Contemporary Pain and Pleasure

For some time now, at least since the 1960s and 1970s (though their roots lie in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit), intellectual debates concerned with the economies of desire — whether in Deleuze, Lacan, Lyotard, Barthes, Foucault or Zizek — have been oriented around the notion of jouissance. Suffering constitutes itself as the lack or absence of jouissance. Bliss, as one translation, is the ultimate human goal. With Lacan and Zizek the lack itself is pleasurable. They would argue that what we desire is not the fulfilment of our desire, but the desiring itself, the prolongation of desire. To attain our desire would collapse the distinction between the imaginary and the symbolic. The extended game of hunt the slipper would come to an end. Desire

6 Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of 'Sex' (London: Routledge, 1993).

7 See my essay 'Language and Silence' in Oliver Davis and Denys Turner eds., Silence and the Word (Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 159—84; John Milbank, 'Sublimity: The Modern Transcendent'in Paul Heelas ed., Religion, Modernity and Postmodernity (London: Routledge, 1998), pp. 258—84.

8 See Michel de Certeau, The Mystic Fable, vol. 1 The Sixteenth and the Seventeenth Centuries, tr. Michael B. Smith (University of Chicago Press, 1992).

9 See J.V Field, The Invention of Infinity: Mathematics and Art in the Renaissance (Oxford University Press, 1997).

10 See Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement, tr. James Creed Meredith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952).

only operates if there remains an objet petit a, a hole, a gap, a void, a loss that can never (and must never) be fully negotiated or filled. As so we fetishise — turn the hole itself into what we desire: 'in fetishism we simply make the cause of desire directly into our object of desire'.11 But since the hole itself cannot be negotiated, then objects substitute for and veil this ultimate void. Bliss is then endlessly deferred yet remains the telos and organising point for any local and ephemeral construction of the meaning of embodiment. Lacan (and Zizek) develop into a sacrificial logic the system of compensations and substitutions that Freud increasingly recognised as symptomatic of the way the libidinal drive operates alongside the death drive in the economy of desire. Civilisation, for Freud, is founded upon its profound and ineliminable discontent. In this sacrificial logic we are caught up in a denial of what we most want and produce substitutionary forms, objects, laws, empty symbols for that which is unsubstitutional. And so, we deny — sometimes even murder — what we most value, in order to maintain our fantasies about it.12 There takes place here a renunciation in the form of a negation of negation. It is this sacrificial logic that I wish to examine.

It finds similar forms in other poststructuralist discourses. Derrida's accounts of the economy of the sign, the economy of différance and the logic of the supplement, are also a sacrificial economy. In his essay 'How to Avoid Speaking' (comment ne pas parler), he coins the word 'denegation' (dénegation) or the negation of negation, to describe the effects of différance in discourses of negative theology. Writing in the interstices between the story of Abraham and Isaac in the Old Testament and Kierkegaard's reading of the story in Fear and Trembling, Derrida emphasises

The trembling of Fear and Trembling, is, or so it seems, the very experience of sacrifice ... in the sense that sacrifice supposes the putting to death of the unique in terms of its being unique, irreplaceable, and most precious. It also therefore refers to the impossibility of substitution, the unsubstitutional; and then also to the substitution of an animal for man; and finally, especially this, it refers to what links the sacred to sacrifice and sacrifice to secrecy . Abraham ... speaks and doesn't speak. He speaks in order not to say anything about the essential thing he must keep secret. Speaking in order not to say anything is always the best technique for keeping a secret.13

11 Slavoj ZiZek, The Fragile Absolute — or Why Is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For? (London: Verso, 2000), p. 21.

12 See ZiZek on the relationship between Clara and Robert Schumann in Plague of Fantasies (London: Verso, 1997), pp. 66-7, 192-212.

13 The Gift of Death, tr. David Wills (University of Chicago Press, 1995), pp. 58-9.

Speaking in order not to say is the work of differance such that deconstruc-tion produces a specific kind of syntax: in The Gift of Death it is 'religion without religion'; in The Politics of Friendship it is 'community without community' and 'friendship without friendship'; elsewhere it is 'justice without justice'. The syntagma of this sacrificial economy, which keeps concealed what it most wishes to say, is 'X without X'.14 It conceals a continual wounding presented as a perpetual kenosis, the kenosis of discourse.15 The sign is always involved in a diremption of meaning as it differs and defers in its logic of sacrificial substitution and supplementation. It is this which brings differance into a relation with negative theology (a saying which cannot say). The sign yields up its significance in what Derrida terms a serierasure. But what governs the yielding is the logocentric promise, the call to come, an eschatology which can never arrive, can never be allowed to arrive. Suffering, sacrifice and satisfaction are intrinsic to the economy of the sign.

Every time there is 'jouissance' (but the 'there is' of this event is in itself extremely enigmatic), there is 'deconstruction'. Effective deconstruction. Deconstruction perhaps has the effect, if not the mission, of liberating forbidden jouissance. That's what has to be taken on board. It is perhaps this jouissance which most irritates the all-out adversaries of 'deconstruction'.16

But this is 'jouissance without jouissance', for deconstruction cannot deliver the delay it describes. Thus, a culture is produced which is fundamentally sado-masochistic: it cannot allow itself to enjoy what it most profoundly wants. Derrida composes a scenario:

What I thus engage in the double constraint of a double bind is not only myself, nor my own desire, but the other, the Messiah or the god himself. As if I were calling someone — for example, on the telephone — saying to him or her, in sum: I don't want you to wait for my call and become forever dependent upon it; go out on the town, be free not to answer. And to prove it, the next time I call you, don't answer, or I won't see you again. If you answer my call, it's all over.17

Michel de Certeau and Emmanuel Levinas, in their different models of selfhood with respect to the other, portray the sacrificial logic in terms of an

14 The Politics of Friendship, tr. George Collins (London: Verso, 1997), p. 47.

15 See On the Name, tr. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford University Press, 1995), pp. 50—60.

16 'An Interview with Jacques Derrida' in Derek Attridge, Jacques Derrida: Acts of Literature (London: Routledge, 1992), p. 56.

17 The Politics of Friendship, p. 174.

endless journeying into exile (Certeau)18 or the position of always being accused by the other (Lévinas).19 For both, the self can never be at rest. It must always suffer displacement by the other, always undergo a passion. The displacement and suffering is given, in both their accounts, an ethical colouring for it is constituted in and by a Good beyond being (Lévinas) or the utopic horizon of union with the One (Certeau's 'white ecstasy').20 The suffering is inseparable from accounts of desire, jouissance and substitution.21 With various modulations each of these discourses operates a sacrificial logic in which love is not-having (Cixous's formulation).22 The suffering, the sacrifice, the kenosis is both necessary and unavoidable for it is intrinsic to the economy itself. But unlike Hegel's dialectic, the negative moment is not appropriated and welded firmly into both the providential chain of time and the constitution of the subject. The negative moment remains unappropriated, unsublated, impossible to redeem because forever endlessly repeated. Furthermore, because bound to a construal of time as a series of discrete units, each negative moment is utterly singular and utterly arbitrary insofar as the moment is infinitely reiterated to the point that difference between moments becomes a matter of indifference (rendering the utterly singular moment identical and identically repeated). All suffering is both the same and yet singular; renunciation and sacrifice are both universal (in form) and particular. The relation of this operative negativity to the utopic horizon that governs it ( jouissance in its various guises) is contradictory rather than paradoxical. It governs the suffering as its antithesis, not its telos. An infinite distance, a distance without analogy or participation, is opened constituting the other as absolutely other. In Derrida's words, 'tout autre est tout autre'.23 As such the dreams of the bliss of union intensify the suffering in the way that Sisyphus is tormented by seeing the goal for which he strives while also knowing it can never be attained. Or, to employ another Greek myth, jouissance is the grapes held out to the thirsting Tantalus. And so one

18 See The Mystic Fable, pp. 285-93.

19 See Autrement qu'être ou au-delà de l'essence (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974), pp. 206-19.

20 See 'White Ecstasy' tr. Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt and Catriona Hanley in Graham Ward ed., The Postmodern God (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), pp. 155-8.

21 For this point in Lévinas see Autrement qu'être, pp. 116-20, 156-205.

22 See '"The Egg and the Chicken": Love as Not Having' in Reading Clarice Lispector, tr. Verena Andermatt Conley (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990), pp. 98-122. Cixous describes two types of love as not-having - a masculine economy of renunciation and a feminine economy of enjoying that which is always excessive to possession. Lacan himself drew attention to two economies of desire in his later work, notably Seminar XX: Encore. See ZiZek, The Fragile Absolute, pp. 144-8 for an important reading of this shift in Lacan for Christian construals of 'charity'.

is led to ask what the sacrifice achieves in this infinite postponement of pleasure. As an operation, which is no longer governed by a single or a simple agency (for the poststructural subject is profoundly aporetic), it is required by and maintains the possibility of the economy. It is immanent to the economy but unassimilable to it. It resolves nothing with respect to that economy, only fissures it with the aneconomic trauma that allows the economy to proceed. What is produced, and is continually reproduced, then, is the economy itself: the endless production of pseudo-objects. This economy of sacrifice is fundamental to capitalism itself. For it subtends growth, limitless productivity and sustainable development — which is capitalism's profoundly secular fantasy. It repeats, in a socio-psychological, semiotic and ethical key our various monetary projects in which we deny present delights by investing for greater delights in the future (wherein the pleasures we deny ourselves are only utilised by investment banks to further enhance market forces). Sacrifice as enjoying one's own suffering, in this immanent economy of desire, sustains current developments in globalism (and current illusions that such globalism is liberal and democratic).

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