Term used by psychoanalysts, especially Lacanians, for the eruption into social life of impulses or phenomena which have been repressed from the symbolic order in the process of the formation of a master-signifier. The excluded element is not destroyed but returns in a form which is incomprehensible and terrifying. A "return of the Real" is a sudden eruption and interruption which spectacularly reveals the contingency of social relations and shatters fixed certainties.

For instance, Slavoj Zizek analysed September 11th as a "return of the Real": the repressed fundamentalist impulse which was the hidden outcome of the US's own activities produced an explosive and terrifying result which rocked people's identities and the existing political framework.
A reworking of the return of the repressed.

Doesn't make as much sense outside Lacanian ontology, because the violence and negativity of the "return of the Real" are crucial to its use as a concept. One can reconfigure it to some extent if one suggests that the social order makes its own Real, so that the phrase "return" is simply figurative.
by Andy May 7, 2004
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