The Jouissance Beyond Life (and Death)

Kevin writes:

“The loosening is both a re/lease of limbs and song, but also a death.”

And is this not jouissance as “plus-de jouir,” that is, as sur-plus, more (more!) pleasure and also a lack of pleasure? There is a reason why an orgasm in French is a “petit mort” or “little death,” as the pleasure, the love, the life grows, its border with death and inertia shrinks. There is infinite pleasure to be found in the infinite circlings a-round and a-round by the ghosts in their drives, each time a joy-ride and a near-death experience rolled into one.

This is exactly where the connection lies between the drives, and where Zizek brushes with vitalism. There is an odd relation between Life and Death, pleasure and pain, expansion and contraction, as all us transitory beings fade in and out of being, flickering with life for a short while to collapse into dust while our ghostly selves continue to be pushed and pulled about the cosmos and involved, still, with life and death.

There is only the death drive, the drive to infinity, and all things are this death drive as all things collapse and fade in and out and in again finding the pleasure of this fading, though it is by definition unbearable…


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12 responses to “The Jouissance Beyond Life (and Death)

  1. kvond

    Is jouissance anything more than pleasure without object, pleasure as degree-zero process? Sappho is quite good at this. She once describes love as a wind cascading down a mountain, shaking an oak-tree. One can hear the shiver-rattle of the leaves and just feel the decimation of the leaves/sound. A certain quality of roar, what Holderlin called “skull’s roar by the Scamander”.

    But I also sense that there is not just unbearable, unmanageable painish pleasure, but also a shoreline where one keeps the wave of it creative, expressive, coherent and whole. When there is pleasure without object, one can turn that pleasure into creative force. Anyone can feel what it is like when the parts cohere. It seems that jouissance is simply the pleasure san object with too great an amplitude, too much pumped into the system, not just loosening it, but ripping it apart.

    One always risks discord, but discord always finds refrain.

    At least in my opinion.

  2. It is not simply pleasure without object, but precisely pleasure in the lack of an object. It is the pleasure one derives from outstretching oneself towards the impossible, the infinite. It is as much the orgasmic as it is the mystic; it is the ecstatic (literally, ek-stasis, to be outside of oneself).

  3. kvond

    Yes, but it is easy to conflate and smear all these processes under one categorical term; the “orgasm” (jouissance) of sexuality, isn’t really the “orgasm” of the mystic, isn’t the circulating pleasure/drive of the Stoic sage (or Spinoza), isn’t the pleasure/drive of the poet stringing words together. One “goes outside of oneself” in a variety of ways. Is the “going out of oneself” of let us say Ted Williams hitting a baseball with grace an unbearable “orgasm”? To pretend that these are all one state is a mistake.

  4. I think that while they are contextually different, I think at bottom they are all as I described them above, that is, a closing of the gap between pleasure and pain. A baseball player becomes entirely oblivious to any injury for example when they are elated by a home run, as they become overwhelmed and more than themselves. They are all modes of the same process, if you like, variations on a theme.

  5. kvond

    I think this is what happens when our conceptual categories become more important than our experiences, and somehow our experiences are meant to fit into, Procrustean, our categories. What is distinct about jouissance, in its little death state, is that it is supposedly to be something that is not-pleasure, something very close or at least intermediate to, pain. If one remained in an orgasm for hours it would be something akin to torture. It is supposed to be a teeth-gritting, almost unbearable experience.

    I really don’t think that that describes well either the experiences of a baseball player “in the groove” or a “saint” close to his God, a Zen swordsman, or a Stoic Sage. I’m not saying that they are unrelated but they are not conveying the same quality of thing, experientially. In most of these other experiences what is conveyed is a kind of completeness, a completeness that usually exhibits itself with very practical increases in powers to act, a kind of power of Joy. This might be contrasted with Lacan’s idea that sex (a true intercourse) does not exist. The orgasm is simply a closed pain-pleasure circuit. While a Lacanian has sex that always fails, Ted Williams hits .400.

    Or to put it another way, the jouissance of orgasm that Lacan has in mind, makes a very poor model for the completeness of body-surpassing pleasures without object. Perhaps this is because he has such emphasis upon the “lack” of object as a categorical effect.

  6. kvond

    I don’t mean to say that we “disagree”. Perhaps this is only a question of emphasis within a concept, (though I am suspicious of Lacan’s love of “lack”)

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  8. kvond


    On a separate note, I don’t know if you have ever seen it, but the Tony Scott, Washington 2006 film Deja Vu : , dramatizes I think many of the emotional componented factors of “ghosting” and mourning that seem to motivate your thinking about the past. There is a marvelous scene where Washington is wearing a device in which he is “seeing” the past in real time, happening in the space that his other eye is seeing in “present” time, so there a kind of split brain experience of past and present. I don’t know how you feel about pop-culture examples of philosophical concepts (in the Zizek fashion), but this film which was unexpectedly good for the genre, seem to make vivid the concepts you work with. I recommend it if you haven’t seen it, and if you have I would be interested in your thoughts on it.

  9. Do you know anything about Wilhelm Reich and Orgone energy? That’s where vitalism and orgasms really “come” together (sorry…). Frankly, I still don’t get the Zizek phenomenon, but as a post-Lacanian, I think you may find some link there with him and Reich (who is, in a sense, a post-Freudian).

  10. Kevin, I haven’t seen this film thought it may be worth a look based on your description. I have no problem with using popular culture to illustrate philosophical points. Two of my papers in the works are along those lines, one on Zizek and one on Badiou.

    Necroman (whose name I don’t know, sorry), my knowledge of Reich is minimal as my reading in psychoanalysis has been focused on Freud, Jung, and Lacan. I’m hoping to expand my knowledge to more of their followers as well as to other traditions. Thanks for the tip, Reich will move up my list of things to read!

    As far as “the Zizek phenomenon,” I could pass on the majority of his work in all honesty, but for my own purposes his articulations of both vitalism and the death drive are fascinating and things that I think have to be considered if my own project is to get off the ground.

  11. kvond

    I actually love Zizek, Zizek the human example. And his early work simply changed the way that philosophy can, or even should be discussed.

    If you do watch the film and have a strong conceptual reaction, I would look forward to your post.

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