Bataille and Lacan: The Chipped Cup of Maleness and the Queerness of Feminine Jouissance (reading Dean & Evans)

Repression is thus the very condition of pleasure.” 1

In the conclusion of her book “The Self and Its Pleasures,” Carolyn Dean summarizes how both Bataille and Lacan conceive of the masculine self as fractured. For Bataille this fracture is there from the very beginning, whereas, for Lacan, it happens with his entrance into the Symbolic world, nonetheless, “in both Bataille and Lacan, the self is indisputably and fundamentally constituted in and through desire rather than reason or morality.” 2 and this desire can only bloom and fruit in the context of its repression. She characterizes  this as essentially masochistic 3.  However, I feel this is too pat an encapsulation to encompass the paradoxical nature she is describing.

Far better, I think, is to consider it radical ethical stance – a form of jouissance, as Evans describes it:

Here, jouissance is no longer simply equated with the sensation of pleasure, but also comes to designate the opposite sensation, one of physical or mental suffering. This is not to equate jouissance with masochism, for there is an important difference. In masochism, pain is a means to pleasure; pleasure is taken in the very fact of suffering itself, so that it becomes difficult to distinguish pleasure from pain. With jouissance, on the other hand, pleasure and pain remain distinct; no pleasure is taken in the pain itself, but the pleasure cannot be obtained without paying the price of suffering. 4

Contemplating Lacan’s designation of three types of jouissance (phallic, feminine and Other), it seems that this constitution of the male self, castrated, forever struggling and failing to be whole, and maintained in a holographic force-field of unsatisfiable desire,  is what Lacan himself would consider a feminine jouissance. This permanent being-in-brokenness is, I would argue, far closer to the ecstatic agony of Bernini’s Saint Theresa or Reni’s Saint Sebastian.

This got me thinking about inner and outer experiences of the self constituted through desire and how they are not absolute but quantum in nature, fluctuating.  The outward facing masculine jouissance, phallic and penetrating, is like case of the lady doth protest too much; a retort to the castrating effects of entering a world of language.  But the inner facing one, the approach to ecstasy, the undoing of the Symbolic self, the slipping the envelope of discontinuity described by Bataille 5 is not penetrative. It is beyond phallic. It is rather allowing the experience of the moment to split you open and undo the corset of self, regardless of gender.


  1. Dean, C. J. (1992). The Self and Its Pleasures: Bataille, Lacan, and the History of the Decentered Subject. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. p. 245.
  2. ______ p.247
  3. ______ p.247
  4. Evans, D. (1998). Chapter 1: From Kantian Ethics to Mystical Experience: An Exploration of Jouissance. In D. Nobus (Ed.), Key Concepts of Lacanian Psychoanalysis (pp. 1-23). New York: Other Press. p. 6
  5. Bataille, G. (1962) Erotism: Death and Sensuality. New York: City Lights Books. p. 103.

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