27th February 2013

Toasties and ‘little bits of the Real’

The Everyday Analysis collective look at the hidden meanings of the humble toastie

Theodor W. Adorno uses the word ‘culinary’ to designate something of an unanalytic and self-satisfied attitude, so cookery advice might be the last thing you’d expect of us, but…

There are three Lacanian orders: the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real. If the Imaginary registers the split in subjectivity (the gap between what we know as ourselves and what we see in the mirror, for example), then the Real is that very split itself. The Symbolic is the realm of language and of knowledge, and the Real in relation to the Symbolic is as that which is unsymbolisable, inassimilable; all that which we cannot know, the magnitude of which can never be subsumed. The Real is also that which breaks into our lives as trauma, the first symbolic impressions of which we repress and later articulate in symptoms. Lacan says the best we can ever perceive of the Real is only ‘little bits’.

Some, such as James Joyce, might welcome such ‘little bits of the Real’, and try their best to re-present them as ‘real’ (i.e., bring them into the Symbolic order), despite knowing the actual (Real) impossibility of such an endeavour; as he said of Finnegans Wake in a self-critical moment: ‘isn’t it arbitrary to pretend to express the nocturnal life by means of conscious work?’ (Portraits of the Artist is Exile,p.213).

Most of us, however, might prefer to dispel these ‘little bits of the Real’ from our Symbolic universe; and how better to do this than to convert them into symbolic entities? The following is thus of necessity a metaphor: but if we take a loaf of bread, and we don’t want curly hair, we might be prone to leaving the crusts, prone to – in a very small way – being slightly traumatised by there being crusts at all. All we need is a toastie maker. Putting the filling on the crust side and buttering the bread side, squashing the sandwich until it’s sealed toasted, we get the end result of a toastie which looks and tastes like any other made of two middle slices, despite it containing a little bit of the Real. The efficacy of the toastie maker may then be a fitting metaphor for the efficacy of our own Symbolic orders.

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