Who is the Big Other, and is there a little Other?

  • Zizek often draws on Lacan term the Big Other; what is this and what does it mean?

    One supposes that there may also then be a little other - is this right?

    What would be sensible examples of either kind?

    Not really related to your question, but ... I just notice that "Big Other" is quite similar to "Big Brother". Just a random coincidence?

    @celtschk:Possibly not; perhaps a freudian slip, if one can still believe in that sort of thing; Zizeks *sublime object of ideology* does make the case for the equation Big Other=Big Brother; though that equals sign should be taken informally.

    Is 'the Big Other' quantified Other? Or is it a categorical Other--like Capital "A"rt?

    @xtian: i don't think so; it comes from lacan; one defines oneself in contrast to an 'other'; Said uses this in his argument in *Orientalism*, by suggesting the West, in part, defines itself against the East

    Is this like the body without organs? I love this postmodern stuff. Can you supply some context for us ignorami? What's a big other, and can you give an example please?

  • matt

    matt Correct answer

    6 years ago

    Well, the examples you offer seem to be oppositions...East v. West, a discourse that valorizes belief v. a discourse that valorizes knowledge, and man v. woman. The “Big Other” is the symbolic texture of human subjectivity, whence come norms, expectations, desires, prohibitions, regimes of representation, guaranties of meaning, and many other things.

    The "Other" in Big Other can be distracting; it tends to personify, if not caricature, what I described in the previous sentence. I think that many people tend to think of the Big Other as a Big (br)Other, which is a mistake. The Big Other is purely virtual, and of it Lacan would often say that it doesn’t exist (he would also say “there is no Other of the Other,” which was a way of saying that there is no metalanguage that could provide a guarantee to our meanings).

    Regarding the relation between man and woman, it is reasonable to see them as being little others for each other; in some ways this is accurate, but I think only in a superficial way. The relation between little others is, one some level, always one of narcissism, aggression, and competition. If you think about it, to some extent, this pertains to all relations between all individuals.

    But the relation between ‘man’ and ‘woman,’ this is something a little different... I think that lacanians would tend to speak of one as being the symptom of the other, and I think the same is true for the relation between Orient and Occident. As to the relation between Religion and Philosophy, I don’t know.

    • Since little others can be thought of as neighbors, fellow citizens, enemies, friends, peers, or lovers, and Big Others can be thought of as collections of social conventions, codes, norms, laws, etc., why shouldn't we simply abandon the lacanian parlance and call little others 'persons' and Big Others 'cultures'? What is it that makes the other "other"?

      What is it that grounds the Other's (or other's) alterity, that makes it fundamentally unassimilable?


    Here is a link to an article by J.A. Miller that addresses this idea.


    The "little other" is the Big Other of the Big Other, ie, the little other is any "other" that doesn't qualify as Big Other.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM