The Woman, Property, and Jouissance
The Phallic Mother, like property, constitutes the subject through signification. My analogy is still, however, incomplete. I have shown that our masculine subject lies to himself in saying that he possesses the Phallic Mother. He seeks self-recognition through the fiction that he engages in the alienation and exchange of the Phallic Mother with other male subjects through submission to the incest taboo and initiation into the symbolic. But, Hegel argued, there are three necessary elements of a full property necessary for the formation of a subject. It is not enough to possess and alienate the desired object of property. One must also have the ability to enjoy the object. Our split masculine subject cannot achieve his desire and enjoy the Feminine. If he did so, he would no longer be the masculine subject. We have seen that, by definition, language is the bar to enjoyment which makes desire possible. But that does not mean that enjoyment cannot occur. Not everyone is always positioned as masculine speaking subjects totally trapped in the symbolic. Consequently, we must now approach subjectivity from the feminine position of being and enjoying the Phallus .
It is fairly simple to see how the Lacanian idea of having and exchanging
the Phallus (which is conflated with having a penis) recalls the elements of possession and alienation of property. Lacan's concept of feminine jouissance is more complex. But it captures Hegel's critique of the solipsistic, addicted side of enjoyment which requires the additional element of alienation or castration.
The French word "jouissance ," which can be literally translated as "enjoyment," includes both the legal concept of quiet enjoyment of property and sexual orgasm. In jouissance the subject takes on the feminine position of being the object of desire and submerges into the real. Being and enjoying the Phallus become one and the same. This is like the Hegelian subject who becomes so identified with the object of enjoyment that she cannot reach out to others. Nevertheless, even as Hegel showed that enjoyment standing alone is inadequate, he insisted that it is indispensable to the logic of subjectivity.
The order of the real is that which is beyond, and therefore limits, the symbolic realm of language and law. Consequently, by submerging with the real, the subject loses her subjectivity in the sense of losing her place in the symbolic. She cannot speak to others and achieve the intersubjective recognition which is the condition of subjectivity while standing in the feminine position of jouissance . This is because the moment she tries to describe her experience of jouissance , she is no longer in an unmediated relationship with the real. To speak is to interpret experience in the symbolic. To picture it is to interpret it in the imaginary. In order to attain subjectivity, therefore, she must reject her enjoyment and submit herself to the symbolic. This is why the speaking subject is not merely the subject of the symbolic, he is always also subject to the symbolic.
This parallels Hegel's argument that to obtain subjectivity the person cannot lose herself in enjoyment but must become indifferent to the objects of desire and turn to others. This causes a paradox. If one abandons the object of desire in order to escape the trap of enjoyment, one loses the recognizability which is the purpose of property. Castration creates the potential for desire while simultaneously making desire impossible to satisfy.
But this in turn makes jouissance , like Hegelian enjoyment, necessary to subjectivity, even though it is inadequate. Subjectivity is only created by the incest taboo which walls off the real from the symbolic. But one cannot forbid what is impossible. Jouissance —the momentary achievement of the Feminine as merger with the real—is the transgression of the incest taboo which proves that what was once impossible is now merely forbidden.
Because the symbolic is linguistic, women, in a curious way, can never "speak" in a feminine voice. Anatomically female persons must always in a way take on the masculine position in order to speak. That is, language is Phallic in that the Phallus is the universal signifier of the speaking subject. In order to be heard, one must take the position of the one who has the Phallus . To have the Phallus is to be symbolically masculine. People who are positioned as women must somehow take on the position of, or mime, the Masculine to act as a speaking subject. The Feminine is silenced because she is the object of the symbolic exchange between subjects. To form the fas/fasces the virgo/virga is not merely bound, she is gagged. The Feminine is defined as that which is not Phallic . The Feminine is that which cannot be captured in language (enjoyed in the symbolic order of consciousness). In the words of Drucilla Cornell:
Although both genders are cut off from the repressed Mother, and, theoretically, have access to the position of the other, only men, to the degree they become traditional, heterosexual men, are fundamentally "connected" to one another in the order of the symbolic. Without this connection, there would be no ground for masculine identity.
Women, insofar as they are identified with the Feminine, are isolated from community. It is only by taking on the masculine role of subjectivity that they have access to community. In Cornell's words, "to enter into the masculine world, women must take up the masculine position."
But slippage always occurs. The gag temporarily falls from the virgin's mouth. In this slippage we glimpse the real. Access to the real cannot come directly through words but through that which is beyond words, what Lacan calls the jouissance or enjoyment of and by the Feminine. But we only glimpse her; the Feminine remains "Eurydice twice lost."
Consequently, Lacan posits that woman experiences an enjoyment which is beyond the Phallic . Those who are positioned as men, of course, also experience enjoyment in the sense of the nonverbal access to the unconscious, but the enjoyment of women is posited as something different, something more.
There is woman only as excluded by the nature of things which is the nature of words, and it has to be said that if there is one thing they themselves are complaining about enough at the moment, it is well and truly that—only they don't know what they are saying, which is all the difference between them and me.
It none the less remains that if she is excluded by the nature of things, it is precisely that in being not all, she has, in relation to what the phallic function designates of jouissance , a supplementary jouissance .
In other words, jouissance as access to the real is that which is beyond speech, and therefore not symbolic and not Phallic . It is consequently associated with women. Men, who define their sexuality as not women, need
to reject enjoyment . Being non-Phallic , the experience of enjoyment is by definition beyond discourse. Even to think it, let alone speak it, is to enter the Phallic world of the symbolic and lose jouissance . But without enjoyment of the Feminine, how can we be complete?
Is this theory misogynist? On the one hand, Lacan might argue that it "accords women the possibility of refusing a pleasure and desire that is not theirs." On the other hand, he not does permit them to claim "one that is there." This leads Elizabeth Grosz to ask:
If phallic jouissance is "the jouissance of the idiot," what is a jouissance beyond the phallus? Women can't know and won't say. It is not clear from Lacan's discussion whether it is because this jouissance is in itself unknowable; or simply that women can't know it.
Should we see jouissance as an empowering, ecstatic possibility through
which women can glimpse the psychological goal of union with the Feminine, or a rationalization for the traditional infantile, idiotic, and silent role of women?
It is both. Lacanianism is a misogynist theory only in the sense that it is an account of misogyny. As such, it opens up the possibility of moving beyond misogyny. The Feminine is the silent Phallic Mother who is always already lost in castration. But she is also the freedom of not being bound by the law of castration which has not yet been achieved.