Four discourses  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan argued that there were four fundamental types of discourse. These could be expressed as the permutations of a four-term configuration showing the relative positions of the subject, the master signifier, knowledge and objet petit a.

Lacan's theory of the four discourses was initially developed in response to the events of May 1968 in France. He defined four discourses, which he called Master, University, Hysteric and Analyst, and showed how these relate dynamically to one another.

  • Discourse of the Master - Struggle for mastery / domination / penetration. Based on Hegel's Master-slave dialectic
  • Discourse of the University - Provision and worship of "objective" knowledge - usually in the unacknowledged service of some external master discourse.
  • Discourse of the Hysteric - Symptoms embodying and revealing resistance to the prevailing master discourse.
  • Discourse of the Analyst - Deliberate subversion of the prevailing master discourse.

Slavoj Žižek uses the theory to explain various cultural artefacts, including Don Giovanni and Parsifal.

Slavoj Zizek, Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel and the Critique of Ideology (Duke University Press, 1993). Read chapter 5 - and see especially note 24 on page 274. There are similar examples in some of his numerous other books.

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