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Lacan In The 1970s: Masculine And Feminine Jouissances

Finally, in the 1970s, especially in Seminar XX (1972–1973), Lacan brings to the forefront his distinction between masculine and feminine jouissance. Although he had discussed jouissance in conjunction with femininity as early as 1958, it is only in Encore that Lacan first comes to speak of a qualitatively different type of feminine jouissance. He posits feminine jouissance against that of the phallic, termed the "jouissance of the Idiot" (1998, p, 81). In Encore, Lacan defines phallic jouissance (which he sometimes refers to as sexual jouissance) as that which "is marked and dominated by the impossibility of establishing as such … the One of the relation 'sexual relationship'" (1998, p. 6–7). Lacan's use of the term One refers to mathematical logic (Frege), to the Platonic myth of the lovers' unity in the Symposium, and to the (presumed) unity of the (male) subject in a philosophical sense. Phallic jouissance is thus seen as a barrier to these forms of unity. Or, to put it another way, "[P]hallic jouissance is the obstacle owing to which man does not come … to enjoy woman's body, precisely because what he enjoys is the jouissance of the organ.… Jouissance, qua sexual, is phallic—in other words, it is not related to the Other as such" (1998, pp. 7 and 9). The term Other here refers both to the linguistic Other and to the Other sex—woman. It is precisely man's experience of phallic or sexual jouissance that "covers or poses an obstacle to the supposed sexual relationship" (1998, p. 9).

Although women have, according to Lacan, access to a jouissance that is beyond the phallus, men, by virtue of the fact that it is "through the phallic function that man as whole acquires his inscription" (1998, p. 79), have to make do with inadequate phallic or sexual jouissance, one that causes him to be unable to "attain his sexual partner … except inasmuch as his partner is the cause of his desire" (1998, p. 80). A further cause of the inadequacy of phallic jouissance is its incompatibility with feminine jouissance, thus posing an obstacle to the sexual relationship.

Feminine jouissance differs from masculine or phallic jouissance through its relation to the Other, especially the Other sex, which for Lacan means woman. Although in his earlier work, Lacan attributed to women a jouissance associated with the phallic stage and the clitoris (1977, p. 282), his work of the 1970s moved away from that position. In particular, Lacan posits for women a specifically feminine jouissance that is "beyond the phallus" (1998, p. 74). Women have access both to phallic, or sexual, jouissance, and to a supplementary form of jouissance by virtue of being not wholly subsumed by the phallic function as men are: "being not-whole, she has a supplementary jouissance compared to what the phallic function designates by way of jouissance" (1998, p. 73). It is, however, impossible to know anything about this other jouissance other than that some women (and men) experience it. Lacan's paradigmatic example of feminine jouissance is that of mystics such as Hadewijch d'Anvers, Saint John of the Cross, and Saint Teresa, thus relating feminine jouissance to God. As he asks in relation to mysticism, "Doesn't this jouissance that one experiences and knows nothing about put us on the path of existence? And why not interpret one face of the Other, the God face, as based on feminine jouissance?" (1998, p. 77).

In his later uses of the term jouissance, one can see just where Lacan parts ways with Freud. First, in his claim that "there is no sexual relationship," Lacan asserts the inherent failure of genital sexuality, which Freud did not do. Finally, through his description of a specifically feminine jouissance, one that implies a different type of sexual satisfaction for women, Lacan's later work does away with Freud's notion of libido's being only masculine.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Intuitionist logic to KabbalahJouissance - Lacan's Early Work: Jouissance As Pleasure, Lacan's Work Of The Late 1950s And 1960s: Jouissance Versus Pleasure