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In French, jouissance means enjoyment, in terms both of rights and property,[1] and of sexual orgasm — the latter has a meaning partially lacking in the English word "enjoyment".[2]

Poststructuralism has developed the latter sense of jouissance in complex ways, so as to denote a transgressive, excessive kind of pleasure linked to the division and splitting of the subject involved.[3]

In Lacanian psychoanalysis

English editions of the works of Jacques Lacan have generally left jouissance untranslated, to help convey its specialised usage.[4] Lacan first developed his concept of an opposition between jouissance and the pleasure principle in his Seminar "The Ethics of Psychoanalysis" (1959–1960). Lacan considered that "there is a jouissance beyond the pleasure principle"[5] linked to the partial drive; a jouissance which compels the subject to constantly attempt to transgress the prohibitions imposed on his enjoyment, to go beyond the pleasure principle.

Yet the result of transgressing the pleasure principle, according to Lacan, is not more pleasure but pain, since there is only a certain amount of pleasure that the subject can bear. Beyond this limit, pleasure becomes pain, and this "painful principle" is what Lacan calls jouissance.[6] Thus jouissance is suffering (ethics) — something which may be linked to the influence of the erotic philosophy of Bataille, epitomised in Lacan's remark about "the recoil imposed on everyone, in so far as it involves terrible promises, by the approach of jouissance as such".[7] Lacan also linked jouissance to the castration complex,[8] and to the aggression of the death drive.[9]

In his seminar "The Other Side of Psychoanalysis" (1969–1970) Lacan introduced the concept of "surplus-jouissance" (French plus-de-jouir) inspired by Marx's concept of surplus-value: he considered objet petit a is the excess of jouissance which has no use value, and which persists for the mere sake of jouissance.

Lacan considered that jouissance is essentially phallic, meaning that it does not relate to the "Other" as such. In his seminar "Encore" (1972–1973), however, Lacan introduced the idea of specifically feminine jouissance, saying that women have "in relation to what the phallic function designates of jouissance, a supplementary jouissance...a jouissance of the body which is...beyond the phallus".[10] This feminine jouissance is ineffable, for both women and men may experience it but know nothing about it.

In philosophy and literary theory

The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, a known Lacanian theorist, has adopted the term in his philosophy; it may also be seen in the works, both joint and individual, of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, and it plays an important role in the writing of Julia Kristeva and Roland Barthes.

In his 1973 literary theory book The Pleasure of the Text, Barthes divides the effects of texts into two: plaisir (translated as "pleasure") and jouissance. The distinction corresponds to a further distinction Barthes makes between "readerly" and "writerly" texts. The pleasure of the text corresponds to the readerly text, which does not challenge the reader's position as a subject. The writerly text provides bliss, which explodes literary codes and allows the reader to break out of his or her subject position.

For Barthes plaisir is, "a pleasure... linked to cultural enjoyment and identity, to the cultural enjoyment of identity, to a homogenising movement of the ego."[11] As Richard Middleton puts it, "Plaisir results, then, from the operation of the structures of signification through which the subject knows himself or herself; jouissance fractures these structures."[12]

In feminist theory

The French feminist writer Hélène Cixous uses the term jouissance to describe a form of women's pleasure or sexual rapture that combines mental, physical and spiritual aspects of female experience, bordering on mystical communion: "explosion, diffusion, effervescence, abundance...takes pleasure (jouit) in being limitless".[13] Cixous maintains that jouissance is the source of a woman's creative power and that the suppression of jouissance prevents women from finding their own fully empowered voice.[14][15] The concept of jouissance is explored by Cixous and other authors in their writings on Écriture féminine, a strain of feminist literary theory that originated in France in the early 1970s.

Other feminists have argued that Freudian "hysteria" is jouissance distorted by patriarchal culture and say that jouissance is a transcendent state that represents freedom from oppressive linearities. In her introduction to Cixous' The Newly Born Woman, literary critic Sandra Gilbert writes: "to escape hierarchical bonds and thereby come closer to what Cixous calls jouissance, which can be defined as a virtually metaphysical fulfillment of desire that goes far beyond [mere] satisfaction... [It is a] fusion of the erotic, the mystical, and the political."[16]

See also


  1. Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (1994) p. 281
  2. "Jouissance". Literary Encyclopedia. The Literary Dictionary Company Limited. Retrieved 2012-06-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. J. Childers/G. Hentzi eds., The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism (1995) p. 162-3
  4. Dylan Evans, An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis
  5. Lacan, p. 184
  6. Dylan Evans, An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis (2002) p.93
  7. Lacan, p. xvi and p. 234
  8. Jacques Lacan, Écrits: A Selection (1997) p. 319-24
  9. Jacques Lacan, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (1992) p. 194
  10. Quoted in J. Mitchell/J. Rose eds., Feminine Sexuality (1982) p. 145.
  11. Barthes, Roland. "The Death of the Author." Image—Music—Text. Trans. and ed. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill, 1977
  12. Middleton, Richard (1990/2002). Studying Popular Music. Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN 0-335-15275-9.
  13. Quoted in E. D. Ermarth, Sequel to History (1992) p. 160
  14. Introduction to Cixous
  15. J. Fiske (1989). Understanding Popular Culture. Routledge.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Gilbert, Sandra M. Introduction. The Newly Born Woman. By Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clement, 1975. Trans. Betsy Wing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.
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Further reading

  • Dylan Evans, An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis
  • Julia Kristeva, Desire in Language (1980)

External links