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Among Jacques Lacan's most useful theoretical innovations are his constructs to describe human behavior in three registers: the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real. The imaginary is the register of the ego, of fantasies of possession and totalization, of rivalry and revenge, of specular relationships of the subject with its own reflections or its own projections. The symbolic is the register of the law and order, of language, of repression, of submission to Other structures and systems such as culture, civilization, and society. The ceaseless conflict between the imaginary imperatives for individual conquest and the symbolic surrender of the individual in favor of the Other is a frequent literary theme. Not surprisingly, especially for literature written in earlier centuries, such plots almost always point in the direction of the symbolic over the individual, of the need for one to sacrifice one's own pleasure for the good of all. Seen in the light of postmodem criticism, however, even the most conservative plots reveal that the symbolic cannot replace the imaginary, and that there is always an irrespressible element of the real that undermines the success of both the imaginary and the symbolic. The Spanish Golden Age comedia is full of examples of tidy endings that do not seem so happy upon closer inspection: the marriage of women to men who dishonored them and who do not love them, or the triumph of individual honor at the cost of the life of a loved one, for example. Calderón' s La cisma de Ingalaterra is a useful example of the manner in which the workings of the three registers undermines the apparent symbolic moral lesson.


A. Robert Lauer & Henry W. Sullivan


Peter Lang


New York



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Hispanic Essays in Honor of Frank P. Casa