1.adj. In everyday usage, existing only in the imagination.
2.n. [French imaginaire, connoting ‘illusion’] ‘The imaginary’ is Lacan's term for an internalized representation of the visual world in which the construction of the self as subject is initiated. Initially the infant has no centre of identity and there are no clear boundaries between itself and the external world. Lacan argues that in the mirror phase, or stage, (at the age of six- to eighteen-months, before the acquisition of speech), seeing one's mirror image induces a strongly-defined illusion (misrecognition or méconnaissance) of a coherent and self-governing personal identity. In the realm of images, we find our sense of self reflected back by another with whom we identify (who is paradoxically both self and other). The imaginary is one of Lacan's three orders of subjectivity, the symbolic and the real being the others. Kristeva renamed Lacan's imaginary the semiotic.
3.n. For Althusserian neo-Marxist theorists, representations which mask the historical and material conditions of existence (e.g. the heterosexual imaginary naturalizes heterosexuality and conceals its constructedness, making homosexuality a marked category). See also markedness.