“Feminine Jouissance” or Kicking Against the Prick(s) of Lacan


Sylvia Bataille Lacan

I, like most women and probably some men who take on Lacan’s ideas, am really having a problem with his concepts of sexuation. I have travelled a long way with Lacan, and it’s a good thing this blog is iterative, because if I look back at some of my posts and earlier attempts to take on board certain Lacanian concepts, I can see already that I disagree with a lot that I have written as I come to understand some of his ideas better.

Look, I’m not a feminist. What I mean by this is that, many of the problems that feminism has sought to answer (which, of course, acknowledge as dire problems), I feel are not soluble with a gendered  response. Nor am I a Marxist. I don’t sit in a camp who rejects feminism or post-colonialism as a distraction from the root problem of class struggle either. But I do agree with them that the problem is in some way systemic and addressing the details is a distraction. If I had to place myself somewhere, I’d say I was sitting somewhere on the edges of a very broad sort of Queer theory.

I don’t reject the possibility of the impossibility of sexual difference out of hand. Lacan’s ‘Woman does not exist’ designation of woman as pas-tout – not all, unwhole – doesn’t piss me off because I’m a woman. I just find it fundamentally limited and a cop-out. I find his answer that it cannot be spoken because the Symbolic Order is phallically constructed, especially language, is intellectually unsatisfactory to me. Nor do I accept some neat binary response along the lines of Kristeva’s Motherhood metaphor. Maybe I’m stupid, maybe I can’t reach any level of objectivity, but it all just feels very fudged.

Yes, I will accept that language is an enormous castrating force. And I accept that its repressions, its rules are phallic. But psychoanalysis would be fundamentally useless if it weren’t also the case that what is being repressed squeezes through the cracks of language in the form of symptoms, slips of the tongue, jokes, dreams, and, as Barthes insists, in texts of bliss.

I guess the point I’d like to propose is yes, Woman is ‘pas-tout’ for men, but I have to tell you, it is the hight of disingenuity not to realize that Man is ‘pas-tou’ for women. Because they are. I swear it. They are. But more to the point, I’d like to use Lacan’s theory against him: We are each of us, ‘pas-tout’ for the other. Unless, of course, you luck out and stumble upon an ecstatic Bataillean moment.

You can go along being a man or a woman or in a transgendered flux and the vast majority of the construction of that state is taking place in the Symbolic word. But I think the body also speaks, and not always in the tongue of the Symbolic Order. Being embodied is also a dialogue. Mostly it’s just a kind of ambient hum that is so constant we don’t hear it. I think the fact of Being doesn’t really come to the fore until it is interrupted in some way. And here I have to resort to the anecdotal, which I acknowledge has dubious value, but it’s all I have.

Let me try, at least, to frame this objectively. I think there are times when embodiedness interrupts the conversation/negotiation/immersion with/in the Symbolic order. At puberty, where our bodies change, where we become hyper-aware of gender and sexuality. At menopause for women, and the diminishment of potency in men, when the call of sex changes its tone. Definitely it speaks loudly for transgendered individuals who realize there is a vast schism between the way the Symbolic word describes them and the interior conversation. And yes, these areas of instability are very language resistant.  I think at these points in the human experience, returning to my ambient noise metaphor, the signal to noise ratio changes, and it is here where you realize that your conversation about inner identity are is not only with the Symbolic order, but with a very abstract embodied Real.

And I agree with Lacan, that it is totally resistant to everyday language. But it neither silence nor babble are NOTHING. They are something. It seems very simplistic to say that Lacan felt that Woman was pas-tout, unwhole, unspeakable because he wasn’t a woman, but I’m going to go there. Similarly, I’m going to say that I think his insistence that what he called ‘Feminine Jouissance’ couldn’t be spoken of because it was ‘infinite’ had to do with the fact that he didn’t experience it.

It is suggestive, to me, that Lacan described this thing called ‘Feminine Jouissance,’ limited its access to women and mystics, and used the image of St. Teresa to illustrate it, and never mentions Bataille.  Because he’s describing the exact same thing as Bataille’s ‘ecstasy’ and he’s using the exact same image to illustrate it. This jouissance, this intersection between pleasure and pain, this place of no language, this place where the constituted self crumbles… This is Bataille’s ecstatic eroticism. But Bataille never genders it. For Bataille, it is accessible to anyone who has the courage to transgress and to make the ego sacrifice to go there. Lacan he never credits him for describing it, or discussing it. Not only that, but he feminizes it.

The bells are ringing for me here. This is a big sucking hole in the fabric of the narrative. Because Lacan knew Bataille; He married his ex-wife, Sylvia, for god’s sake. What is up with him feminizing this jouissance that Bataille described so eloquently as universal?

You know, when you’ve lost a lover, you’ve lost them. But if you’ve ‘taken’ them from someone else, you have a rival for life. They will always be a spectre who you fear  inhabits the house of your lover’s memory. I have to wonder if Lacan unconsciously chose, in some way, to feminize and defer a description of this kind of jouissance, because he thought Bataille must have known it, and known it with Sylvia. And maybe he feared it was a jouissance he could never access. But also, it is rather a lovely, sexist insult to ascribe the jouissance of your rival as ‘not masculine’ and then say it can’t be spoken about.

I realize that my story Three Little Letters might not be who I thought it was about. Maybe the letter shouldn’t be R, but B.



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