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The Self and Its Pleasures

The Self and Its Pleasures: Bataille, Lacan, and the History of the Decentered Subject OPEN ACCESS

Carolyn J. Dean
Copyright Date: 1992
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 288
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt1g69xct
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  • Book Info
    The Self and Its Pleasures
    Book Description:

    Why did France spawn the radical poststructuralist rejection of the humanist concept of 'man' as a rational, knowing subject? In this innovative cultural history, Carolyn J. Dean sheds light on the origins of poststructuralist thought, paying particular attention to the reinterpretation of the self by Jacques Lacan, Georges Bataille, and other French thinkers. Arguing that the widely shared belief that the boundaries between self and other had disappeared during the Great War helps explain the genesis of the new concept of the self, Dean examines an array of evidence from medical texts and literary works alike.The Self and Its Pleasuresoffers a pathbreaking understanding of the boundaries between theory and history.

    eISBN: 978-1-5017-0541-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction (pp. 1-10)

    In 1966 the historian Michel Foucault declared that the concept of man “would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.”¹ Foucault’s dramatic declaration represented the culmination of nearly a century of philosophical and aesthetic commentary that questioned whether “man” was in fact a unitary, transcendental, rational, knowing subject. Indeed, French modernists, existentialists, phenomenologists, structuralists, and now poststructuralists have “decentered” the self in radically different ways since the late nineteenth century. They have developed the idea that the self no longer masters the world through its reason but is mired in and constituted by...

  2. PART ONE Psychoanalysis and the Self
    • The reception of psychoanalysis in France is usually said to have been rather inhospitable. Freud’s version of the unconscious was allowed in only through the back door—by way of the literary avant-garde.¹ Although at least one medical periodical,l’Encéphale, was receptive to psychoanalysis, in general the discipline had no official embodiment in France until 1926, when twelve men and women-Marie Bonaparte, René Laforgue, Edouard Pichon, Adrien Borel, Angelo Hesnard, Raymond de Saussure, Charles Odier, René Allendy, Georges Parcheminey, Rudolph Loewenstein, Eugénie Sokolnicka, and Henri Codet—formed the Société Psychanalytique de Paris.

      At the time, Freud’s theories were so controversial...

    • After about 1860, the criminal body came to be taken as evidence of deviance, and the function of law was to survey and repress criminals who presented a social danger. Scientists measured and minutely detailed the deviant’s physique, trying to localize deviance in physical anomalies. The criminal body and criminal behavior were conceived as transparent expressions of a deviant soul, so that the causes and symptoms of deviance were conflated in a physical mark that by its very presence testified to the perversity of the moral will and explained deviance simply by making it visible. Dr. Emile Laurent described the...

    • If the theoretical problem of unmotivated crime challenged psychiatric expertise and rendered many, though not by any means all, medical men sympathetic to the insights afforded by psychoanalysis, most doctors represented the immediate criminal threat to social order in terms of gender—in terms, above all, of nonconformist, “deviant” women. This chapter examines the relationship between the psychiatric and psychoanalytic constructions of female criminal s and the young Lacan’s effort to save men and women from the trap of the imaginary. In order to address that relationship, we must tum once again to the perceived dissolution of the boundaries between...

    • Pleasure and reality, instinct and culture, madness and reason, self and other—the dichotomies that had structured debates about criminals and about deviance in general before the Great War—were being redefined in new terms. The debate about schizophrenia in interwar France offers yet another window on the dissolution of the boundaries between the normal and the pathological, and helps us better to understand precisely where Lacan located the other self and why he located it where he did. I first discuss the way in which the kinds of questions articulated in the previous two chapters were replicated in the...

  3. PART TWO Sade’s Selflessness
    • The marquis de Sade (1740–1814) was not known for his discretion or his philanthopy, and it may seem odd that in a section devoted to selflessness he should be the central focus. But in the interwar years Sade’s sadistic and not so sadistic crimes, like the crimes of the “deviants” I have thus far discussed, also became a metaphor of the self and, more specifically, facilitated the transformation of the self into an other, into a self that is discreetly powerful, apparently selfless.

      But even before the Great War, Sade played an essential role in French medical and literary...

    • In 1886 Richard von Krafft-Ebing, the father of sexology, explained perversion as a congenital defecto His views were echoed by most fin-de-siecle medical works about Sade, even by those—and they constituted the bulk of those published—concerned to liberate Sade from the metaphorical prisons of the moralizers, written by men who overcame the prejudices of their epoch to recognize in Sade a phenomenon worthy of scientific and literary attention.

      In 1885 an anonymous piece about Sade was published inLa Revue Indépendante. Two years later a lengthier version was published as “La Vérité sur le marquis de Sade.” Its...

    • Where did Sade’s words come from? The surrealists had given an ambiguous answer: Sade’s words were the expression of his free, radical spirit, and they were the result of his punishment. Of course, it is possible to have it both ways. The marginal man simply becomes increasingly indignant, increasingly lucid, increasingly committed to his criminality once he is punished for it. But this answer still suggests that the state’s refusal to let Sade speak is the source of his words. It doesn’t explain why he proclaimed his criminality so loudly in the first place, in spite of all the odds....

  4. PART THREE Headlessness
    • In a recent feminist psychoanalytic study of sexual dominance, Jessica Benjamin argues that masochism is a form of self-affirmation, a means by which the masochist’s real pleasure is known. This paradox operates through an elaborate masquerade. Because masochists experience pleasure as pain, they have their pleasure while pretending not to have it; they get to be “bad, wanton, reveling in . . . debasement” and are punished for it at the same time. Benjamin puts it this way: “The torture and outrage to which [the masochist] submits is a kind of martyrdom . . . . her desire to be...

    • InDiscipline and Punish, Michel Foucault referred to the romantic doubling of monstrosity and beauty as the “aesthetic rewriting of crime,” the transposition “to another social class [of] the spectacle that had surrounded the criminal.”¹ Beginning in the late eighteenth century, he argued, crime was no longer the symbol of one social class avenging itself against the injustice of another, but represented individual greatness; in other words, the criminal act was a gesture aimed at escaping bourgeois mediocrity, the mark of an individual’s superiority. Criminals were no longer little men but great ones. In Matthew Lewis’s gothic novelThe Monk,...

    • In 1929-1930, a group of intellectuals, some of them disaffected surrealists, published a tract titledUn Cadavre, in reference to a 1924 surrealist pamphlet of the same name which had mocked the pompous funeral rites of Anatole France. Supposedly it was Bataille’s idea to include a portrait of Breton as Jesus, with a crown of blood-stained thorns around his head. The depiction suggested that though the surrealists’ literary “crimes” were meant to dissolve distinctions, Breton in fact fancied himself above the crowd. It reflected the increasing dissonance within the French avant-garde and the increasing resentment toward Breton, whose popelike status...

  5. Conclusion (pp. 246-252)

    This book has attempted to account for the process by which a repressed otherness became the structuring principle of male subjectivity, of a new split subject. In Bataille and Lacan (particularly the Lacan of the interwar years covered by this book), the self has been decentered, but it has not been relocated in an “other” awaiting liberation (as in surrealism) or abolished. The self is conceived in catachretic terms: It is a deliberately paradoxical figure, structured by internal contradictions, eternally different within itself. For this reason Bataille has been seen as a predecessor to poststructuralism. Lacan’s use of catachresis, furthermore,...

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This book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International.
Funding is provided by National Endowment for the Humanities