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To accept a given nodal point is to retroactively confer meaning and significance on a crosssection of previously existing free-floating signifiers .
In the US television show µBoston Legal¶, an older, seasoned attorney gives advice to a younger lawyer he has just defeated at trial: µNever let your opponent frame your argument¶. This means that I can make a perfectly coherent and compelling argument, but still be defeated by someone able to frame the articulation between the component parts of my discourse.
Because I do
If one is to interrogate one¶s own deepest values, and to press on with question after question as to µwhy?¶, as to what lies behind, what justifies the single most important belief we claim to have ± whether it is a spiritual, an emotional, a political commitment ± this chain of values will ultimately lead to an empty µbecause I do¶, µbecause it is¶.
with a master-signifier. an ³idiotic´ signifier which can never be fully explained. This is a signifier which must not be relativized. and ± as in the mother¶s response to the disobedient & questioning child: µbecause I say so¶ ± must obeyed. .Because I say so The potentially endless succession of words seemingly stops here.
At first this 2nd melody seems to be an accompaniment to the 1st. played by the winds. but after a while we realize that this first is in fact the accompaniment to the 2nd which µdescends from above¶ (Zizek). . is joined by another. played by oboe and clarinet.Descending from above In the 3rd movement of Mozart¶s Serenade No. 10 a beautiful introductory melody.
which retrospectively determines its meaning.that becomes articulated within a broader. It is not simply that the 2nd motif retrospectively converts the 1st into a variant of it. as of yet unseen frame. as of yet ungiven theme. but that both are ultimately variants of another.Descending from above What we have here is a seemingly dominant element ± a µwhat comes before¶ . .
The birds which originally appeared to be the subject of the shot now provide its point of view.A 2nd reframing motiff In Hitchcock¶s µThe Birds¶ we have a similar procedure: a µbird¶s eye¶ view of a the burning town. Initially this appears as an unclaimed point of view. . but gradually one then another bird enters the scene.
but that of an off-screen space itself. . an initial motif. reframes anew. more importantly. Crucially.The making of the µoff-screen¶ We have something analogous here to the Mozart example: the fact of a second motif that re-marks. in µThe Birds¶. an imposition of a frame from outside. the ultimate point of view is not that of the birds. We have.
The µdivine¶ aspect of Mozart¶s music: to imply that any given musical motif only stands in for another.gives a heightened aesthetic effect. .or given any concrete presence .The effect of the not-present This ³off-screen space´. as yet unheard one that is greater than anything we could imagine. this implied frame of reference that is not itself explicitly present .
Absence of substance The Hitchcockian µsuspense¶ lies in what is left out of the scene. this other place or possibility for which what we do see stands in. . what does not happen. substantive content that makes a certain element operate as a master signifier. Part of the key to what we are trying to grasp here lies with the idea that it is precisely the lack of a fixable.
a signifier-without-a-signified which always supplements the chain of µknowledge¶ (S2) and makes it possible. a µground¶. Without such an operation.Why meaning is possible We have thus something tantamount to an µempty space¶. without itself being a meaning. . The master signifier (S1) is just such a µground¶. which enables the inscription of all other marks. a signified. meaning cannot emerge.
Without the inscription. within the series of elements. the distance between µfigure¶ and µground¶ cannot be established (Zizek). . we need at least one element that represents the place of inscription for all other elements. of an element which remarks their very place of inscription. articulates the component parts.The logic of the re-mark In µthe universe of the signifier¶. This element holds meaning together.
.Sliding of signifieds We know about the arbitrary relationship between the signifier and the signified. that there is often a sliding of signifieds under the signifier (jokes. For psychoanalysis this means that the signifier often determines meaning. slips of the tongue) where the pun or ambiguity of a word leads us away from expected meaning to a different destination.
but I need rather relate it to other signifiers (look in a dictionary. Lacan however is not advocating the impossibility of any fixity of meaning. The signified is thus always potentially slipping out of reach.From one signifier to another If I want to work out the meaning of a new signifier. an unending fluidity of unconnected differences. escaping any attempt to keep it fixed. etc). . I cannot access its signified automatically.
the meaning of whole chains of signifiers. a quilting-point which fixes. like an upholstery button. .Point de capiton There is something like a point de caption. The existence of points de caption never produce an eternally stable meaning. although. retrospectively. some degree of movement is still possible. only a relative and temporary ± albeit necessary ± fixation. Such a point of fixity arrests the sliding of the signifieds under the signifiers.
stops their sliding and fixes their meaning´ (Zizek). proto-ideological elements is structured into a unified field through the intervention of a certain nodal point which quilts them. .The identity of an ideological field ³What creates and sustains the identity of a given ideological field beyond all possible variations of its positive content?´ ³the multitude of floating signifiers.
socialist ecology (capitalism is to blame for exploitation of nature). (Zizek) .Different ecologisms The meaning of µecologism¶ is not the same in every ideological system but shifts btw several possible meanings: feminist ecology (the exploitation of nature is masculine). conservative ecology (urging us to go back to the cycles of nature).
. It is the struggle not only to be one of those free-floating ideological signifiers whose meaning is µquilted¶ or determined by another but also that signifier which gives those others their meaning. is that medium through which they are organized.Different ecologisms Ideology is the struggle over which of these elements not only is defined by its relationship with the others but also allows this relationship. to which they must ultimately be understood to be referring.
a point of supreme plenitude of meaning. . The status of the nodal point is truly paradoxical. which constructs an identity by connecting free-floating ideological elements can lead to a misunderstanding that this signifier is itself an µessential¶ fixed point of reference.Totalizing the field The idea of a signifier that that totalizes an ideological field.
country. On the contrary. its nature is purely performative.The tautological element This nodal point is not a point of excessive density of meaning. performative operation´. . Zizek: ³The crucial step in the analysis of an ideological edifice is to detect behind the dazzling splendour of the element that holds it together (God. tautological. a perfect guarantee of meaning. its role is purely structural. Class) this selfreferential.
Privileged signifiers In a critique of Derrida. i ek (1994b) warns that one cannot reduce the Lacanian symbolic ³to the balanced economy of exchange´ (p. we might say. not all signifiers. 195). . are equal in such an economy. The reason for this is that such a system inevitably yields one or more privileged signifiers.
Disproportionate values We need move beyond the classic Structuralist conception of a differential system of components to an appreciation that certain key ideas ± the motifs of a given ideology for instance . How are we able to account for the fact that certain signifiers appear to maintain a massively amplified µvalue¶? .attain a disproportionate hold upon us.
a semblance of fixity.around which a great many other signifiers coalesce and come to gain meaning. . they can¶t be totalized.Hollow markers Any symbolic or social system will yield certain prioritized values and notions. The irony is that these signifiers are µundecidable¶. the apparent fixities ± the exceptional signifiers . These are the anchoring-points.
empty. insubstantial. an identity. This is less important than the fact that the social or symbolic system in question needs an unquestioned assumption as a centring point. .their µmagnetic north¶. their navigational principle .A µnavigational principle¶ Ultimately there is no natural primacy to these markers ± they remain forever hollow.in terms of which all surrounding signifiers gain a sense. a location.
a structural function that power gets hold of. 87). necessarily gives rise to a µMaster Signifier¶. a balanced matrix of permutations. but which is in itself empty. a pure positivization of a void (Dolar. devoid of meaning. far from being simply differential.Positivization of a void Any notion of structure. . p.
Undecidability Such Master Signifiers are not easily contested. These Master Signifiers emerge precisely at those points where meaning can never be fully determined. in providing co-ordinates for surrounding signifiers. . or denied because they play a crucial role in fixing meanings. refuted.
Undecidability Such Master Signifiers are not easily contested. They emerge precisely at those points where meaning can never be fully determined. . refuted. in providing co-ordinates for surrounding signifiers. It is no coincidence that undecidability and primary signification occur at the same place. or denied because they play a crucial role in fixing meanings.
. Thus.Mediation of empty signifiers Society lacks an ultimate signifier with which to make it complete: [N]othing positive can be said about the µtruth¶ of society except that it is incomplete ± in Lacanian terms. that there is a µlack in the symbolic Other¶. p. society exists as a totality only insofar as the social subject posits its existence as such through the mediation of empty signifiers (Glynos. 197).
The reason why I love this person is never fully rationalized by the string of signifiers which follow on from this fact. being in love is itself a self-justifying fact which always exceeds the µreasons why I love them¶.Exceeding its reasons Being in love provides an example of the totalizing effect of that element which itself cannot be totalized. .
. a definitive substance . that which grounds me. providing a coherent social role and significance for my existence.switches over into something quite different.Exceeding its reasons Lacanian theory is attentive to the moment in which such a lack . into that which (potentially) lies behind the meaning of everything.the inability to articulate a final justification.
.Incapacity to full meaning A failure. As Glynos (2001) puts it: epistemological incapacity is hence transformed into the positive ontological condition of society and of our social subjectivity. in short ± an inability to explain ± is thus translated into the positive condition of our existence as types of meaningful social subjects.
µDemocracy¶ and other causes stand for µsomething¶ about which we are never sure what exactly. with a Master signifier which serves as the rallying point for others ( i ek. . 142). rather. it is ± the point is. that by identifying with Nation we signal our acceptance of what others accept. p. 1996.Incapacity to full meaning This is the conversion of undecidability of the signified into an exceptional signifier: µNation¶.
. a lack covered by a mere word. yet it is also an empty name lacking substantive content. a signifier.Constitutive lack A master-signifier resembles a Janus head: it is presented as a consideration of supreme meaning. The nodal point quilts all the ideological moments of a signifying chain together ± it hegemonizes a field of potential meanings ± and yet it can be shown to be an impossibility.
) while. thus masking the split and unstable character of [the ideological formation]´ Stavrakakis. it only masks an µunderlying¶ constitutive lack.Constitutive lack It functions as a point of supreme meaning. etc. in reality. fullness. ethical priority. . objectivity (natural objectivity) and moral value (nature¶s intrinsic value). ³The nodal point is presented as a point of supreme density of meaning (instrinsic value.
functions as if it is already effective.Meaning to come We are hence dealing with a ³meaning to come´ which although it is never fully actualized. . by the time µGod¶ or µNation¶ or any other master-signifier works as a rallyingpoint for a group. consolidates them as a society even though each of them might indeed have differing notions as to what µGod¶ or µNation¶ might in fact be. So. it already effectively coordinates their activity.
What others identify with What is being identified with is not some concrete image. It is not an identification with any concrete thing. a meaning-tocome . . but ± indeed. it is rather identifying with something that others identify with.that which others accept and identify with. it is neither direct nor with anything substantial. Identification with a Master Signifier is an odd sort of identification. some delimited object of knowledge.
Precipitate identification We are plugged into a similar social network by virtue of the fact of identifications with the indefinite. but a relation with an inconclusive (Master) signifier that others have also taken on and have done so as a means of avoiding the uncertainty of their (our) social being. Hence the notion of a precipitate identification that involves not a direct relation with an object. always open Master Signifier that others are also identified with. .
a signifier of pure potentiality of meaning-tocome. how do we pass from the dispersed. . S1. changed into a closed order.S1 & big Other So. By this precipitation (the intervention of an µempty¶ signifier which stands for meaningto-come) the symbolic field is completed. inconsistent collection of signifiers to the big Other qua consistent order? By supplementing the inconsistent series of signifiers with a Master-Signifier.
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