**RELATED TERMS: Storyworld; **
The imaginary mediates between abstract conception and material realisation. The storyworld takes place in the imaginary. In the design of narrative environments, the imaginary does not carry a negative connotation of being ‘illusory’ in the sense of being simply a set of deceptive illusions masking a real or obscuring a real. It is more like a process of grappling with representations as part of a struggle to grasp the reality of experience, constituted in part by imaginary elements that cannot be disregarded.
In the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan, the Imaginary order, intertwined with the Symbolic order and the Real, refers to the fundamental narcissism by which human subjects create fantasy images of themselves, on the one hand, and their ideal objects of desire, on the other hand. This process is closely related to Lacan’s theorisation of the mirror stage, which marks the movement of the subject from primal ‘need’ to ‘demand’. Whereas needs can be fulfilled, the demand of the child to make the other a part of itself is impossible to realise and begins to serve as a reminder of loss, of the boundless connection to the mother and to the world, and of lack, of that oneness, wholeness or boundlessness, a movement from infinite connection to finite being.
This difference between ‘demand’ and ‘desire’ marks the distinction between the imaginary and the symbolic order for Lacan. The Symbolic order acknowledges the language, law and community that the finite being must negotiate, whereas the demand of the imaginary is trapped in a fixed dyadic relation between the self and the object one wants to make a part of oneself.
The fantasy image of oneself in the imaginary order can be filled by others who we may want to emulate in our adult lives, anyone that we set up as a mirror for ourselves in what remains a narcissistic relationship. For Lacan this Imaginary realm continues to exert its influence throughout the life of the adult and is not simply superseded by the child’s movement into the symbolic order. The imaginary and the Symbolic are, according to Lacan, inextricably intertwined and work in tension with the Real.
It is here that the characters in the world of the story or the world of the narrative environment can gain leverage and through which storyworlds can re-articulate, re-work and potentially displace the dynamic among the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real for the human subject.
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Felluga, D. F. (2015) Critical theory: the key concepts. London, UK: Routledge.