Parade of Signifiers

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The concept of the parade of signifiers was formulated by Jacques Lacan in relation to his thesis that "the unconscious is structured like a language" and more specifically to his conception of unconscious desire. The speaking subject constantly expresses something of his or her desire by way of demand. Thus the parade of signifiers is structurally linked to the flow of speech. Since a single signifier never signifies anything as such, it is necessarily linked to others that form a chain of signifiers and, in fact, discourse, or a march of signifiers.

The series of signifiers that parades through speech has its source in the necessity of demand, which is always fundamentally a demand for the lost object (das Ding ). This demand is repeated as a demand for the object of desire, object a, the object that remains forever lacking. In this sense, since desire is always inscribed between need and demand, it can have no other outcome than to make itself heard in the indeterminate series of signifiers that march through the signifying chain.

Through the intervention of the signifiers of the Name-of-the-Father, the structuring character of the paternal metaphor imposes a regulated order on this signifying parade. The absence of such regulation, which results from the foreclosure of the signifiers of the Name-of-the-Father, causes the chain of signifiers to disintegrate, as psychotic pathologies clearly show.

JoËl Dor

See also: Name-of-the-Father; Signifier/signified; Signifying chain; Subject's desire.


Lacan, Jacques. (1978) The four fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis (Alan Sheridan, Trans.). New York: W. W. Norton. (Original work published 1964)

. (1998). Le Séminaire-Livre V, Les Formations de l'Inconscient (1957-58). Paris: Seuil.

. (2002a) The instance of the letter in the unconscious, or reason since Freud. InÉcrits: A selection (Bruce Fink Trans.). New York: W. W. Norton. (Original work published 1957)

. (2002b) The subversion of the subject and the dialectic of desire in the Freudian unconscious. InÉcrits: A selection (Bruce Fink Trans.). New York: W. W. Norton. (Original work published 1960)