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Jacques Lacan introduced the notion of the "Name-of-the-Father." By it he meant that every signifier, by its connection, not to an object, but rather to another signifier (Ferdinand de Saussure), symbolizes the lack that it introduces into being. As the particular symbolizer produces this effect while at the same time transforming it, the Name-of-the-Father enables human beings to tolerate and maintain desire. Without it, lack is experienced as a devouring force (cf. the case of Little Hans, Freud, 1909b) or a sucking force, the representation of a wound in the maternal body that is the source of a debt that can never be repaid.

The child discovers this name as a metaphor for the enigmatic object desired by the mother in the body of the child's father. Thus, the child can find his way to one of two ways of assuming for this phallus; he can either have it like the father, or be it, in order to be desired.

The Oedipus complex makes the father the agent of the prohibition that makes it the impossible to access the object-cause-of-desire. Lacan's structural analysis shows that the father is not himself the guarantor of the symbolic law, but is the one who authorizes desire. "[T]he true function of the Father . . . is fundamentally to unite (and not to oppose) a desire to the Law," he wrote in "Subversion of the Subject and Dialectic of Desire" (Lacan, p. 309).

In the Other, the phallus thus no longer symbolizes a devouring agency, but instead one that rejoices if the subject experiences sexual enjoyment (jouissance ) and procreates. Only one father can take on such a function, to the point of identifying with the phallus as symbolized by the dead Father.

It is understandable that some religions hold non-procreative sexual enjoyment (jouissance ) to be sacrilegious, thus defrauding the phallic symbol by defying or abusing the dead Father. Religion's traditional function is to affirm the primacy of sexual enjoyment against the destructive, abnormal forms of enjoyment that are in fashion.

Charles Melman

See also: Fatherhood; Foreclosure; Imaginary identification/symbolic identification; Infantile psychosis; Metaphor; Metonymy; Myth of origins; Parade of signifiers; Phobias in children; Psychoses, chronic and delusional; Real, the (Lacan); Real, Symbolic, and Imaginary father; Repudiation; Schizophrenia; Seminar, Lacan's; Signifier; Signifier/signified; Signifying chain; Superego; Symptom/sinthome.


Lacan, Jacques. (2002). The subversion of the subject and the dialectic of desire in the Freudian subconscious. In Écrits: A selection (Bruce Fink, Trans.). New York: Norton.