Big Other  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Grand Autre

The Big Other is a concept launched by Jacques Lacan as the Grand Autre, which in itself goes back to the concept of the other.

For Žižek, present society, or postmodernity, is based upon the demise in the authority of the Big Other. Continuing the theorists of the contemporary risk society, who advocate the personal freedoms of choice or reflexivity, which have replaced this authority, Žižek argues that these theorists ignore the reflexivity at the heart of the subject. For Žižek, lacking the prohibitions of the big Other, in these conditions, the subject's inherent reflexivity manifests itself in attachments to forms of subjection, paranoia and narcissism. In order to ameliorate these pathologies, Žižek proposes the need for a political act or revolution - one that will alter the conditions of possibility of postmodernity (which he identifies as capitalism) and so give birth to a new type of Symbolic Order in which a new breed of subject can exist.

  • The Law.

Žižek refers to the law throughout his work. The term "the law" signifies the principles upon which society is based, designating a mode of collective conduct based upon a set of prohibitions. However, for Žižek, the rule of the law conceals an inherent unruliness which is precisely the violence by which it established itself as law in the first place. (See For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor.)

  • The Demise of the big Other.

One key aspect of the universalization of reflexivity is the resulting disintegration of the big Other, the communal network of social institutions, customs and laws. For Žižek, the big Other was always dead, in the sense that it never existed in the first place as a material thing. All it ever was (and is) is a purely symbolic order. It means that we all engage in a minimum of idealization, disavowing the brute fact of the Real in favor of another Symbolic world behind it. Žižek expresses this disavowal in terms of an "as if". In order to coexist with our neighbors we act "as if" they do not smell bad or look ridiculous. The big Other is then a kind of collective lie to which we all individually subscribe. (See Jacques Lacan on other/Other and Žižek's For They Know Not What They Do.)

  • The Return of the big Other.

Paradoxically, then, Žižek argues that the typical postmodern subject is one who displays an outright cynicism towards official institutions, yet at the same time believes in the existence of conspiracies and an unseen Other pulling the strings. This apparently contradictory coupling of cynicism and belief is strictly correlative to the demise of the big Other. Its disappearance causes us to construct an Other of the Other in order to escape the unbearable freedom its loss encumbers us with. (See Looking Awry: an Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture.)

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Big Other" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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