Ethic 191

Ethic 191

The Ethics of Psychoanalysis

Jacques Lacan


The jouissance of transgression






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 supposedly
opened up some impasse, aberration or aporia, in that domain of
ethics we have chosen to explore this year, 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 audience
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 calculated
to avoid something that the art of the teacher normally proscribes. When
I compare two audiences, 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 ethics
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 authors of our time, “intellectual comfort.” The question of “How
does one proceed?” may, in effect, lead to impatience and even disappointment,
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 turn 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 vertebrate
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 degenerate
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 an infatuation 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 thus far has led us to a point that I will call the paradox of jouissance.


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 something that emerges routinely
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 strangeness
of the way the existence of this Law 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
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 unnoticed
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 that 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 represented
by the bloody combats of the gladiators pale. Christianity, in effect,
offers a drama that literally incarnates that death of God. It is also Christianity
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 commandment
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 ευδαιμονία on all
levels that he stops and rightly acknowledges, when he reflects on the commandment’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.

他发现反对的每样东西,可用这个词句来总结。如同他引述的例子证实,就在最合法的ευδαιμονία ,在他停止与他适当地承认的所有的层次,当他反思命令的意义,人性的历史的景象选择它充当理想,相当难以说服人的程度。当那个理想被衡量,对抗实际的成就。

I have already referred to what it is that arouses Freud’s horror, arouses
the horror of the civilized man he essentially was. It derives from the evil in
which he doesn’t hestitate to locate man’s deepest heart.


I don’t really need to emphasize the point where I bring my two threads
together to form a knot. Man’s rebellion is involved here, the rebellion of
Jederman, of everyman, insofar as he aspires to happiness. The truth that
man seeks happiness remains true. The resistance to the commandment “Thou
shalt love they neighbor as thyself” and the resistance that is exercised to
prevent his access to jouissance are one and the same thing.

我并没有真的需要强调这点, 在那里,我聚拢我的两的脉络,形成一个环结。人的反叛在此被牵涉,每个人的反叛,因为他渴望快乐。人寻求快乐的这个真理始终是真实的。对于「你应该爱你的邻居如同你自己」这个命令的抗拒,跟被运用为了阻止他接近欢爽的抗拒,是完全相同的事情。

Stated thus, this may seem an additional paradox, a gratuitous assertion.
Yet don’t you recognize there what we refer to in the most routine way each
time we see a subject retreat from his own jouissance? What are we drawing
attention to? To the unconscious aggression that jouissance contains, to the
frightening core of the destrudo, which, in spite of all our feminine affectations
and quibbles, we constantly find ourselves confronting in our analytical

从这种方式被陈述,这似乎是额外的悖论,无缘由的主张。可是,你们难道没有体认出,我们用最日常的方式提到的东西,每次我们看到一个主体从他自己的欢爽撤退? 我们正注意到什么?注意到欢爽所包括的无意识的侵凌性,注意到毁灭的可怕核心。尽管我们所有的女性的情感与争吵,我们不断地发现我们自己在精神分析经验,面临这个毁灭的可怕核心。

Whether or not this view is ratified in the name of some preconceived view
of nature, it is nevertheless true that at the heart of everything Freud taught,
one finds the following: the energy of the so-called superego derives from the
aggression that the subject turns back upon himself.


Freud goes out of his way to add the supplementary notion that, once one
has entered on that path, once the process has been begun, then there is no
longer any limit; it generates ever more powerful aggression in the self. It
generates it at the limit, that is to say, insofar as the mediation of the Law is
lacking. Of the Law insofar as it comes from elsewhere, from the elsewhere,
moreover, where its guarantor is lacking, the guarantor who provides its warranty,
namely, God himself.


To say that the retreat from “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” is
the same thing as the barrier to jouissance, and not its opposite, is, therefore,
not an original proposition.


I retreat from loving my neighbor as myself because there is something on
the horizon there that is engaged in some form of intolerable cruelty. In that
sense, to love one’s neighbor may be the crudest of choices.


That, then, is the nicely whetted edge of the paradox I am asserting here.
No doubt in order to give it its full weight, one should take it step by step,
so that by understanding the way in which that intimate line of demarcation
appears, we may not so much know as feel the ups and downs to be found
on its path.


We have, of course, long learned to recognize in our analytical experience
the jouissance of trangression. But we are far from knowing what its nature
might be. In this respect our position is ambiguous. Everybody knows that
we have restored full civil rights to perversion. We have dubbed it a compo
nent drive, thereby employing the idea that it harmonizes with a totality, and
at the same time shedding suspicion on the research, which was revolutionary
at a certain moment in the nineteenth century, of Krafft-Ebing with his monumental
Psychopathia Sexualis, or also on the work of Havelock Ellis.


Incidentally, I don’t want to fail to give the latter’s work the kind of thumbs
down I think it deserves. It offers amazing examples of a lack of systematicity
– not the failure of a method, but the choice of a failed method. The so-called
scientific objectivity that is exhibited in books that amount to no more than
a random collection of documents offers a living example of the combination
of a certain “foolery” with the sort of “knavery,” a fundamental knavery,
that I invoked last time as the characteristic of a certain kind of thought
known as left-wing, without excluding the possibility of its spreading its stain
to other domains. In short, if I recommend reading Havelock Ellis, it is simply
in order to show you the difference, not just in results but in tone, that
exists between such a futile mode of investigation and what Freud’s thought
and experience reintroduce into the domain – it’s simply a question of


We are familiar with the jouissance of transgression, then. But what does it
consist of? Does it go without saying that to trample sacred laws under foot,
laws that may be directly challenged by the subject’s conscience, itself excites
some form of jouissance? We no doubt constantly see the strange development
in a subject that might be described as the testing of a faceless fate or as a
risk that, once it has been survived by the subject, somehow guarantees him
of his power. Doesn’t the Law that is defied here play the role of a means, of
a path cleared that leads straight to the risk? Yet if the path is necessary,
what is the risk that is involved? What is the goal jouissance seeks if it has to
find support in transgression to reach it?


I leave these questions open for the moment so as to move on. If the subject
turns back on his tracks, what is it that guides this backtracking? On this
point, we find a more motivated response in analysis; we are told that it is
the identification with the other that arises at the extreme moment in one of
our temptations. And by extreme here I do not mean it has to do with
extraordinary temptations, but with the moment when one perceives their


We retreat from what? From assaulting the image of the other, because it
was the image on which we were formed as an ego. Here we find the convincing
power of altruism. Here, too, is the leveling power of a certain law of
equality – that which is formulated in the notion of the general will. The
latter is no doubt the common denominator of the respect for certain rights
– which, for a reason that escapes me, are called elementary rights – but it
can also take the form of excluding from its boundaries, and therefore from
its protection, everything that is not integrated into its various registers.


And the power of expansion is also seen in what I expressed last time as
the utilitarian tendency. At this level of homogenization, the law of utility,
as that which implies its distribution over the greatest number, imposes itself
in a form that is effectively innovative. It is an enchanting power, scorn for
which is sufficiently indicated in the eyes of us analysts when we call it philanthropy,
but which also raises the questions of the natural basis of pity in
the sense implied by that morality of feeling which has always sought its
foundation there.


We are, in effect, at one with everything that depends on the image of the
other as our fellow man, on the similarity we have to our ego and to everything
that situates us in the imaginary register. What is the question I am
raising here, when it seems to be obvious that the very foundation of the law
“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” is to be found there?


It is indeed the same other that is concerned here. Yet one only has to stop
for a moment to see how obvious and striking the practical contradictions are
– individual, inner contradictions as well as social ones – of the idealization
expressed relative to the respect that I formulated for the image of the other.
It implies a certain continuity and filiation of problematic effects on the religious
law, which is expressed and manifested historically by the paradoxes of
its extremes, i.e., the extremes of saintliness, and moreover by its failure on
the social level, insofar as it never manages to achieve fulfillment, reconciliation,
or the establishment on earth of what is promised by it.


To emphasize the point even more strongly, I will refer directly to something
that seems to be opposed to this denunciation of the image, that is to
the statement which is always listened to with a kind of more-or-less amused
purr of satisfaction, “God made man in his own image.” Religious tradition
once again reveals more cunning in pointing to the truth than the approach
of psychological philosophy imagines.


You can’t get away with answering that man no doubt paid God back in
kind. The statement in question is of the same inspiration, the same body,
as the holy book in which is expressed the prohibition on forging images of
God. If this prohibition has a meaning, it is that images are deceitful.
Why is that? Let’s go to what is simplest: if these are beautiful images –
and goodness only knows that religious images always correspond by definition
to reigning canons of beauty – one doesn’t notice that they are always
hollow images. Moreover, man, too, as image is interesting for the hollow
the image leaves empty – by reason of the fact that one doesn’t see in the
image, beyond the capture of the image, the emptiness of God to be discovered.
It is perhaps man’s plenitude, but it is also there that God leaves him
with emptiness.


Now God’s power resides in the capacity to advance into emptiness. All of
that gives us the figures of the apparatus of a domain in which the recognition
of another reveals itself as an adventure. The meaning of the word recognition
tends toward that which it assumes in every exploration, with all the accents
of militancy and of nostalgia we can invest in it.

Sade is at this limit.




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