Violence in the World of Symbolic Order and Psychoanalysis

As a concept violence is not one of the key notions of psychoanalysis. In Freud, we cannot see violence instead; aggression, anger sadism, masochism, pain and pleasure, crime and punishment and fear can be seen in his works. These whole concepts are used by him to explain construction of ego and subjectivity. After Freud, violence stably maintains its secondary place within psychoanalysis.  But, concepts stated above expand issues that are related with violence in psychoanalysis. Within this larger opportunity to indicate violence in psychoanalysis, it has a critical point to ask what is the relation between the ego/ subjectivity which psychoanalysis supposes and concepts such as sadism, masochism, aggression, anger and pain-pleasure that I relate with violence?

Castration complex will be a good point to begin with the issue as it is one of the spaces that individual establishes him/her subjectivity and ego in psychoanalysis. In castration complex, the son wants to have his mother but; as she belongs to the father, the son restricts himself and he is treated as he has committed a crime. Hence, he faces with the punishment that is castration of him. Fear emerges out of desire to mother because; son thinks that his father will take his revenge in a sadistic way and castration is the way to fulfill father’s kind of sadistic revenge on his son. Fear of castration causes repression of son desire and pushes him to behave in accordance with father’s rule or authority but; it also causes anger towards the father. In that sense, son obeys law of father but in a hidden place he maintains his anger against father. The place that repression explodes can result with aggression and practically, it can be seen in fetishism, sadism and masochism. I put fetishism as a one of the place that individual satisfies his/her aggression. It is because as Freud says it is a place where the son gains a triumph over fear of castration and a safeguard against it. By this way, he saves himself from being homosexual by endowing women with attribute which makes them accessible as sexual object (Freud, 1963).  The child escapes from a threat of violence that includes both threats of being castrated and also labeled as homosexual by finding a part of a woman as an object of desire. Both of places to escape emerge as a result of violence and violence is reproduced by fetishization of object of desire. In the issue of fetishized object of desire there is no prohibition in continuity of violence because; Freud says that significance of fetish is it is unknown; therefore, it cannot be prohibited so it is easily obtainable to fulfill complete satisfaction (Freud, 1963). This is a gap in law that cannot enter in the space of fetishist. Therefore, if fetishism is considered as a kind of violence as a result of its reactive act to threat of castration, violence always exists in individualistic level and societal level as well.

In terms of social level, castration complex which also provides social order by repression of individual’s desire can be referred. As a result of repression to son’s desire of mother, a statutory scheme is formed and society can be ensured. The father in castration complex becomes an object that includes fear, hatred and the one who holds monopoly in usage of violence. Freud shows aggression and violence emerges out of repression in the lives of individuals; struggle between father and son. Reflection of the situation to societal level, the same struggle can be seen in relation between citizens and state that represents authority. In the name of civilization, individuals are restricted to behave as they wish by fear of being punished. In order to provide continuity of civilization, except from treat of being punished, some other values are invited, too such as religion, morality and conscience. The aim is clear; to repress individuals’ pervert desires and prevent violence and aggression. But, as aggression causes neurosis and there is always possibility of war as a result of neurosis so; violence and aggression cannot be destroyed in both societal level and individualistic level. As it is seen in castration complex which is a concept in psychoanalysis, violence had penetrated deeply in psychoanalysis and it is a power that is uncontrollable, unknown (as it is seen in fetishism and fetish object) and very common. Diversity of violence within individual and as well as society and culture is seen under names of aggression, anger, fear, anxiety and so on. In the base of sociability there is violence as it is seen in castration complex. But, violence is not a meaning of force which is performed publicly but as a set of practices that directs somethings to fit the norm. Perpetrators of violence are contributors to establish and reproduce norms. While victim of violence is devalued as s/he is imaginary or unreal, perpetrator of violence sees the victim as a threat to his/her life because; his/her norms are shattered as a result of acts of victims. Hence, the perpetrator acts violently against threat (Butler, 2008). By devaluation of victim’s life, perpetrator legitimizes his/her violence towards victim and as a result in social and individual level norms are performed. At this point, I bring a question that will take us to second part of the paper; what is the role of the other in violence? Does violence come from inside or outside (the other)?  Does the source of violence emerge from internal and psychical situation?

If I approach violence with psychoanalysis arguments, we will encounter with the methods that individuals deal with fragmented ego which cannot be repaired. Consciousness receives a fatal wound across the body in pain. Consciousness as unable to dominate its own body tries death on the other’s body. It exits the area that it cannot control and enters area of violence where it can adjust the dose. It hurts the other in a level that has fear to face with its own body. With its own senses, it wants to be witness to the pain that it will suffer if there is a displacement between itself and the other. In that case, the other is taken as center in the issue of violence. The subject’s position and acts are satisfied with existence of the other. On the side of Lacan, however, the other does not have a key role. It is a signifying structure of language (Parker & Pavon-Cuellar, 2014); although violence is seen in Lacan as he says the symbol kills the things (Lacan, 2006). Knowledge in that sense emerges out of fragmentation of real and process contains violence on the real and fragmentation of the real leads to formation of symbolic order which means symbolic order is shaped with usage of violence because; symbolic order has historicity depends on structure of language. Historicity is not a linear process that does not have any breaks. On the contrary, it has catastrophes that are inevitable precondition of progress. Therefore, symbolic order is one of the place where violence is performed in psychoanalysis. Within symbolic order, the real subject cannot live because; his/her reality is transformed by the other. As a result, real subject should die or survive with wound to integrate into symbolic system. Otherwise, s/he will be again punished by certain laws.  So, life is a crime unless it becomes the workforce of the system (Parker & Pavon-Cuellar, 2014). Workforce of the system does not only refer to labor or working class, being a sexual object desire, object of power and parents are also workforce of the system.

Freudian understanding of sexuality is a good point to see how sexuality contains violence under the name of masochism and sadism. Freud does not reduce sexuality only to genital regions; he argues that entire body of human being can be seen as sexual object (Dean, 2000). This brings my mind masochism and sadism because; in both of them the region that is faced with violence is not only genital regions; whole body becomes a place that certain degree of violence is engaged then sexual satisfaction is fulfilled. In this sense, personal experience becomes important as, fetishized part of the body that faces with violence in sadistic and masochistic sexuality, depends on the person who applies violence. Therefore, it is personal and unknown which makes it impossible to prohibit. Hence, within the law that ensures society, violence has its place in a legitimate way.

Lacan re-reads Freud’s expansion of sexuality from genital to entire body by posing jouissance. He argues that with expansion of sexuality to entire body, not only pleasure but also pain and suffering are put into the picture (Dean, 2000). This consolidates my idea that entire body as sexual object can be related with masochism and sadism that offer sexual satisfaction and jouissance including pain and pleasure at the same time. Therefore, there is a relation between pain, pleasure and violence. As oppose to Lacanian jouissance includes suffering and pleasure; Deleuze argues that instead of pain, forms of repetition approaches sexuality (Deleuze, 1967). Therefore, he brings idea of resexualization that sexual pleasure emerges out of repetition which means that satisfaction is fulfilled by progress instead of target. But the missing point in Deleuze is idea of progress whether it is linear or fragmented. In order to illustrate this situation issue towards culture/nature discussion in sexuality will be the point to be deal with it.

Lacan’s understanding of sexuality is about neither culture nor nature because; as Freud says unconscious is not something biological or cultural. Unconscious is not a part of the body, it is the real that is concealed by symbolic order. So, biology and culture fails to explain sexual desire. In relation between culture and sexual desire and sexual satisfaction, it is better to refer Deleuze’ explanation of symptoms. He argues that symptoms are embedded in social and in a relation with society but at the same time they are practices that include their own status (Deleuze, 1967). While they produce knowledge within themselves, they also have historicity. His argument on symptoms is related  with unconscious that sexuality is put by Freud and Lacan. Sexuality in unconscious has its own practices and knowledge, but it also has historicity that the way satisfaction is derived particularly in masochism and sadism. First of all, historicism in both of them is seen tools that are used to satisfy jouissance whip, for instance. Masochism and sadism are personal but they have impersonal side in terms of tactics and tools which are used. In fact, there is a market in this issue; sex shop that particular objects are sold to provide tools for sexual satisfaction. As it is seen in sex shop, in a certain degree masochistic and sadistic characters are known and allowed in society. If things are knowable then they are in symbolic order, then it has historicity that knowledge is produced. Another point that sexuality includes historicity comes from the notion of progress in history. Here, history cannot be read as a linear progress. Instead it has catastrophes that become a rule for progress. As a base of my argument, sexuality in masochism and sadism can also be seen as catastrophes that violence is exposed. Sexual satisfaction does not have a linear progress rather violence is used in masochism and sadism in order to fulfill complete sexual satisfaction with pain and pleasure. Therefore, in my opinion, sexuality cannot be only reduced to unconscious where historicity and culture is ignored. As Deleuze’s symptoms, sexuality also has its own practices but also has social and historical practices as it is seen in masochism and sadism. Here, it is seen that historicism in sexuality as a fragmentation in progress put Deleuze and Lacan into the same side in terms of relation between pain, pleasure and repetition. History repeats itself with catastrophes that results with pain and in every level, degree of pain increases in catastrophes and parallel with increase in pain, progress increases, too. Within sexuality also with repetition of violence pain, satisfaction and jouissance increase. Therefore, resexualization can be seen in Lacanian jouissance, too.

In conclusion, violence in psychoanalysis is not an issue that is directly studied on. In studies on aggression, anger, fear, fetishism, masochism and sadism signs of violence are seen. In these concepts violence does not remote from the law and authority that Deleuze also states by words of masochist as the law does not satisfy me and so I am trying to do the best one (Deleuze, 1967). Lack in the law triggers individuals to find new solutions and they find a gap in the law to fulfill their sexual satisfaction; area of fetishism, masochism and sadism which totally based on their own experience and makes them unknown in a certain degree. Beyond these arguments, significant side in masochism and sadism is they also have threat, fear, anger and aggression so both of them can be seen as a roof of violence in psychoanalysis. This argument is based on that the beaten one is the father, not the child (Deleuze, 1967). Fear of being castrated pushes the child to transform his desires towards another object of desire. In masochism and sadism, object of desire is pain. This can be interpreted as a revenge of the child against her father in the sense that beaten body can be related with the father. So, it is a way to kill the father, body. “The letter kills” Lacan says. Letter as a part of symbolic order kills the real and the child with usage of certain tools to implement violence kills the real live in his unconscious; father. While father is killed in the first stage of torture or pain, the child regenerates himself again and again. Therefore, repetition and pain play key role in complete satisfaction emerge in a place where the law I invalid. In complete sexual satisfaction with a certain degree of violence the other also has a center place because; the body which is being tortured and wounded is region that satisfaction is completed by witnessing the pain.  I relate the body with the other even it is child’s body because; whether it is body of the child or not in symbolic order; it represents the father in the real or unconscious. Therefore, dead, tortured and wounded bodies are integrated to symbolic order with basis of the father in the real. In that sense, symbolic order is implementation of violence emerge as a result of repression of mother desire and threat of castration. Therefore, I take violence as an inevitable concept in psychoanalysis.


Zeynep Yokmaç


Butler, J. 2008. Cinsiyet Belası: Feminizm ve Kimliğin Altüst Edilmesi, Metis Yayınları

Dean, T. 2000. Lacan Meets Queer Theory. In Beyond Sexuality, pp. 215-268. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Deleuze, G. 1967 [1997] Coldness and Cruelty, pp. 15-35; 81-138.

Freud, S. 1963. Fetishism. In Sexuality and the Psychology of Love (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1963), 204-09

Lacan, J. 2006.  Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English, (Trans. by Bruce Fink, Russel Grigg and Heloise Fink), New York: W.W. Norton & Co

Parker, I., & Pavon-Cuellar, 2014. Lacan, Discourse, Event: New psychoanalytical Approaches to Textual Indeterminacy. Routledge


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