From Reading Helene Cixous

March 7, 2011



Jouissance, in French, means enjoyment and pleasure, in particularly in an over-the-top sense. It contrasts with ‘plaisir’, which is a controlled state that happens within cultural norms.

Jouissance is pleasure (and any stimulation) that can be too much to bear. It may be very largely felt as suffering. It is pleasure and pain together, a feeling of being at the edge.

It can indicate a breaking of boundaries, a connection beyond the self. This can range from a mother feeling intense connection with a breast-feeding baby to meditative feelings of oneness with the universe.

One of the goals of life is to manage jouissance. Unchecked emotion will control and overwhelm you. Society helps this through controlling mechanisms such as education and cultural norms. It has been said that jouissance is ‘drained’ from the body throughout life, leading to the calm of old age.


In French, jouissance connotes orgasm as well as pleasure, and can be used to describe breaking down barriers between self and other. It may also be used to indicate orgasm that is not achieved or not ‘ultimate’, thus bringing a sense of lack, loss and something unattainable.

Lacan argues that the subject, separated from itself by language, feels a sense of absence, of being not fully present, and thus desires wholeness. We constantly put ourselves into the subject positions of language and cultural codes in seeking to fulfil the futile desire for wholeness. We feel jouissance as the pleasure/pain that the subject feels as it tries in vain to recapture the lost object.

Jacqueline Rose uses jouissance in description of women’s management of identity. In the phallic economy, the woman, who lacks the phallus, stands in the place of jouissance and the lost object and is thus becomes both desirable and ultimately unobtainable. This gives women a separate position from which they can ‘speak themselves’ and resist subjugation.

As post-Oedipal girls can sustain a closer relationship with their mother, they are consequently able to sustain a greater level of jouissance. This is something that boys envy and seek through dominance and possession of girls.

A significant part of the game of romance is in chasing jouissance. Although it can never be gained, the anticipated pleasure of hope makes the pursuit a very exciting experience.

Zizek aligns by saying that psychical life is about enjoyment, but which is interwoven with lack and alienation. Enjoyment comes from escapist fantasy. It gives ideology power, creating meaning for the self within the frame of ideology. It cannot be incorporated into the symbolic.

See also

Lacan, Ideology, Mirror phase, Feminism, Desire

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