Category Archives: Culture

The Force of Religion

Nations have never been civilized except by religion. No other force known has a hold on primitive man. Without recourse to antiquity, which is very decisive on this point, we see a striking proof of it in America. We have been there for three centuries with our laws, arts, sciences, culture, commerce, and wealth; how have we helped the indigenous population? In no way. We are destroying these unfortunate people with the sword and spirits; we are gradually pushing them back into the deserted interior, until in the end they will be wiped out completely, the victims of our vices as much as of our cruel superiority.

Joseph de Maistre, “The Generative Principle of Political Constitutions”

The Tyranny of Enjoyment

DOLMANCE: . . . What is it one desires when taking one’s pleasure? that everything around us be occupied with nothing but ourselves, think of naught but of us, care for us only. If the objects we employ know pleasure too, you can be very sure they are less concerned for us than they are for themselves, and lo! our own pleasure consequently disturbed. There is not a living man who does not wish to play the despot when he is stiff: it seems to him his joy is less when others appear to have as much as he; by an impulse of pride, very natural at this juncture, he would like to be the only one in the world capable of experiencing what he feels: the idea of seeing another enjoy as he enjoys reduces him to a kind of equality with that other, which impairs the unspeakable charm despotism causes him to feel. ‘Tis false as well to say there is pleasure in affording pleasure to others; that is to serve them, and the man who is erect is far from desiring to be useful to anyone. On the contrary, by causing them hurt he experiences all the charms a nervous personality relishes in putting its strength to use; ’tis then he dominates, is a tyrant; and what a difference is there for the amour-propre! Think not that it is silent during such episodes.

The act of enjoyment is a passion which, I confess, subordinates all others to it, but which simultaneously unites them. This desire to dominate at this moment is so powerful in Nature that one notices it even in animals. See whether those in captivity procreate as do those others that are free and wild; the camel carries the matter further still: he will engender no more if he does not suppose himself alone: surprise him and, consequently, show him a master, and he will fly, will instantly separate himself from his companion. Had it not been Nature’s intent that man possess this feeling of superiority, she would not have created him stronger than the beings she destines to belong to him at those moments. The debility to which Nature condemned woman incontestably proves that her design is for man, who then more than ever enjoys. his strength, to exercise it in all the violent forms that suit him best, by means of tortures, if he be so inclined, or worse. Would pleasure’s climax be a kind of fury were it not the intention of this mother of humankind that behavior during copulation be the same as behavior in anger? What well-made man, in a word, what man endowed with vigorous organs does not desire, in one fashion or in another, to molest his partner during his enjoyment of her? I know perfectly well that whole armies of idiots, who are never conscious of their sensations, will have much trouble understanding the systems I am establishing; but what do I care for these fools? ‘Tis not to them I am speaking; soft-headed women-worshipers, I leave them prostrate at their insolent Dulcineas’ feet, there let them wait for the sighs that will make them happy and, basely the slaves of the sex they ought to dominate, I abandon them to the vile delights of wearing the chains wherewith Nature has given them the right to overwhelm others!

Dialogue the Fifth, Philosophy in the Bedroom in Sade, Richard Seaver, and Austryn Wainhouse. Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and Other Writings. 1st paperback ed. New York: Grove Press, 1966, 344-45.


Neither man nor woman, though for different reasons, has meaning without each other. Yet these two hopeless contraptions, taken together, provide meaning for each other and through that have created the world in which we all live. Without that, there would be nothing; take it away and nothing will remain. It is almost as if men and women, like penis and vagina, were made for each other.

She was full and lacked nothing. But lacking nothing, she was nothing. Being full, she was empty. He was nothing and needed her fullness to have the idea of becoming something. His attempts to do so created everything, for the purpose of filling her, as they both needed her to be. The world created in this way was and will remain imperfect; but world it is, and is there for all of us to enjoy.

We have not yet gotten to the discourse of the hysteric. We will get there, but first we must go farther in our reflections on this arrangement.

The woman’s desire for the man turns out to be her desire for herself, as mediated by the man. It is based on her recognition of the emptiness implied in her fullness. In the absence of an agenda, she cannot simply be herself because that would simply be psychotic explosion. Yet she cannot provide signification for herself because the entire signification that is available takes her as its purpose. It is all directed toward her pursuit and always contains the limitations of the man’s lack. Yet how can she be limited at all, since the whole premise of her need is her fullness?

She can resolve this dilemma by using her power as object of desire to influence the man. He may have an answer to who she is, but for the reasons we have just seen, this can never be a really good answer. His signifiers, after all, can only be his signifiers. They can never suffice to tell her who she is, since they will never fit. There will always be something left over, which is precisely her, or at least her as they both fantasize her to be — the object of desire in the first place. He must therefore renew his pursuit of her, refashioning its terms in the hope of success, and each time trying to refashion those terms to better represent her. In this way, she gains meaning by being the object of his attempt to make meaning, ever renewed through the relationship of this pair and the tension between them. End that tension and they both disappear.

So it is that we understand what the tension is all about. It is a contestation about the source of meaning. His meaning is the masculine meaning of the symbolic, which ultimately gains its meaning from its attempt to encompass her perfection, which it can never accomplish. Her meaning is derived from her identification with the primordial mother, which validates and even deifies the spontaneity of her imaginary, but which goes nowhere without the symbolic that only he can provide. It is through the conflict of this tension that the imaginary and the symbolic interpenetrate each other and create the relationship without which both of them are nothing.

And so the tension is and has to be absolute. There is, as Lacan again puts it, no such thing as sexual rapport. And it’s a good thing, too. There can, however, be rapport between human beings, who understand the meaning of this tension and recognize their individual dependence on this tension and therefore their mutual dependence on each other. This does not make the tension go away; it simply has its function understood. In effect, what has developed is a relationship between split subjects who know themselves to be split subjects, a form of relationship that we may call existential.

But where is the hysteric in all of this? What I have described here is the tension between the sexes. Hysteria may fit into that, but it is not the whole thing.Where do we draw the line between the hysteric and the feminine?

I think we draw it at the point where the meaning of the tension is not yet comprehended, where the dynamic is not yet seen as the eternal game that men and women play with each other, but is seen as being one-sided, as an invasion of the perfect female by the inferior male. We may therefore recognize it a developmental stage, occurring at the point where sexuality is gaining its ascendancy in the female, but where the place of sexuality in adult relationships is not yet understood. It is therefore the characteristic dynamic of the teenaged girl, which we knew all along.

Now if the place of sexuality within human relationships is not understood, its meaning must be represented with imagery that gains its power from the girl’s specific self-reference, both as a sexual being and as a plenum. Inevitably, then, the imagery will be that of penetration or invasion, and specifically sexual penetration by an alien entity that seeks to corrupt and dominate the girl’s perfection and self-sufficiency. Her attitude toward it will be disgust and the rage to expel it. There we have hysteria.

Hysteria therefore represents, on one or another level of abstraction, the attempt to expel the masculine, with all of its desire and all of the symbolic order that it has given rise to, and its place within the relationship between men and women. Within the dynamic of hysteria, the masculine is experienced as a threat to her perfection and self-sufficiency, indeed to her very existence, by an inferior agency, which seeks to limit her through terms that do not represent her. The attempt to expel, therefore, comes with a feeling of righteousness and the assertion of the absolute self-sufficiency of her spontaneity—in other words, of her imaginary. But consider that the whole framework of the symbolic, of shared meaning, is a product and representation of that masculinity and you can see that we have gotten to what we were trying to show. Hysteria is the motivating force through which the imaginary attempts to subordinate and even destroy the symbolic.

This analysis helps to explain one of the more peculiar, but characteristic, features of the hysteric. It enables us to answer the question of whether the hysteric is lying when she makes charges that are patently untrue. The answer is that she is not lying. She is telling the truth as she sees it, but her idea of the truth is not the one that is characteristic of the symbolic. Truth is not, as it is in the symbolic, a correspondence between a statement and an objective fact. Her whole project, after all, is to deny and undermine the symbolic, and therefore to deny the validity of that form of truth.

Her criterion for truth is essentially aesthetic. For her, truth means the vividness of the imagery she is using to represent her experience of invasion. This imagery, at the time, is all she is about. There is nothing outside of it.

Schwartz, Howard S. “Organization in the Age of Hysteria”