Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

34: Jacques Lacan part II:
Jouissance, the Symptom and Fantasy

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         Jouissance and the Symptom
         Jouissance: from french for: enjoyment, entitlement, use; with strong connotations to sexual climax. Lacan noticed that most people feel a certain pleasure in their problems, especially in complaining about them. Sometimes the pleasure is unconscious but it is the result of our psychic apparatus: our Ego is always trying to deal with the real (in the Lacanian sense: that which we cannot talk about) problems of our life: the conflicts between the desires of the Id and the demand of the Superego. The Ego continually lies to itself so as to comfort and compensate us for our real world suffering by telling us that we get a sort of excitement and pleasure. And we always believe our Ego (Q1). The sense of enjoyment that comes from these lies is Jouissance. (Although Jouissance is a lie of the Ego and since we believe these lies we all actually do get a psychosomatic enjoyment from our suffering.) (Q2)(Q3)
         Need, Demand and Desire
         Need, demand and desire are interconnected terms. Need is the first and most basic: if we do not fulfill our needs we die. Needs can be satisfied but only temporarily. As children we experience a motherer (someone who fulfilled the role of a mother). The motherer is extremely powerful from the point of view of a baby: she seems to have complete control over the baby's sensations of pain and pleasure. (Q4)
         As the baby gets older the motherer spends less time satisfying its needs and instead she feeds it words. The motherer's lack of attention is a primary motivation to learn language: so it can make demands. As the baby develops a sense of demand, it demands that the motherer satisfy it all the time. The motherer tries but always fails because the child continues to demand even beyond the limits of the motherer's resources. The child is demanding a non-object: the limit of the motherer ability or willingness to satisfy the child. Nothing will satisfy a child in the demand stage ('nothing' in this sentence is an intended pun).(Q5)
         By reaching the limits of fulfillable demand; by being frustrated; by being rejected a person starts to desire. Desire is for an object that we lack. However, unlike demand, it is possible to get the object of our desire but it is by no means assured. The object of our desire can take many forms but it is always, at the deepest level, the desire to be desired by the other.(Q6)
         Another aspect of desire is that desire is a desire for difference. The object of demand is the non-object that is what the motherer cannot or will not give. The demanding child will eventually learn which demands will be met and which will not be met. Some of the demands that will not be met are in the category of what the parents do not desire for their children. From having these demands frustrated the child develops its desires along the lines that are different from the parents. This desire for difference is the source of most trans-generational conflict.(Q7)
         Due to our desire's birth in the frustration of our demand we are all fearful of our desire's frustration too. Frustration is traumatic and in our attempts to avoid this trauma many people develop neurotic symptoms to hide their desires or they readily accept a leader who will give them a purpose in life (or in other words a leader who will give a desire that is socially acceptable and encouraged). (Q8)
         According to Lacan most of us do not really know what we desire because the ego has told us lies to mask the conflict between the Id and Superego but there is hope. We can get hints about what we want through the plays of the unconscious (symptoms that take the form of idioms, Freudian slips, jokes and dreams) and through our fantasies.
         The principle role that fantasy plays in our life is to keep desire alive and strong. By analyzing one's fantasy one can get an understanding of one's true desires. To get insight on your desires from your fantasies one must consider them in a similar way to the plays of the unconscious. The actual fantasy is usually a lie of the ego but its underling meaning can be discerned through the same techniques used to analyze the plays of the unconscious: by questions designed to seek an understand the subject's Imaginary, Symbolic and Real orders of the psyche.
         Q1. Think back to the first time you tried coffee, beer, wine, pop or (if you smoke) cigarettes: chances are that you did not like your first taste but in the end you grew to like it. Freud and Lacan's explanation is that the Ego responded to your superego which told you to enjoy what society says is enjoyable. Your Ego then told you lies that you believed like: “wow this coffee is great!” So now you love coffee. Do you buy this explanation? Is there a better explanation for why we grow to like somethings that we disliked at first?
         Q2. Do you get a secret pleasure from complaining about your can of worms? The same question in different words: Is it comforting to share your problems with a friend? And again the same question in different words: do you gossip? Are these questions really all essentially the same?
         Q3. Lacan's logic is tautological because it relies on self created definitions. We enjoy our suffering because the Ego's job is to comfort us and hide the conflicts of the Id and Superego. Do you accept all the propositions in the last sentence: 1) there exists such things as the Ego, Id and Superego; 2) the Id and Superego are in conflict; 3) the Ego's job is to hide conflict; 4) the Ego's job is to comfort us; and 5) we enjoy our suffering? If any propositions are unacceptable, what would be a better explanation?
         Q4. Is it possible that early childhood sexuality is formative of adult sexuality? Can the way the motherer satisfied the needs of the child; the way the motherer managed her power over the sensations of the child set the pattern for the child's adult desires and sexuality? If a motherer applied pain before pleasure (for example spankings before feedings; or spankings before loving hugs of apologies) is it probable that as an adult, the child may be more likely seek out violent or sadomasochistic relationships?
         Q5. Part of growing up is coming to terms with the realization that the world does not revolve around you and that you cannot have everything you demand. By having one's demand frustrated one is forced to reconsider; forced to think through the demand and to refine it or abandon it. By refining it (that is turning it into a desire) one has a much better chance of being happy or at least satisfied with its later attainment. Imagine a person who has never had their demands frustrated (perhaps North Korea's heir apparent Kim Jong-un) is it conceivable that such a person is really psychologically undeveloped and lacking even the possibility of happiness? Is such a person pitiful in spite of their wealth and power?
         Q6. Lacan believes that my desire for a very expensive McLaren Mercedes SLR sports car is not for the enjoyment of driving it; rather it is to get the 'oooh ah' reaction (that is the reaction that means 'I want you because of what you have': that is desire from another) from anyone who sees me driving it. Another example: Lacan believes that your desire for your love interest is at its core a desire for his/her desire for you. Furthermore, without the other's desire for you there cannot be any love. Whatever your relationship is with the other if the other does not desire you then the relationship is not one of love. Lacan claims this is true for all love relationships: lovers, friends and between parent and child. Can you reduce your desire for love, money, power, fame etc. to a desire for the desire of an-other? Or are there many basic sources of desire? And if so what would they be?
         Q7. Children will always find some way to rebel against their parents. Do you believe this is true? Does Lacan's theory (that rebelion is the natural outgrowth of healthy psychological development) suggest that we should try to drive our children to rebel and/or make their rebellion as painful as possible by resisting their desires? Or would they be better served by having parents that are more understanding of anything their children desire? If there is a middle ground or a golden mean what would characterize the proper amount of parental resistance to a child's demands and desires?
         Q8. Are people generally afraid of voicing or acting on their true desires? Is the success of modern advertizing (that is telling you what you should do and what you should want) the result of our ego jumping on an opportunity to lie to us there by hiding the conflicts of the Id and the Superego? Could this explain why so many people join strange religious cults or movements that are not in their best interest (like terrorist cell, the Nazi party, etc.) OR: Aristotle claimed that everyone naturally acts toward the Good; disagreements are due only to misunderstandings of what is the Good. All of western philosophy until Freud believed that a persons actions were indicative of their true desires: Do we really act on our true desires as has been believed by everyone up until Freud or is Lacan right: we act on the lies our ego tells us are true?

© 2008 - 2017, James Jeff McLaren