaves her head, draws a bushy moustache on her upper lip and puts on a suit as the farmer requested. When she is done, the farmer returns and says, “Listen mate, you’ll never guess what I’ve just done – I’ve just shagged Jessica Simpson!”


In the first of his Lacanian masterclasses today, Slavoj Zizek used this joke to illustrate what Lacan means by the Big Other. It is a paradox we have all experienced in real life: after having sex with someone very attractive, we are often less satisfied than after having sex with someone less attractive. We have satisfied our explicit sexual urges, but there is still something left over. In other words, sex – like any human interaction – is never just about the two people involved. There is a third entity which also hovers over us, which monitors us, and which we wish to satisfy.

This third entity is part of what is meant by the Big Other, and Zizek, ever the master exemplifier, also mentions the phenomenon immediately after elections in which the government retains power, but with a much reduced majority, whereby political pundits say that “the electorate has sent a message to the government.” Well, how have they done this exactly? Which particular members of the electorate have sent this message? And, indeed, what is the message? The reality is that this is media bullshit: some people have stuck with the government, while many others have diverted their vote elsewhere. But again, it assumes the existence of an amorphous collective being which speaks for and represents us. Of course, the logical question which proceeds this is: do we (collectively) make up the Big Other, or does the Big Other determine us?

I would suggest the latter is true. This should not be controversial; it follows logically from the position of the superego. But whereas Freud’s structure of the psyche insinuates an idealism, whereby something non-material and instrinsic precedes the reality of a person’s moral codes, Lacan’s structure of the psyche – where the Real, the Symbolic and the Imaginary imbricate each other in a Borromean knot – is rooted in materialism. The Big Other does not arise out of nothing; it is not a mere idea. Over the next couple of posts, I will try to explore where it arises from.


Blogger Snowball said...

Glad you paid attention in your 'master-class'...

10:51 AM  

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