What the Hell is "Jouissance"?

Hello, fellow Anglophiles!  Steff here. Hoping you all enjoyed our debut episode. Did it go ok? I feel like it went ok. For those of you who missed it, I highly urge you to go back and listen, because it certainly got interesting. Kaley and I spent a good amount of time discussing the problem with modern day porn parodies, and we even debated whether or not Bean cares for the, ahem, company of women. 

It was during our conversation about that very subject that I attempted not only to pronounce a French word, but also to inject some Lacanian philosophy into the discussion. I did a mediocre job of both, which is why I'd like to take this opportunity to dive a little deeper (sup, Freud?).

For reasons that remain unexplained to viewers (not to mention unbeknownst to women like Kaley and me), Mr. Bean has a girlfriend. Irma. Poor Irma. She's clearly ready for a real relationship -- marriage, even -- but she's stuck dating a man who won't even touch her. Poor, poor Irma.  Now, there's an episode of the show where Bean takes her to see A Nightmare on Elm Street. How romantic, right? Well, the thing is, it really looks like the violence and horror is gettin' her damn worked up. In a naughty way. During the podcast, Kaley asked me, "Does she look like she's getting kind of turned on by the violent bits?" I agreed that yeah, Irma looks super down, and I also said the word "jouissance." At the time of recording, I described it as a French word related to "the thrill of getting scared." While some may argue that a conversation about Mr. Bean is no place for the word "jouissance," I'm here to say the following: it might be. 

Let's gets Freudian for a second. In Freudian psychoanalysis, we have "the pleasure principle," which is our instinctive need to seek pleasure to satisfy a physical, emotional, or psychological need. It's what motivates us to have fun on the weekends. It's what makes us go, "Ah, man, my boss has been extra fuckin' weird this week, so I am gonna take myself out to the most luscious damn dinner. I'm talkin' steak, cheesecake, and a fuckin' martini. Get at me, Roger Sterling. I need this." That "need" is the pleasure principle. Got it? Good.

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There are limitations to the pleasure principle, however. For this, let's get Lacanian. To Lacan, jouissance is beyond the pleasure principle. As humans, we can only handle so much pleasure before it becomes painful. Two steaks. Two cheesecakes. One too many martinis. Jouissance is when the act of enjoying pleasure becomes a transgression. There's danger in it. There's a risk to it. We know we shouldn't have four martinis, but doesn't it feel great to be decadent? What's gonna happen? Get at me, Roger Sterling. 

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Disgusting. But I had to. Besides, the idea of grossing a buncha you out is actually giving me a bit of a cheeky thrill...

What does any of this have to do with Irma squirming in her seat? For that, I'm going to call upon a more scholarly source. The paragraphs below are taken from an essay called "The Pleasure of Resistance: Jouissance and Reconceiving 'Misbehavior.'" (You can read the entire thing here.)

First, jouissance is associated with orgasm, but it cannot be reduced to that, because it is not synonymous with sexual pleasure, in particular, or even pleasure in general. In fact, jouissance, as Lacan defines it, is an excess of pleasure or an excess that is beyond pleasure. If anything, pleasure serves as a limit on jouissance. In this sense, pleasure is to jouissance as religion is to spirituality, or as genital sex is to eroticism.

Second, jouissance designates a kind of ecstasy tied to loss of control and rational consciousness, and secondarily to violence, either emotional or physical. Such ecstasy can result from intense suffering [...] or from surrender to the thrill of risk, a minor example being all those amusement park rides that terrify.

Third, Lacan defines jouissance as the “paradoxical satisfaction that is found
in pursuing an eternally unsatisfied desire” (Nobus, p.5). It is this meaning that resonates with the pleasure derived from repetition.

There we have it. Irma isn't necessarily turned on by violence because it's violent, but because she's experiencing "a kind of ecstasy tied [...] to violence." Also, let's be real -- Irma ain't exactly shyin' away from experiencing a "loss of control and rational consciousness" on the regular -- what rationally conscious person dates Mr. Bean? None. Only one who's "pursuing an eternally unsatisfied desire."

Whew! I did it! Thanks for reading!  

XOXO, 

Steff 

Stephanie Callas