On not getting what we want

From Žižek’s The Ticklish Subject pg 351:

For Lacan, the trouble with jouissance is not only that it is unattainable, always-already lost, that it forever eludes our grasp, but, even more, that one can never get rid of it, that its stain drags on for ever – that is the point of Lacan’s concept of surplus-enjoyment: the very renunciation of jouissance brings about a remainder/surplus of jouissance. Desire stands for the economy in which whatever object we get hold of is ‘never it‘, the ‘Real Thing’, that which the subject is forever trying to attain but which eludes him again and again, while drive stands for the opposite economy, within which the stain of jouissance always accompanies our acts.

This also explains the difference in the reflexivity of drive and desire: desire reflexively desires its own unsatisfaction, the postponement of the encounter with jouissance – that is, the basic formula of the reflexivity of desire is to turn the impossibility of satisfying desire into the desire for non-satisfaction; drive on the contrary, finds satisfaction in (i.e. besmirches with the stain of satisfaction) the very moment destined to ‘repress’ satisfaction.

Or perhaps, as Oscar Wilde put it, “there are only two tragedies: One is not getting what one wants, and the second is getting it”. I’ve been circling round these ideas for months now because I’ve had flashes of insight into my own life which make sense in these terms. But they still prove stubbornly resistant to articulation, slipping through my fingers as soon as I try to put them into words. In essence though what fascinates me is the Lacanian notion that, as Žižek puts it, we are condemned to jouissance:

Whatever we do, jouissance will stick to it; we shall never get rid of it; even in our most thorough endeavour to renounce it, it will contaminate the very effort to get rid of it (like the ascetic who perversely enjoys flagellating himself.

The Ticklish Subject pg 354.

I stumbled across this brilliant essay from an anonymous author at precisely the point I had an infected wound on my shoulder which I couldn’t stop prodding, no matter how obviously this was making things worse. If desire is the hope we invest in the object until the crushing disappointment of proximity lead us to eventually invest that hope somewhere else, jouissance is the peculiar and disavowed pleasure we can take in these repetitive cycles in spite of the misery they objectively provoke. It is picking at the scab in spite of our awareness that the problem would be solved if only we could leave it alone:

The French term jouissance is very important for Lacan. Simply put, jouissance is pleasure-in-pain. For example, eating to the point where it becomes greatly uncomfortable. It’s the excessive enjoyment that ends up bringing pain and discomfort. Jouissance destabilizes oneself. Jouissance can also be thought of as an abundance of intensity or stimulation in the body. Lacan associates jouissance with repetition compulsion or with those acts we repeat over and over again, but which also cause all sorts of problems in our lives. For example, someone who feels compelled to wash their hands a hundred times a day. In this sense, repetition of the same is precisely what drive seeks.

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