One finds at this frontier another crossing point, which enables us to locate
Precisely an element of the field of the beyond-the-good principle. That element,
as I have said, is the beautiful.


I just want to introduce you to the problematic today. I will limit myself
to two articulations.


Freud was extremely prudent in this connection. On the nature of the
creation that is manifested in the beautiful, the analyst has by his own admission
nothing to say. In the sphere that calculates the value of the work of art,
we find ourselves reduced to a position that isn’t even that of schoolchildren,
but of pickers up of crumbs. Moreover, that’s not all, and Freud’s text is
very weak on the topic. The definition he gives of sublimation at work in
artistic creation only manages to show us the reaction or repercussions of the
effects of what happens at the level of the sublimation of the drive, when the
result or the work of the creator of the beautiful reenters the field of goods,
that is to say, when they have become commodities. One must recognize that
the summary Freud gives of the artist’s career is practically grotesque. The
artist, he says, gives a beautiful form to the forbidden object in order that
everyone, by buying his little artistic product, rewards and sanctions his daring.
That is a way of shortcircuiting the problem. And Freud is perfectly
aware of the limits he imposes on himself in a way that is perfectly obvious
when the problem of creation – which he leaves aside as outside the range of
our experience – is added to it.


We are thus brought back again to all the pedantic thoughts that in the
course of centuries have been expressed about the beautiful.


Everyone knows that in every field those who have something to say–that
is in this case the creators of beauty – are understandably the most dissatisfied
by pedantic formulas. Yet something that has been expressed by almost
all of them, especially by the best but also at the level of common experience,
does make the rounds, namely, that there is a certain relationship between
beauty and desire.


This relationship is strange and ambiguous. On the one hand, it seems that
the horizon of desire may be eliminated from the register of the beautiful.
Yet, on the other hand, it has been no less apparent – from the thought of
antiquity down to Saint Thomas who has some valuable things to say on the
question – that the beautiful has the effect, I would say, of suspending, lowering,
disarming desire. The appearance of beauty intimidates and stops desire.

这个关系是奇怪而暧昧。在一方面,欲望的这个领域似乎可能会从美的铭记被减少。可是,另一方面,它同样显而易见。从古代的思想,到圣、汤玛斯,关于这个问题,他有某些有价值的话要说: 我不妨说,美具有悬置,降低,解除欲望的效用。美的出现让欲望受到惊吓与阻止。

That is not to say that on certain occasions beauty cannot be joined to
desire, but in a mysterious way, and in a form that I can do no better than
refer to by the term that bears within it the structure of the crossing of some
invisible line, i.e., outrage. Moreover, it seems that it is in the nature of the
beautiful to remain, as they say, insensitive to outrage, and that is by no
means one of the least significant elements of its structure.


I will show it to you then in the detail of analytical experience, show it to
you with pointers that will enable you to be alert to it when it occurs in an
analytical session. With the precision of a Geiger counter, you can pick it up
by means of references to the aesthetic register that the subject will give you
in his associations, in his broken, disconnected monologue, either in the form
of quotations or of memories from his schooldays. You don’t, of course, always
deal with creators, but you do deal with people who have had a relationship
to the conventional sphere of beauty. You can be sure that the more these
references become strangely sporadic and peremptory with relation to the
text of the discourse, the more they are correlative of something that makes
its presence felt at that moment, and that belongs to the register of a destructive
drive. It is at the very moment when a thought is clearly about to appear
in a subject, as in the narration of a dream for example, a thought that one
recognizes as aggressive relative to one of the fundamental terms of his subjective
constellation, that, depending on his nationality, he will make some
reference to a passage from the Bible, to an author, whether a classic or not,
or to some piece of music. I mention this today to show that we are not far
from the very text of our experience.


The beautiful in its strange function with relation to desire doesn’t take us
in, as opposed to the function of the good. It keeps us awake and perhaps
helps us adjust to desire insofar as it is itself linked to the structure of the


You can see this place illustrated by the fantasm. If there is “a good that
mustn’t be touched,” as I was saying earlier, the fantasm is “a beauty that
musn’t be touched,” in the structure of this enigmatic field.


The first side of this field is known to us, it is the side that along with the
pleasure principle prevents us from entering it, the side of pain.


We must ask ourselves what it is that constitutes that field. The death
drive, says Freud, primary masochism. But isn’t that to take too big a leap?
Is the pain that denies access to the side the whole content of the field? Are
all those who express demands for this field masochists after all? And I can
tell you right off, I don’t think so.


Masochism is a marginal phenomenon and it possesses something almost
caricatural that moral inquiry at the end of the nineteenth century has pretty
much laid bare. The economy of masochistic pain ends up looking like the
economy of goods. One wants to share pain as one shares heaps of other
things that are left over; and one even comes close to fighting over it.


But isn’t there something there that involves a panicky return to the dialectic
of goods? In truth, the whole behavior of the masochist – and I mean by
that the perverse masochist – points to the fact that it is a question of a
structural feature in his behavior. Read Mr. Sacher-Masoch. He’s an
enlightening writer, although he doesn’t have the stature of Sade, and you
will see that in the end the point aimed at by the position of the perverse
masochist is the desire to reduce himself to this nothing that is the good, to
this thing that is treated like an object, to this slave whom one trades back
and forth and whom one shares.


But one shouldn’t after all proceed too quickly to break inventive homonymy, and the fact the masochism has been called by this name for so long by psychoanalysis is not without reason. The unity that emerges from all the fields which analytical thought has labeled masochism has to do with the fact that in all these fields pain shares the character of a good.


We will continue our inquiry next time with relation to a document.


It’s not exactly a new document. Down through the centuries longwinded
commentators have cut their teeth and sharpened their nails on it. This text
appeared in the field where the morality of happiness was theorized and it
gives us its underlying structure. It is there that its underlying structure is
the most visible, there where it appears on the surface. That which over the
centuries has caused the greatest problems, from Aristotle down to Hegel
and Goethe, is a tragedy, one that Hegel considered the most perfect, but for
the wrong reason, namely, Antigone.


Antigone’s position relates to a criminal good. One would have to have a
character that was deeply out of touch with the cruelties of our time to attack
the subject, if I may say so, by focusing on the tyrant.


We will, therefore, take up the text of Antigone together, since it will enable
us to point to a fundamental moment, to reach an essential reference point in
our investigation of what it is man wants and what he defends himself against.
We will see what an absolute choice means, a choice that is motivated by no
May 18, 1960



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