The jouissanceof transgression
THE BARRIER TO JOUISSANCE
THE RESPECT OF THE IMAGE OF THE OTHER
SADE, HIS FANTASM AND HIS DOCTRINE
FRAGMENTED AND INDESTRUCTIBLE
I announced that I would talk about Sade.
It is not without some vexation that I take up the subject today because of
the break for the vacation, which will be a long one.
I would like at least during this lecture to clear up the misunderstanding
that might occur because we are dealing with Sade, and it might be thought
that that constitutes a wholly external way of looking upon ourselves as pioneers
or militants embracing a radical position. Such a view implies that, as a result
of our function or profession, we are destined to embrace extremes, so to
speak, and that Sade in this respect is our progenitor or precursor, who sup-
posedly opened up some impasse, aberration or aporia, in that domain of
ethics we have chosen to explore thisyear, and that we would be well-advised
to follow him.
It is very important to clear up that misunderstanding, which is related to
a number of others I am struggling against in order to make some progress
here before you.
The domain that we are exploring this year isn't interesting for us only in
a purely external sense. I would even say that up to a certain point this field
may involve a certain degree of boredom, even for such a faithful authence
as you, and it's not to be neglected - it has its own significance. Naturally,
since I am speaking to you, I try to interest you; that's part of the deal. But
that mode of communication which binds us together isn't necessarily calcu-
lated to avoid something that the art ofthe teacher normally proscribes. When
I compare two authences, if I managed to interest the one in Brussels, so
much the better, but it isn't at all in the same way that you here are interested
in my teaching.
If I adopt for a moment the point of view of what one finds in the situation,
not so much of the young analyst, as of the analyst beginning his practice -
and it's such a humanly sensitive and valid position - I would say that it is
conceivable that what I am attempting to articulate under the title of the
191 192 The ethics of psychoanalysis
ethics of psychoanalysis comes up against the domain of what might be called
analysis's pastoral letter.
Even then I am ascribing to what I am aiming at its noble name, its eternal
name. A less flattering name would be the one invented by one of the most
unpleasant aumors of our time, "intellectual comfort." The question of "How
does one proceed?" may, in effect, lead to impatience and even disappoint-
ment, when one is faced with the need to approach things at a level, that, it
seems, is not that of our technique on the basis of which a great many things
are to be resolved - or such at least is the promise. A great many things
perhaps, but not everything. And we shouldn't necessarily rum our eyes away
from those things that our technique warns us constitute an impasse or even
a gap, even if all the consequences of our action are in question.
As for this young person who is beginning his practice as an analyst, I
would call what is involved here his skeleton; it will give his action a verte-
brate solidarity, or the opposite of that movement toward a thousand forms
which is always on the point of collapsing in on itself and of becoming caught
up in a circle - something that a certain number of recent explorations give
the image of.
It is, therefore, not a bad idea to expose the fact that something may degen-
erate from the expectation of assurance - which is doubtless of some use in
the exercise of one's profession - into a form of sentimental assurance. It is
as a result of this that those subjects whom I take to be at a crossroads in
their existence turn into prisoners of aninfatuation that is the source of both
an inner disappointment and a secret demand.
And if we are to make any progress, this is what the perspective of the
ethical ends of psychoanalysis, whose significance I am trying to demonstrate
here, has to combat. It is something one encounters sooner rather than later.
Our path dius far has led us to a point that I will call the paradox ojfouissance.
The paradox of jouissance introduces its problematic into that dialectic of
happiness which we analysts have perhaps rashily set out to explore. We have
grasped the paradox in more than one detail as somediing that emerges rou-
tinely in our experience. But in order to lead you to it and relate it to the
thread of our discussion, I have chosen this time the path of the enigma of
its relation to the Law. And this is something that is marked by the strange-
ness of the way the existence of thisLaw appears to us, as founded on the
Other as I have long taught you.
In this we have to follow Freud; not the individual with his atheistic
profession of faith, but the Freud who was the first to acknowledge the value
and relevance of a myth that constituted for us an answer to a certain fact Thejouusanceof transgression 193
that was formulated for no particular reason, but that has wide currency and
is fully articulated in the consciousness of our time - though it went unno-
ticed by the finest minds and even more so by the masses - I mean the fact
we call the death of God.
That's the problematic with which we begin. It is there the sign appears
that I presented to you in my graph in the form of S (O). Situated as you
know in the upper left section, it signifies the final response to the guarantee
asked of the Other concerning the meaning of mat Law articulated in the
depths of the unconscious. If there is nothing more than a lack, the Other is
wanting, and the signifier is that of his death.
It is as a function of this position, which is itself dependent on the paradox
of the Law, that the paradox of jouissance emerges. This I will now try to
We should note that only Christianity, through the drama of the passion,
gives a full content to the naturalness of the truth we have called the death of
God. Indeed, with a naturalness beside which the approaches to it repre-
sented by the bloody combats of the glathators pale. Christianity, in effect,
offers a drama that literally incarnates that death of God. It is also Christian-
ity that associates that death with what happened to the Law; namely, that
without destroying that Law, we are told, but in substituting itself for it, in
summarizing it, and raising it up in the very movement that abolishes it -
thus offering the first weighty historical example of the German notion of
Aufhebung, i.e., the conservation of something destroyed at a different level
- the only commandment is henceforth "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as
The whole thing is articulated as such in the Gospel, and it is there that we
will continue on our way. The two notions, the death of God and the love of
one's neighbor, are historically linked; and one cannot overlook that fact
unless one attributes to everything that occurred in history in the Judeo-
Christian tradition as constitutionally just a matter of chance.
I am aware of the fact that the message of the believers is that there is a
resurrection in the afterlife, but that's simply a promise. That's the space
through which we have to make our way. It is thus appropriate if we stop in
this pass, in this narrow passage where Freud himself stops and retreats in
understandable horror. "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," is a com-
mandment that seems inhuman to him.
Everything he finds objectional is summed up in this phrase. As the examples
he cites confirm, it is in the name of the most legitimate on all
levels that he stops and rightly acknowledges, when he reflects on the com-
mandment's meaning, the extent to which the historical spectacle of a humanity
that chose it as its ideal is quite unconvincing, when that ideal is measured
against actual accomplishments.