Zach Slanger. The Will-to-Jouissance: Postmodern Hedonism between Enjoyment and Anxiety

6:23 PM

Alumnus Zach Slanger has continued research as he gets ready for what will no doubt be promising graduate studies.  He is also working as a teacher in the Writing and Tutorial Center, so for those students who want to discuss their work or get help with your course work in the Department of Social Science, you are in great luck to have him until a graduate school whisks him away from us.  If you would like to hear a brief reading from the original thesis, click here or visit the page for Zach's and all of the other student's thesis readings.

Zach Slanger 

The Will-to-Jouissance
Postmodern Hedonism between Enjoyment and Anxiety
Perverse Strategies

The Will-to-Jouissance: Postmodern Hedonism between Enjoyment and Anxiety

In Seminar II, Jacques Lacan presents a counter-intuitive inversion of Dostoyevsky: “If God doesn’t exist, then nothing at all is permitted any longer.”1 Without God, that is, without structure provided by a relation to some sort of Other, subjects are impotent. As Nietzsche famously proclaimed in 1882, God is dead. The death of God is a symptom of a larger trend, the slow death of the Lacanian Other. The Other is, within Lacanian theory, the realm of symbolic relations, which includes the Law, culture, and language. As the Other declines, society becomes more and more an archipelago of independent islands, divided from each other and unable to relate to each other, lacking a social bond. In their joint seminar titled “The Other Who Does Not Exist and His Ethical Committees,” Jacques-Alain Miller and Eric Laurent discuss the state of the Other today. Laurent says, “The great torment in civilisation is how to come together in the present state of the Other, which is in tatters.”2 The problem in postmodern society is one of the social bond: How can a social bond exist and be maintained in the absence of the Other of the symbolic register?
This fragmentation of the Other inhibits the production of truth, insofar as truth requires the structure that is organized and maintained by the symbolic order of the Other. Lacan speaks of the fragmentation of the Name-of-the-Father (which is the signifier of the Other’s existence) into the Names-of-the-Father, which in turn reveals the inexistence of the Other. This fragmentation and pluralization of the Name-of-the-Father “disintegrates it, devastates it from within, by equivocation, by attacking the bond of the signifier with what one believes to be its signified.”3 It undermines the singular existence of the Other; the Other as symbolic field ceases to exist. The Other instead becomes ephemeral, fleeting. This brings with it all kinds of problems regarding truth and the social bond. Subjects, as a collective, are no longer initiated into the symbolic order because they are no longer duped by it. The postmodern era is the era of the non-dupes, of the subjects who are not duped by the existence of the Other. Once subjects refuse to be duped by the Other, the Other ceases to exist. For this reason, those who refuse to be duped, the non-dupes, are those who err the most: les non-dupes errent. They err because they reject the symbolic fiction that knits together social life and produces truth. The passage to the Names-of-the-Father reflects this refusal to be duped through its fragmentation of the signifier that signifies the Other. Without the Other, without a discourse that can provide points of orientation and thus help the subject to navigate and participate in the social-symbolic production of truth, the subject is doomed to repeatedly err, to wander.
Only once the subject has been castrated, has partially lost his access to jouissance, can he be initiated into the symbolic order of language, Law, and desire; the symbolic order qua structure requires a renunciation of jouissance. However, as Lacan says, “in our day, there is no longer a trace, absolutely anywhere, of initiation.”4 The postmodern subject is thus aligned with the Lacanian pervert. Insofar as the pervert underwent alienation but not separation, the pervert has only a transient relationship to the Other qua symbolic structure. The pervert is not duped by the Other. The failure to enter into structure through separation results in the subject remaining caught within the jouissance of the Other. The subject thus fails to gain symbolic space for himself. He who lives without structure lives under the greatest tyranny, the tyranny of jouissance.5 Without the Other qua symbolic structure, nothing at all is permitted any longer. This is the status of the pervert and, I will argue, it is the status of the postmodern subject.6
This form of postmodern oppression can be found at both the individual and the social levels (insofar as these are not discrete but interpenetrate each another). At the level of the individual, the maternal superego, extrapolated by Slavoj Žižek from Lacan’s later seminars, has supplanted the paternal superego, voicing to the postmodern subject an injunction to “Enjoy!” At the level of society, Zygmunt Bauman has identified a shift from technologies of discipline to technologies of seduction, which require subjects to consume and enjoy. The impossibility of satisfying these demands for enjoyment elicit intense feelings of anxiety in the subject so that the postmodern subject is always caught between a will-to-enjoyment and the anxiety regarding his inability to fulfill this will. Enjoyment and anxiety intersect in postmodern hedonism, in the hedonism that follows the collapse of the Other.
However, before interrogating postmodern hedonism under the maternal superego and technologies of seduction, a closer look at the perverse fantasy is required in order to illuminate the similarities between the condition of the postmodern subject and that of the perverse subject, especially as they relate to the jouissance of the Other.
The Perverse Fantasy
The fundamental fantasy of the pervert plays an important role in his subjectivity. This is because the fundamental fantasy is the subject’s unconscious imaginary projection of his relation to the Other and the desire of the Other. In other words, the fundamental fantasy is the most basic formation of all of the subject’s other fantasies and therefore it reflects the subject’s position vis-à-vis the Other. Inevitably, this relation orders much of the subject’s life and his relations to others. Lacan presents the perverse fantasy in the algebraic equation: a <> $.7
This equation is the inverse of Lacan’s equation for neurotic fantasy: $ <> a. Lacan explains the reason for this thus: “Strictly speaking, [perversion] is an inverted effect of fantasy. It is the subject who determines himself as an object, in his encounter with subjective division.”8 In these equations, the subject is represented by the figure on the left and the subject’s mode of jouissance is represented by the figure on the right. The lozenge in the middle represents the two movements of the paternal function, alienation and separation, and is read as “in relation to,” so that the equation for neurotic fantasy is read as “the split subject in relation to object a.” The equation for perverse fantasy is read as “the object-cause of jouissance in relation to the split subject” (Dominique Miller alternatively phrases it “object a working the subject”).9 This highlights the difference between the jouissance of the pervert and that of the neurotic. The neurotic aims to experience jouissance through relating to objects a as a split subject, attempting to defy the Other’s demand for a sacrifice of jouissance via castration; the jouissance of the Other threatens the neurotic, and the neurotic attempts to avoid it at all costs. Perverts, on the other hand, attempt to be the object a for the Other.10 As Jacques-Alain Miller describes it, “the pervert devotes himself to the Other’s jouissance, the Other’s sexual enjoyment, trying to restore lost sexual enjoyment to the Other.”11 The neurotic fantasy provides answers to the fundamental questions of the neurotic: “Who am I?” and “What am I in the desire of the Other?” The perverse fantasy is unique precisely because of its lack of a question. The pervert knows exactly what he is in the desire of the Other: he is the object a, that which completes the Other, that which fills in the Other’s lack. Since the pervert has undergone alienation, the pervert recognizes the lack in the Other. This lack begs the question, “What am I in relation to this lack?” As Bruce Fink tells us, “To the question ‘What am I?’ the pervert responds, ‘I am that,’ that something that she is lacking.”12
In “Kant with Sade,” Lacan presents the following diagram as the schema of the perverse fundamental fantasy: 
Figure 113
In this schema, the subject begins from the position of the object a. V represents the volonté-de-jouissance, or the will-to-jouissance, which is the Other’s will as understood by the perverse subject.14 This will is the voice that, in Kant, is explained as “an auto-, non-divisive affectation” but in Sade as the voice of an other.15 The perverse subject responds to this voice, this will, offering himself to the Other in his role as object a so as to fulfill the Other’s will-to-jouissance. This inevitably exposes his partner (playing the role of Other) as a split subject ($), a subject of lack. Now that this lack has been exposed, the pervert can fill it in with jouissance. The jouissance that the perverse subject offers the Other in his role as object a completes the Other, filling in his lack and relieving him of his status as a split subject, creating instead S, or the unbarred “brute subject of pleasure.”16 The Other, now complete, comes into existence for the perverse subject.
As a result of this operation of the fundamental fantasy, Lacan describes the pervert as “the subject reconstituted through alienation at the cost of being nothing but the instrument of jouissance.”17 The perverse fantasy positions the subject as the object that works tirelessly to bring jouissance to the Other. Stephanie Swales explains this well: “The pervert believes that what the Other lacks and thus wants is jouissance, and he sets out to bring jouissance to the Other and thereby make the Other exist through being complete. Through his endeavors to plug up the lack in the Other, the pervert, as instrument, gains jouissance for himself.”18 The relationship between the pervert and jouissance is a unique one. In the essay “The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire,” Lacan says of Alcibiades, “[he] is by no means a neurotic… he is the epitome of desirousness, and a man who pursues jouissance as far as possible.”19 This is the status of the pervert: the pervert is he who goes furthest along the path of jouissance. He travels this path, however, in relation to the jouissance of the Other.
The perverse fantasy reflects the pervert’s Oedipal, childhood relation to the first Other in which the first Other experienced jouissance and the child experienced jouissance but also anxiety regarding the first Other’s overproximity.20 In childhood, the pervert experienced the first Other (or mOther) as deriving jouissance from his body. At the same time, the child himself experienced jouissance through the attention of the first Other, in addition to the anxiety caused by the fear that this attention might consume him entirely, might swallow him up. Thus, the perverse subject never encounters the Other of desire, but remains in relation to the Other of demand, the difference between desire and demand being that demand can only be satisfied by a single object (in this case the pervert himself) whereas desire, in its metonymic operation, is always already a desire for something else (i.e. it can never be satisfied). What this means for the perverse subject is that there is no possibility for a symbolic space between himself and the first Other, since the second Other does not intervene and demand separation, resulting in an overproximity that is the source of intense anxiety.21 However, this also means that he retains access to the jouissance-filled relationship with the first Other that he would have lost through separation.
The pervert enjoys his own instrumentalization by the Other, while also feeling anxiety about it. As a result, the jouissance of the Other and the jouissance of the pervert reproduce each other in a cyclical fashion. There is thus a jouissance-filled relationship between the pervert and the first Other through which the pervert attempts to join the first Other by identifying as her imaginary phallus and thus filling in her lack with jouissance. It is precisely this relationship that the paternal function seeks to put an end to via castration. The failure of castration in perversion results in the continuation of this jouissance-filled relationship. However, the pervert does not necessarily wish to travel this road to jouissance. In perversion there is a simultaneous attraction and aversion to jouissance. It is because of the latter that the pervert seeks out castration, that the pervert seeks to make the (Lawgiving) Other qua agent of separation exist. For our purposes here, it suffices to say that this conflict fundamental to perversion is at the core of postmodern hedonism as it operates through the maternal superego and technologies of seduction. The postmodern condition is one of suffering under the tyranny of jouissance.
The Maternal Superego: The Individual and Jouissance
In Seminar XX, Lacan presents a new operation of the superego. The superego, Lacan says, no longer functions as a voice of prohibition but as a voice that demands enjoyment: “Nothing forces anyone to enjoy (jouir) except the superego. The superego is the imperative of jouissance – Enjoy!”22 This contrasts with the traditional Freudian superego, the voice of prohibition, “No!” Lacan’s punning of le nom-du-père (the Name-of-the-Father) with le non-du-père (the No-of-the-Father) prior to 1972 demonstrates the Freudian functioning of the superego, whereas les non-dupes errent (the non-dupes err) demonstrates the Lacanian superego, the superego operative in the epoch of the non-dupes. With the fragmentation of paternal authority (the Name-of-the-Father) and the Other, the superego no longer enunciates a paternal, prohibitive “No!,” but instead pronounces an unrestrained “Enjoy!” Jacques-Alain Miller demonstrates how this new superego originates in the collapse of the Other:
Can we speak today of a major neurosis of our times? If one was able to do it, one could say that its principal determinant is the inexistence of the Other – in so far as it rivets the subject to the pursuit of surplus-jouissance.
The Freudian superego produced things like prohibition, duty, and indeed guilt – so many terms which make the Other exist. These are semblants of the Other. They suppose the Other.
The Lacanian superego, that which Lacan sifts out in Encore, produces, for him, a completely different imperative – Jouis. This is the superego of our civilization.23

Without structure provided by the Other, the pursuit of desire in its socially-mediated character is forsaken, replaced by the pursuit of individual jouissance. This pursuit is demanded of the subject by the Lacanian superego.
Slavoj Žižek, building on Lacan’s revised concept of the superego from Seminar XX, names this new manifestation the “maternal superego.”24 However, before delving further into Žižek’s theorization of the maternal superego it would be helpful to situate the maternal superego within Lacan’s theory of perversion. Paul Verhaeghe says of perversion and the maternal superego, “Perverse anxiety is often understood as an oedipal anxiety, that is, an anxiety about the castrating father. This is wrong; the anxiety is about the maternal superego. It was the first Other who was in control, and the perverse scenario is explicitly aimed at reversing this situation.”25 As explained previously, the pervert’s castration anxiety is not an anxiety aroused by the castrating father qua second Other, but an anxiety caused by the overproximity of the first Other who blocks the second Other and threatens to swallow up the child in her own jouissance, in the jouissance of the Other. In opposition to the prohibitive “No!” of the second Other, the first Other says, “Yes! Enjoy!” In the pervert’s experience of the first Other, the first Other endeavors to prolong the dual, jouissance-filled relationship between the child and herself, preventing interference from a third party so that she may continue to derive jouissance from the child. As a result, the pervert never undergoes separation. The first Other’s voice, her demand for jouissance (whether real or imagined), lives on in the superego of the uncastrated perverse subject.
Žižek’s most detailed elaboration of the maternal superego can be found in the fifth chapter of his book Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture. Here, Žižek outlines his theory of the three successive types of libidinal economy in modernity: “the ‘autonomous’ individual of the Protestant ethic, the heteronomous ‘organization man,’ and the type gaining predominance today, the ‘pathological narcissist.’”26 The introduction of the pathological narcissist coincides with the advent of the maternal superego as the narcissistic subject of postmodernity is dominated by the maternal superego and its injunction to “Enjoy!” Žižek says of the pathological narcissist and the maternal superego:
Instead of the integration of a symbolic law, we have a multitude of rules to follow – rules of accommodation telling us “how to succeed.” The narcissist knows only the “rules of the (social) game” enabling him to manipulate others; societal relations constitute for him a playing field in which he assumes “roles,” not proper symbolic mandates; he stays clear of any kind of binding commitment that would imply a proper symbolic identification. He is a radical conformist who paradoxically experiences himself as an outlaw…. this disintegration of the ego- ideal entails the installation of a “maternal” superego that does not prohibit enjoyment but, on the contrary, imposes it and punishes “social failure” in a far more cruel and severe way through an unbearable and self-destructive anxiety. All the babble about the “decline of paternal authority” merely conceals the resurgence of this incomparably more aggressive agency. Today’s “permissive” society is certainly not less “repressive” than the epoch of the “organization man,” that obsessive servant of the bureaucratic institution; the sole difference lies in the fact that in a “society that demands submission to the rules of social intercourse but refuses to ground those rules in a code of moral conduct,” i.e., in the ego- ideal, the social demand assumes the form of a harsh, punitive superego.27

The shift from organization man to pathological narcissist, from paternal to maternal superego, involves a shift from symbolic mandates to performative roles, a shift from the ego-ideal (the symbolic position from which you imagine the Other sees you) to the ideal-ego (the imaginary identification that you assume) and thus also a shift from symbolic to imaginary relations, a collapse of the symbolic into the imaginary and the real, a shift from symbolic Law to loose social “rules,” all of which culminates in an even more oppressive structure of power, one which demands hedonistic enjoyment from subjects and causes anxiety and self-destructive behaviors. These shifts that Žižek outlines are the shifts brought about by the decline of the Other.
As the link between pathological narcissism and the maternal superego may imply, the shift from paternal to maternal superego has important implications for the social bond. The rise of the pathological narcissist dominated by the maternal superego is a symptom of the further individualization of society and the breaking down of the social bond. The pathological narcissist searches out detours and short cuts to jouissance outside of the social bond. The postmodern hedonist is divided from society by his concentrated concern for himself and his jouissance, driven by the internalized demand for jouissance of the first Other. Little else outside of advancing his own enjoyment (and by extension that of the first Other) matters, making social organization increasingly difficult. This influx of jouissance is matched by an influx of anxiety, in part because the dissolution of the social bond obscures the social production of contradictions and inequalities with the result being that the postmodern pathological narcissist experiences these problems as personal failures. Failure is felt more intensely, as it is experienced as a failure of the individual rather than as a failure of society.28 Any failure to enjoy, to succeed, to live up to the demands of the maternal superego also results in intense anxiety.
Rik Loose, a Lacanian psychoanalyst, speaks of the dissolution of the social bond and the relationship to jouissance in postmodernity in terms of addiction, which he recognizes as one of the “New Symptoms.”29 The New Symptoms are those symptoms which psychoanalysts encounter increasingly more often and in new forms, which therefore require a somewhat different theorization and approach than in the past. Addiction in postmodern society is a strategy for pursuing jouissance within the restrictions set by the maternal superego, namely by avoiding the attainment of jouissance within the Law of the Other through the social bond. It is a strategy favoring the pursuit of individual jouissance. Loose writes, “addiction is a choice for jouissance that is administered independently of the structure that determines the social bond with other people… the effect that addicts pursue is something that takes place to a large degree independently of the Other.”30 Because of its immediacy, individual jouissance better satisfies the subject and the maternal superego that drives him: “the addicted subject decided to take a shortcut via the toxic route of the body and, as such, avoid the less immediate, and thus less satisfactory, detour via the social bond.”31 Loose poses a very important question near the end of his essay:
The question we should ask ourselves now is the following: what happens to the administration of jouissance – which is ultimately a jouissance of the body – when the administrative machinery is forced to function increasingly on its own as a result of the decline of the function of the symbolic law? This is a legitimate question because in the discourse of capitalism the function of the law has been replaced by the function of freedom. From the perspective of this ideology we have all become individual free agents who operate at a distance from others and indeed the law that mediates between us and others and who, paradoxically, become increasingly dependent on objects of jouissance.32

Loose’s answer to this question is that postmodern addiction necessarily results from the administration of jouissance independent of the Other. Increasingly, jouissance is administered for individuals by individuals insofar as they are free to choose, absolved from all commitments to the social bond via the symbolic Law of the Other.
The decline of the Other and its Law is the causal factor behind this shift to the maternal superego; the maternal superego is the logical consequence of the loss of the Law. As Žižek explains, “Law is the agency of prohibition which regulates the distribution of enjoyment on the basis of a common, shared renunciation (the ‘symbolic castration’), whereas superego marks a point at which permitted enjoyment, freedom-to-enjoy, is reversed into obligation to enjoy – which, one must add, is the most effective way to block access to enjoyment.”33 The Law is a symbolic pact between subjects that creates rules for enjoyment within society, allowing for permitted enjoyment and for transgressions of the Law that yield even greater enjoyment. Without the Law, these permitted enjoyments become obligatory enjoyments, leaving no room for transgression. Žižek describes this obligatory jouissance in Kantian terms:
The superego imperative to enjoy thus functions as the reversal of Kant’s “Du kannst, denn du sollst!” (You can, because you must!); it relies on a “You must, because you can!” That is to say, the superego aspect of today’s “non-repressive” hedonism (the constant provocation we are exposed to, enjoining us to go right to the end and explore all modes of jouissance) resides in the way permitted jouissance necessarily turns into obligatory jouissance.34

This postmodern hedonism in which the superego supersedes the Law presents the subject with a forced choice: Enjoy! or suffer the anxiety of not enjoying. This choice is not really a choice since enjoyment can never be achieved when it is imposed. The postmodern maternal superego demands what it simultaneously withholds, subjecting the individual to anxiety over his failure to meet its impossible demands. The maternal superego is unrelenting, continuously wringing out the last drops of jouissance from the subject it persecutes with its demand for more and more jouissance. It is not so much the subject who enjoys as it is the Other (in the form of the maternal superego) who enjoys by instrumentalizing the subject towards the production of jouissance. Thus, as Žižek concludes, by demanding enjoyment the maternal superego in fact prohibits enjoyment, eliciting instead anxiety regarding the jouissance of the Other.
This relationship between the instrumentalization of the subject and the jouissance of the Other manifests in an analogous form in the wider social order in the form of technologies of seduction, which will be explored in the next section.
Technologies of Seduction: Society and Jouissance
From the 1960s until his death in the mid-1980s, Michel Foucault theorized what he called “disciplinary power” as exercised through technologies of discipline. According to Foucault, in the modern period power is invested into the bodies of subjects through the disciplinary practices of such institutions as prisons, schools, hospitals, asylums, and the military. These technologies of discipline create “docile bodies,” bodies that work to increase the efficiency of power structures by regulating themselves.35 However, some theorists have observed shifts in the functioning of power in postmodern society; increasingly, theorists argue that technologies of seduction are displacing the technologies of discipline identified by Foucault.36 The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman was the first theorist to identify this shift in his essay “On Postmodern Uses of Sex.” The French philosopher Gilles Lipovetsky expanded upon Bauman’s concept in his book Hypermodern Times. These works will be considered in relation to the perversity of postmodern hedonism, which has been our focus thus far. Technologies of seduction reflect the expansion and proliferation of the maternal superego into the wider social realm, infecting society with its own will-to-jouissance.
In the beginning of “On Postmodern Uses of Sex,” Bauman gives an account of Foucault’s theory of power in terms of discipline, panopticism, normativity, and health. Bauman then explains the transformations that these operations of power have undergone in postmodernity. Using a discourse of eroticism, Bauman describes the search for ever newer and greater pleasures in postmodern society as an emerging cultural norm.37 He says, “The great majority of people – men as well as women – are today integrated through seduction rather than policing, advertising rather than indoctrinating, need-creation rather than normative regulation. Most of us are socially and culturally trained and shaped as sensation-seekers and gatherers, rather than producers and soldiers.”38 In short, in postmodern society power molds subjects into consumers rather than producers. People are seduced through advertising and the creation of new needs in order to sustain hegemonic power structures. As consumers, subjects are seduced into seeking out the new, the novel, the strange, the unique, the pleasurable, whatever may provide the subject with sensations and stimuli. Technologies of seduction are effective because “postmodern culture eulogizes the delights of sex and encourages the investment of every nook and cranny of the Lebenswelt with erotic significance.”39 The empirical results of this investment of a will-to-jouissance in the body of the postmodern subject and this investment of erotic significance in the postmodern lifeworld are evident in the recent surge in tourism, spectacular entertainment, and rampant consumerism.
For Foucault, health is the standard by which a subject’s compliance with the disciplinary regime is measured. The “healthy” body is one that follows the norms imposed by the institutions of disciplinary power; the healthy body follows the law, adheres to the rules of social conduct in public, engages only in approved forms of sexual activity, etc. With the collapse of the Other, of the Law, there are no longer any norms to follow. Instead, as Žižek has established, there are rules for jouissance, which can be located in Bauman’s concept of “fitness.” Fitness is the new standard by which compliance with power structures is measured and, as we will see, it is a very problematic one. Bauman defines fitness as being “always on the move or ready to move, capacity for imbibing or digesting ever greater volumes of stimuli, flexibility and resistance to all closure.”40 An alternative definition articulated through the lens of psychoanalysis might be: the degree to which a subject demonstrates his ability to enjoy, his capacity for jouissance. In this formulation, fitness takes on the role of a measure of the success of the maternal superego on a social level. Just as the maternal superego can never be satisfied, thereby eliciting intense anxiety in the perverse postmodern subject, “Fitness is a never-to-be-reached horizon looming forever in the future, a spur to unstoppable efforts, none of which can be seen as fully satisfactory, let alone the ultimate. Pursuit of fitness, its little triumphs notwithstanding, is shot through with incurable anxiety and is an inexhaustible source of self-reproach and self-indignation.”41 The inevitable failure of the postmodern subject to enjoy at the behest of the maternal superego and social demands for fitness results in anxiety, both in regard to his failure to enjoy and to the overproximity of the enjoyment of the Other, which he provides.
Bauman describes fitness as being even more oppressive than health when it comes to social standards for compliance, as Žižek describes the maternal superego as being even more oppressive than the paternal superego. This is because fitness is problematic in three ways: there is no upper limit to fitness (thus its status as an ever-receding horizon), fitness can be neither objectively measured nor effectively communicated, and finally the subject assumes the individual responsibility for playing both the role of he who experiences sensations and he who measures sensations, paradoxically requiring that the subject experience sensation from both a subjective position and from the objective position of an external observer.42 Given this state of affairs, Bauman provides a grim prognosis: “Added to the two previously signaled troubles, that additional worry makes the plight of the fitness-seeker an agony of which our health-conscious ancestors had no inkling. All three troubles daily generate a great deal of anxiety; what is more, however, that anxiety – the specifically postmodern affliction – is unlikely ever to be cured and stopped.”43 Here, Bauman explicitly links anxiety to fitness and postmodern technologies of seduction; anxiety is the result of the postmodern subject’s inevitable inability to live up to the hedonistic social demands for enjoyment. The postmodern subject continuously suffers from the “fear that some precious kinds of sensation have been missed and the pleasure-giving potential of the body has not been squeezed to the last drop.”44
The standards (well, no longer standards, shall we say guidelines?) for physical beauty in postmodernity reinforce Bauman’s concept of fitness. In postmodern society, the attractive female body is thin but toned while the attractive male body is muscular and well defined. These physiques suggest that the subject is capable of adventurous, sensation-seeking pursuits, whether they be rock climbing or kinky sex. The attractive postmodern body is tan and may be adorned with piercings and tattoos, which suggest surplus time and money capable of being spent in the pursuit of new sensations. These postmodern bodily aesthetics reflect the subject’s narcissistic and hedonistic pursuits; they communicate the subject’s fitness, his capacity for jouissance. The attractive body is the one that contains the most signifiers of enjoyment. Of further significance is the fact that these physical characteristics in no way correlate to social values outside of the will-to-jouissance; that is, they are not signifiers of anything having to do with the social bond, such as industriousness, the maternal, or integrity (as in past standards for physical beauty). They are signifiers of pure, individual enjoyment.45
It is in this way that the dissolution of the social bond is the sine qua non of the maintenance of postmodern power structures as exercised through technologies of seduction. As Bauman tells us, “The weakening of bonds is an important condition of successful social production of sensation-gatherers who happen as well to be fully fledged, effective consumers.”46 Technologies of seduction are most effective when deployed against subjects divided by the pursuit of individual modes of jouissance. The social relation between individuals must therefore be interrupted to the greatest extent possible. Since technologies of seduction are utilized against individuals, they further contribute to the individualization of subjects; they tie subjects to individual modes of jouissance ever more tightly. In this way technologies of seduction are self-replicating, they produce their own conditions for reproduction.
Gilles Lipovetsky elaborates on the transition from technologies of discipline to technologies of seduction first recognized by Bauman. Lipovetsky writes of “the move from a capitalism of production to an economy of consumption, the replacement of an unbending and disciplinary society by a ‘society of fashion’ restructured from top to bottom by technologies of ephemerality, novelty and permanent seduction.”47 In postmodernity, as previously stated, the rigidity of structure has fragmented into ephemeral and fleeting flows. The supplanting of production by consumption contributes to this transience in the form of seduction and enjoyment. However, this indulgence does not come without a price; it dwells in a juncture with anxiety. Here, once again at the intersection of enjoyment and anxiety, we find postmodern hedonism: “The consumerist fever for immediate satisfactions, the aspirations toward a playful and hedonistic lifestyle, have of course by no means disappeared – they are being unleashed more than ever: but they are enveloped in a halo of fears and anxieties.”48 Lipovetsky’s elaborations on Bauman’s concept solidify the reciprocity between the maternal superego and technologies of seduction regarding the compliance of postmodern subjects with structures of seductive power.
The effects of postmodern hedonism, of the will-to-jouissance, are numerous and are not compatible with an effective social bond. In 1972, Lacan theorized a shift from the discourse of the master to the discourse of capitalism with important implications for the Law and jouissance. Renata Salecl describes these consequences thus:
Lacan wondered whether this ‘Discourse of Capitalism’ represents a rejection or, better, a foreclosure of castration. This foreclosure comes when society abandons all limits in order to make a push towards limitless jouissance. There is no longer a symbolic father to establish the rule of law. The drive for jouissance at all costs leads to all kinds of toxic mania and excess – alcohol, drugs, shopping, workaholism. Capitalism frees the slave and makes him a consumer, but limitless consumption will end with the consumer consuming him- or herself.49

Under the discourse of capitalism, the postmodern subject is pushed to enjoy at all costs, both on the individual level by the maternal superego and on the social level by technologies of seduction. The Law is defunct, no longer serving to restrict and distribute jouissance. All that remains in its absence is the superegoic demand for jouissance (the internalized voice of the first Other): “Consume! Enjoy!” As Rik Loose reminds us, “there is nothing that sells more than the promise of total enjoyment and the fear of not being part of that experience.”50
In the final section, we will examine this relationship between the postmodern subject’s will-to-jouissance, the jouissance of the Other, and late capitalism.
The Jouissance-Filled Relationship of Late Capitalism under Postmodernity
Another name for our current era is the “Information Age.” This appellation refers to the computerization and digitalization of information in postmodernity. The control, collection, and transmission of information have become increasingly central to the economy of late capitalism. As David Harvey tells us, information has become a commodity in the post-Fordist system of flexible accumulation: “accurate and up-to-date information is now a very highly valued commodity. Access to, and control over, information, coupled with a strong capacity for instantaneous response to changes in exchange rates, fashions and tastes, and moves by competitors is more essential to corporate survival than it ever was under Fordism.”51 This marks what some (e.g. Lipovetsky) have described as a transition from an economy of production to an economy of consumption; corporate attention is increasingly focused on the consumption side of capitalism, on the things people purchase and enjoy. For this reason, information concerning the consumption habits of individuals has become a central component of late capitalism.
This focus on consumption is related to the flexibility of late capitalism. As Harvey suggests, flexibility allows for nearly immediate responses to equally immediate changes in the economy and in patterns of consumption. Harvey explains the relationship between flexibility, rapid change, and consumption in terms of aesthetics:
Flexible accumulation has been accompanied on the consumption side, therefore, by a much greater attention to quick-changing fashions and the mobilization of all the artifices of need inducement and cultural transformation that this implies. The relatively stable aesthetic of Fordist modernism has given way to all the ferment, instability, and fleeting qualities of a postmodernist aesthetic that celebrates difference, ephemerality, spectacle, fashion, and the commodification of cultural forms.52

With the transition from a rigid regime of production under Fordism to a flexible regime of consumption under post-Fordism, changes occur more often and more rapidly. This requires a method for tracking these changes, and has thus resulted in the centrality of information in late capitalism. As Harvey writes, “Control over information flow and over the vehicles for propagation of popular taste and culture have likewise become vital weapons in competitive struggle.”53 Late capitalist competition is less and less concerned with labor and resources and increasingly concerned with the transmission of information to and the collection of information from consumers.
For this reason, market research is a major business in late capitalism. Increasingly, the kinds of surveillance used in the service of technologies of discipline are being used in the service of technologies of seduction. These technologies of seduction increasingly exert control over individuals insofar as individuals acquiesce to this seduction. Oscar H. Gandy, Jr. demonstrates this in his 1995 essay “Tracking the Audience: Personal Information and Privacy.” Gandy writes, “Surveillance and rationalization also imply an increase in the ability of capitalists to exercise control over individuals in their roles as employees, consumers, and citizens.”54 Consumer practices are surveilled in ever new and increasingly invisible ways thanks to the advances of digital technology. Gandy speaks of certain practices of surveillance; he describes the voluntary use of devices that track when individuals watch television and what programs they watch (in exchange for prizes or other rewards), as well as the tracing of magazine coupons to exact addresses and other surveillance activities.55 The point of this surveillance is to create consumer profiles. These consumer profiles increase the efficiency of advertising by isolating certain pieces of information about individuals, ensuring that advertisements get to the individuals most likely to purchase the products being advertised. In this way, Gandy tells us, “Reading, viewing, listening, banking, communication, and shopping activities will increasingly display the same quality of commercial transactions. As such, those transactions will provide the surveillance information necessary for the efficient operation of capitalism as its reach is extended into all aspects of life.”56 Clearly, surveillance has come a long way since 1995. With the introduction of the Internet, Gandy’s prediction has come true to a greater degree than perhaps even he himself anticipated.
Gandy speaks of audiences in two ways: as products and as laborers. Audiences are products in the sense that the consumer profiles attached to them are created, bought, and sold.57 The information acquired about audiences is a commodity to be exchanged. Audiences are laborers since they do the “work of watching commercials, making sense of them, and ultimately behaving as consumers appropriate to their social position.”58 The reception of advertisements is not a passive activity; it requires work on the part of the consumer who views them. Insofar as audiences are laborers, their labor has been made more efficient in two ways. First, the length of commercials has decreased over time so that viewers now view more commercials per minute than ever before.59 Second, with advances in surveillance technologies, the advertisements audiences see are increasingly tailored to them in their specificity as individuals.60
For Gandy, this labor of the audience is exploitative. However, this is not to suggest that the audience is not recompensed for their labor. Gandy writes, “The payment for this work is the pleasure, stimulation, or entertainment derived from consuming the material that appears between the commercial messages.”61 The payment for this labor comes in the form of the jouissance of consumption. In exchange for the work of watching and interpreting commercials, posters, and other advertisements the audience member receives jouissance via the purchase of the product advertised. This enjoyment is in turn productive. It is through this enjoyment that the first Other qua capitalism enjoys; the first Other enjoys through the profits it derives from the consumer. There is an entire economy of jouissance here. Was it not the jouissance of television viewing (i.e. spectacular entertainment) that placed the audience member in a position to see the commercial in the first place? In this way, subjects qua consumers experience jouissance as they themselves provide jouissance to the first Other. Postmodern subjects exist in a perverse, jouissance-filled relationship with the first Other qua capitalism in which subjects are situated as the instrument of the jouissance of the first Other, who demands more and more jouissance via the maternal superego and technologies of seduction.
A recent opinion piece in the New York Times reflects this positioning of the postmodern subject. The article is titled, appropriately, “Facebook is Using You.” The author, Lori Andrews, explains a topic that has been of much concern recently: Facebook and personal information. She clearly explains the way in which the labor of consumers is utilized by the social networking site Facebook: “Facebook makes money by selling ad space to companies that want to reach us. Advertisers choose key words or details – like relationship status, location, activities, favorite books and employment – and then Facebook runs the ads for the targeted subset of its 845 million users.”62 The author describes the similar practices of the Internet search engine Google. Users provide these websites with jouissance in the form of information which in turn provide them with opportunities to consume (through advertisements), thus providing them with jouissance. And of course, their subsequent consumption provides the first Other with jouissance in the form of profits. The increasing privacy concerns surrounding such practices of information collection and of targeted advertising reflect the anxiety that subjects experience regarding the first Other’s overproximity and the jouissance of the first Other in late capitalism. In positioning ourselves as the instruments of the first Other’s jouissance, we attempt to fill in the first Other’s lack. It is the resulting lack of lack that causes us to feel anxiety before the first Other who now threatens to consume us, to swallow us entirely.
The rise of the Internet reflects the rapidly expanding rationalization of surveillance practices and technologies of seduction. As surveillance practices infiltrate further and further into everyday life, technologies of seduction become increasingly self-perpetuating. These technologies of seduction provide subjects with jouissance in exchange for information about their enjoyment, and this information in turn provides the means for further seduction. Postmodern subjects are thus caught in the jouissance of the Other, both enjoying and feeling anxiety regarding their position as the instrument of the Other’s jouissance. This unique operation of power functions at the level of the individual as well in the form of the maternal superego, which demands more and more jouissance from the subject. This postmodern variety of hedonism serves to perpetuate and reinforce the dominance of late capitalism, in part by furthering the individualizing and atomizing forces inherent to the operation of power under late capitalism. This effectively inhibits the formation of a collective resistance against the present field of power relations.
New forms of resistance are required to oppose these new and more flexible operations of power. Undoubtedly, new strategies of resistance are already being deployed; what remains to be seen are what form these strategies are taking, how they are opposing the current constellation of power relations under late capitalism, and how effective these strategies might be in their resistance. We postmodern subjects need to invent a new theory and practice of coming together in an Other, a new form of social bond, through which we can resist the seductions and the promises of jouissance of late capitalism, but also an Other that is less exclusive and less oppressive towards marginal groups than previous social relations. Until then, without a God qua Other, we will remain fundamentally unfree; nothing at all will be permitted.

1 Jacques Lacan, Seminar II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, trans. Sylvana Tomaselli, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller (New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1997), 128.

2 Jacques-Alain Miller and Eric Laurent, “The Other Who Does Not Exist and His Ethical Committees,” in Almanac of Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalytic Stories After Freud and Lacan, trans. Michele Julien, Richard Klein, Kevin Polley, Mischa Twitchin, and Veronique Voruz, eds. Ruth Golan, Gabriel Dahan, Shlomo Lieber, and Rivka Warshawsky (Tel Aviv: Groupe Israelienne de l'Ecole Europeene, 1998), 35.

3 Miller and Laurent, “Other Who Does Not Exist,” 16.

4 Jacques Lacan, “Lecture on November 20, 1973,” in The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book XXI: The Non-Dupes Errent, trans. Cormac Gallagher (unpublished copy for personal use).

5 The French word jouissance most closely translates into English as “enjoyment,” but this is still not quite adequate and so jouissance is often left untranslated. Lacan makes an important distinction between jouissance and plaisir (pleasure). Pleasure is submitted to the law of the pleasure principle, which prohibits pleasure from going beyond a certain point. Jouissance is this beyond of the pleasure principle, the point at which pleasure becomes so intense as to be instead pleasure in pain. Rather than the reduction in tension under the pleasure principle, jouissance involves an increase in tension. Jouissance is what is prohibited by the pleasure principle and what must be renounced in the castration complex during Oedipalization, and this prohibition is what pushes subjects to seek out jouissance and to transgress against the pleasure principle (via the drives). Jouissance plays a unique role in each of the clinical structures; in this paper, we will be focusing on jouissance within perversion.

6 It is essential to bear in mind that perversion in the Lacanian system is not a term of moral judgment, but instead refers to a clinical structure.

7 Jacques Lacan, “Kant with Sade,” in Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English, trans. Héloïse Fink, Bruce Fink, and Russell Grigg (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006), 653.

8 Jacques Lacan, Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, trans. Alan Sheridan, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998), 185.

9 Dominique Miller, “A Case of Childhood Perversion,” in Reading Seminars I and II: Lacan’s Return to Freud, ed. Richard Feldstein, Bruce Fink, and Maire Janus (Albany, NY: State University of New York, 1996), 297.

10 The object a is what the subject hopes to find in the other, the object which will fulfill his desire. It is simultaneously the object of desire and the object-cause of desire, that which puts desire into motion. It is a surplus of jouissance which is closely associated with the drives. It is also the leftover of the real that remains after the entry into the symbolic. In identifying with the object a, the pervert is identifying with that which can plug up the lack in the Other.

11 Jacques-Alain Miller, “A Discussion of Lacan’s ‘Kant with Sade,’” in Reading Seminars I and II: Lacan’s Return to Freud, ed. Richard Feldstein, Bruce Fink, Maire Jaanus (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996), 213.

12 Bruce Fink, A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psyhchoanalysis: Theory and Technique (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 175.

13 Jacques Lacan, Schema 1 from “Kant with Sade,” in Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English, trans. Héloïse Fink, Bruce Fink, and Russell Grigg (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006), 653.

14 Stephanie S. Swales, Perversion: A Lacanian Psychoanalytic Approach to the Subject (New York, NY: Routledge, 2012), 92.

15 Miller, “Lacan’s ‘Kant with Sade,’” 234.

16 Lacan, “Kant with Sade,” 654.

17 Ibid.

18 Swales, Perversion, 92-93.

19 Jacques Lacan, “The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire,” in Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English, trans. Héloïse Fink, Bruce Fink, and Russell Grigg (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006), 699-700.

20 Dylan Evans says of anxiety, “anxiety arises when the lack is itself lacking; anxiety is the lack of a lack.” In this way, the pervert produces his own anxiety as a result of his production of jouissance for the Other.
Dylan Evans, An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis (New York: Routledge, 1996), 12.

21 Lacan himself did not use the terms first Other and second Other; he used mother and father, or paternal function. In the interest of political correctness and because of the many changes in the family as institution since the time of Lacan’s writings, I am following the lead of Paul Verhaeghe and avoiding gendered terms for the child’s caretakers, thus first and second Other. By first Other is meant the primary caretaker, the first person to whom the child attaches libidinally. By second Other is meant the paternal function, that which serves to separate the child and the first Other and thereby introduce the child into the symbolic register. Perversion is constituted in the failure of the second Other to separate the child and the first Other.

22 Jacque Lacan, Seminar XX: On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge, trans. Bruce Fink, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998), 3.

23 Miller and Laurent, “Other Who Does Not Exist,” 26.

24 The adjective “maternal” is, for obvious reasons, problematic. By maternal, Žižek refers to the fact that this superego functions prior to the separation from the first Other (or mOther) provided by the paternal function. The maternity of the Lacanian superego should not be interpreted as being related to femininity or to maternity in a literal sense, but as being logically prior to the paternal function and to the paternal superego.

25 Paul Verhaeghe, On Being Normal and Other Disorders: A Manual for Clinical Psychodiagnostics (New York: Other Press, 2004), 411.

26 Slavoj Žižek, Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1992), 102.

27 Ibid.,103.

28 Zygmunt Bauman, “Critique – Privatized and Disarmed,” in The Individualized Society (Cambridge: Polity, 2001), 106.

29 While addiction is most often thought of in terms of drugs, it is important to note that a subject can develop an addiction to any object insofar as addiction is a dependency on an object rather than on others (i.e. the social bond).

30 Rik Loose, “Modern Symptoms and their Effects as Forms of Administration: A Challenge to the Concept of Dual Diagnosis and to Treatment,” in Lacan and Addiction: An Anthology, ed. Yael Goldman Baldwin, Kareen Malone, and Thomas Svolos (London: Karnac, 2011), 5.

31 Ibid., 7.

32 Ibid., 25-26.

33 Slavoj Žižek, For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor (London: Verso Books, 2008), 237.

34 Slavoj Žižek, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (London: Verso, 2009), 58.

35 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 136.

36 This is not to suggest that disciplinary power no longer functions. Rather, technologies of discipline and technologies of seduction co-exist, with the latter becoming increasingly more prominent. Both technologies operate through surveillance and panopticism, as will be made clear in the final section of this chapter.

37 Zygmunt Bauman, “On Postmodern Uses of Sex,” Theory, Culture, and Society 15, no. 3-4 (1998): 21.

38 Ibid., 23.

39 Ibid., 32.

40 Ibid., 23.

41 Ibid., 23.

42 Ibid., 23-24.

43 Ibid., 24.

44 Ibid., 28.

45 Think of the Club Kids of the 80’s, Bret Easton Ellis’s literary characters of the 90s (Patrick Bateman, Victor Ward), and the cast of Jersey Shore in the 2000s.

46 Buaman, “Postmodern Uses,” 32.

47 Gilles Lipovetsky, Hypermodern Times, trans. Andrew Brown (Cambridge: Polity, 2005), 36.

48 Ibid., 45-46.

49 Renata Salecl, The Tyranny of Choice (London: Profile Books, 2011), 65.

50 Loose, “Modern Symptoms,” 3.

51 David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 1990), 159.

52 Ibid., 156.

53 Ibid., 160.

54 Oscar H. Gandy, Jr., “Tracking the Audience: Personal Information and Privacy,” in Questioning the Media: A Critical Introduction, eds. John Downing, Ali Mohammadi, Annabelle Sreberny-Mohammadi (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1995), 224.

55 Ibid., 229-230.

56 Ibid., 233.

57 Ibid., 225-226.

58 Ibid., 228.

59 Ibid.

60 Ibid.

61 Ibid.

62 Lori Andrews, “Facebook is Using You,” New York Times, February 4, 2012, accessed March 6, 2013.

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