Female Sexuation, God, and Cum

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This post is a response to an earlier question posed by Eric. In Seminar XX, Lacan tries to map out a notion of God that is a “third party in the business of human love” (Book XX, 70). He pokes fun at theologians who he claims have been doing just fine in their discipline even without needing God to exist, and then states that he must deal with God’s existence because psychoanalysis demands that we understand how to position ourselves relative to the Other. Understanding female sexuation is not an easy task, but I’ll try my best to sketch a rough outline. Lacan describes the upper portion of the graph with these two formulas:

~Ex~Φx
~VxΦx

The first line should read there does not exist a speaking subject who is not subject to the law of castration. The second line reads not all of the subject is subject to the law of castration. How can we make sense of these two statements? First off, I should clarify that castration is the alienation the subject experiences by being subjected to the rules of language. The feminine subject (again anyone can occupy such a position, biological sex is not a precondition) is different than the masculine subject insofar as each female subject is a singularity. On the masculine side, every masculine subject is subjected to the law of castration. However, on the feminine side, part of the female resists castration. That is to say something of her subjectivity is preserved despite her alienation into the Symbolic. This can help us make since of Lacan’s seemingly absurd statement “[t]here’s no such thing as Woman, Woman with a capital W indicating the universal” (Book XX, 72). She exists only as a singularity.

If we try to understand feminine jouissance (French for excessive enjoyment, almost where pleasure and pain converge) we can begin making since of the privileged way in which the female subject can relate to the Other. If we substitute jouissance for the phallic function, it reads both that there is not any jouissance that is not phallic jouissance, and that not all of the woman’s jouissance is phallic jouissance. First, I need to define phallic jouissance. Fink describes phallic jouissance as, “[m]an’s pleasures are limited to those allowed by the play of the signifier itself – to what Lacan calls phallic jouissance, and to what similarly be called symbolic jouissance” (The Lacanian Subject, 106). For the female subject, Lacan entertained the idea that some jouissance is actually beyond language.

Now we get to the mystics. Lacan said, “all sorts of decent souls around Charcot and others were trying to do, was to reduce mysticism to question of cum. If you look closely, that’s not it at all. Doesn’t this jouissance one experiences and yet knows nothing about put on the path of ex-sistence? Any why not interpret one face of the Other, the God face, as based on feminine jouissance?” (Book XX, 77). The mystic has a rapturous experience in which the subject feels as if they lose part of their subjectivity. She experiences a sense of self-transcendence. She can never articulate such an experience. Here, we see where negative theology comes into play. The mystic doesn’t know what happened, but she sure as hell knows that whatever we’re attempting to say about it doesn’t do justice to the actual experience of God’s overwhelming presence. Lacan understood that the feminine subject had to recognize her subjection to the Symbolic (hence phallic jouissance) while simultaneously deriving jouissance from the Other jouissance. The female subject has to inhabit such a space between phallic jouissance and Other jouissance, jouissance beyond the Symbolic.

“It is insofar as her jouissance is radically Other that woman has more of a relationship to God than anything that could have been said in speculation in antiquity following the pathway of that which is manifestly articulated only as the good of man” (Book XX, 83).

(Side note, I apologize for the absurdity of the title of this blog post, but I’m having difficulty imagining another opportunity when God and cum can appear in the same title)

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3 Responses to “Female Sexuation, God, and Cum”

  1. ericdarylmeyer Says:

    Thanks Jeremy for a very helpful post,

    After our exchange of comments the other evening, I looked up the passage from Lacan that I had in mind. It’s in a volume entitled On Feminine Sexuality, and I believe that the passage is excerpted from Seminar XX as well. He speaks at some length about mysticism, about Hadjewich, and then about Bernini’s stature of Theresa—all as examples of feminine jouissance. Provocatively, he asserts that his Écrits should be classed among the mystical writings that he lists, suggesting that he knows something of Theresa’s unspeakable ecstasy as well.

    What interested me in this passage is the way in which both this mystical experience, and the “God” who is encountered in them stand outside the symbolic order (i.e., not subject to castration), so that they cannot be thematized, nor can this “God” be turned into a concrete character figuring in some exchange. The effect of Lacan’s apophatic gesture here, whatever his intention, is to draw the reader into a desire for this feminine jouissance, for an encounter with this unspeakable and unnamable God-who-is-not-Other.

    That, at least, seems clear to me. I’ve heard enough philosophers, theologians, and analytic types make reference to the structure of feminine sexuation, and make some kind of theological maneuvers with it, that I’m convinced that effectively Lacan’s comments didn’t actually circumscribe theological language altogether, but rather cut a distinction between an immanent idol (the big Other) and the authentic transcendent God (who may be dead or unconscious from the perspective of anything that we can say). Because it’s plausible to me (in what little I’ve read), I’m curious if this proliferated reading is reasonably close to Lacan’s meaning, or if his views shifted. Your post seems to suggest that it is.

    I’m sure you’ll cut me a little slack if I’ve botched the technical Lacanian-speak. 🙂

    Best,
    Eric

  2. Jeremy Says:

    I agree that this notion of God does escape the Symbolic and the ideological traps surrounding the big Other. I also believe that Lacan is encouraging the readers to try and positions themselves in the Symbolic so as to be able to derive some jouissance that is not wholly enclosed within the symbolic. I think you overall assessment is correct, but I must admit that I’ve never read the entire Seminar XX and remain largely ignorant of the majority of the text.

    The apophatic gesture is an interesting one. Although, I don’t feel like doing this, one could try and read Lacan’s understand of apophatic theology qua female sexuation along with the negative theological elements inherent in deconstruction. That is read Captuo with Lacan. In fact, one of Caputo’s students, Andrea Hurst, has already attempted to read Derrida and Lacan together in a solid book entitled Derrida vis-a-vis Lacan.

  3. Summary of Reinhard’s There is Something of One (God): Lacan and Political Theolog « JRidenour Says:

    […] for more on female sexuality and God in Lacan, I’d refer you to this post Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)God is UnconsciousPredicament in Modern TheologyA […]

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