The big Other operates at a symbolic level. What, then, is this symbolic order composed of? When we speak (or listen, for that matter), we never merely interact with others; our speech activity is grounded on our accepting of and relying on a complex network of rules and other kinds of presuppositions. First, there are the grammatical rules I have to master blindly and spontaneously: if I were to bear in mind all the time these rules, my speech would come to a halt. Then there is the background of participating in the same life-world which enables me and my partner in conversation to understand each other. The rules that I follow are marked by a deep split: there are rules (and meanings) that I follow blindly, out of custom, but of which, upon reflection, I can become at least partially aware (such as common grammatical rules), and there are rules that I follow, meanings that haunt me, unbeknownst to me (such as unconscious prohibitions). Then there are rules and meanings I am aware of, but have to act on the outside as if I am not aware of them - dirty or obscene innuendos which one passes over in silence in order to maintain the proper appearances.
This symbolic space acts like a standard against which I can measure myself. This is why the big Other can be personified or reified in a single agent: “God” who watches over me from beyond and over all real individuals or the Cause which addresses me (Freedom, Communism, Nation) and for which I am ready to give my life. While talking, I am never merely a “small other” (individual) interacting with other “small others,” the big Other always has to be there. This inherent reference to the Other is the topic of a low class joke about a poor peasant who, after enduring a shipwreck, finds himself on a lone island with Cindy Crawford. After having sex with her, she asks him if he is fully satisfied; his answer is yes, but nonetheless he still has a small request to make his satisfaction complete - could she dress herself up as his best friend, put on trousers and paint a moustache on her face? He reassures her that he is not a hidden pervert, as she will immediately see if she carries out the request. When she does, he approaches her, elbows her ribs and tells her with the obscene smile of male complicity: “You know what happened to me? I just had sex with Cindy Crawford!” This Third, which is always present as the witness, belies the possibility of an unspoiled innocent private pleasure. Sex is always minimally exhibitionist and relies on another’s gaze."