The “Bar” and the “Split” Subject


The distinction that I am trying to add to the traditional discussion of the “split subject” concerns the “bar” and the “split.” It is possible that some theorists might be tempted to describe the split only as a “bar” (e.g., what Lacan coined the “s-barred”), a bar which keeps the speaking-being from accessing the ontological coordinates of subjectivity. For example, in traditional Lacanian semiotic theory the “bar” operates to keep the system of signifiers from ever reaching the signified except by introducing another signifier or another meaning.1 The etymological distinction between “bar” and “signifier” is crucial: if “bar” describes an attempt to “fasten” or “obstruct” so as to prevent something dangerous from spilling out – it is therefore a barrier – then “split” describes an attempt by the subject to separate a given unity or whole by promoting an inherent crack of fissure. The bar is an act of primary repressive defence against the powerful effects of the real. In this case, the subject is at war with itself, but, ultimately, must be located on the side of the repressive defence mechanism, the ego. But the split is an act of subjectivity itself, it is the widening of a crack or fissure in the ego and an attempt to push through the walls of defence. Does this not help to explain why Jacques-Alain Miller wrote that “this barred ‘s’ is fundamentally a subject who does not keep to his place”?2

1“[The signified] is always moving towards […] another meaning” (Lacan, Seminar III., p. 137).

2Jacques-Alain Miller. “‘A’ and ‘a’ in Clinical Structures,” The Symptom. As Retrieved on August 19th, 2016 from <>


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