That is to say: the difference between Imaginary proper and Symbolic qua Imaginary ‘as such’ is that of the competition between Zeuxis and Parrhasios from the Ancient Greek anecdote often cited by Lacan: one was duped by the image itself, taking the painted birds for the ‘real’ ones; while the other, confronted with the painted veil, told the painter: ‘OK, take the veil away, uncover the painting behind it!’ In this second case, the image deceives us not by seducing us into taking the painted object for the ‘real thing’, but by making us believe that there is a ‘real thing’ concealed beneath it – and, in this second case, the deception of the image is properly symbolic. The symbolic dimension proper is thus that of appearance – appearance as, precisely, opposed to imaginary simulacrum. In a sublime appearance, the positive imaginary content is a stand-in for the ‘impossible’ Beyond (the Thing, God, Freedom . . .) – just as, for Laclau, ‘hegemony means the representation, by a particular [content], of an impossible totality with which it is incommensurable’. In short, the moment we enter the dimension of symbolic appearance, the imaginary content is caught/inscribed in a dialectic of void and negativity.[p. 105][note]Zizek ends this paragraph with a long footnote worth citing in its entirety:
Lacan’s concept of sublimation is the result of a very simple yet radical operation: he brings together the Freudian problematic of ‘sublimation’ (which, to put it in somewhat simplified terms, involves shifting the libido from an object that satisfies some immediate material need to an object that has no apparent connection to this need: destructive literary criticism becomes sublimated aggressivity; scientific research on the human body becomes sublimated voyeurism . . .) and the Kantian notion of the ‘Sublime’ (an empirical object/event which, through its very failure adequately to represent the noumenal Idea, evokes this trans-phenomenal Idea, as in the famous notion of extreme natural phenomena like storms and earthquakes which, in their very majesty, fail to represent the noumenal freedom adequately, and thus give birth to the reasoning: ‘even Nature at its mightiest is infinitely less than my freedom’).
Lacan replaces the Kantian noumenal Thing with the impossible/real Thing, the ultimate object of desire – the primordial movement of’ sublimation’ is thus not from concrete material sexual, etc., needs to ‘spiritual’ concerns, but the shifting of the libido from the void of the ‘unserviceable’ Thing to some concrete, material object of need which assumes a sublime quality the moment it occupies the place of the Thing. This is why Lacan defines sublimation as the elevation of an object into the dignity of the Thing: ‘sublimation’ occurs when an object, part of everyday reality, finds itself in the place of the impossible Thing. This Thing is inherently anamorphic: it can be perceived only when it is viewed from the side, in a partial, distorted form, as its own shadow – if we look straight at it we see nothing, a mere void. (In a homologous way, we could speak of temporal anamorphosis: the Thing is attainable only by an incessant postponement, as its absent point-of-reference.) The Thing is therefore literally something that is created – whose place is encircled – through a network of detours, approximations and near-misses.[pp. 170-1][/note]