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JACQUES LACAN: KANT WITH SADE
Translated by James B. Swenson Jr.
This text should have served as a preface to Philosophy in the Bedroom. It appeared in the journal Critique (no. 191, April 1963) as a review of the edition of the works of Sade for which it was destined.*
That the work of Sade anticipates Freud, be it in respect of the catalogue of perversions, is a stupid thing to say, which gets repeated endlessly among literary types; the fault, as always, belongs to the specialists.
Against this we hold that the Sadian bedroom is equal to those places from which the schools of ancient philosophy took their name: Academy, Lyceum, Stoa. Here as there, the way for science is prepared by rectifying the position of ethics. In this, yes, a ground-clearing occurs which will have to make its way through the depths of taste for a hundred years for Freud's path to be passable. Count sixty more for someone to say the reason for all of that.
If Freud was able to enunciate his pleasure principle without even having to worry about marking what distinguishes it from its function in traditional ethics, even without risking that it should be heard as an echo of the uncontested prejudice of two millenia, to recall the attraction which preordains the creature to its good, along with the psychology inscribed in various myths of goodwill, we can only credit this to the insinuating rise across the nineteenth century of the theme of "happiness in evil."
Here Sade is the inaugural step of a subversion, of which, however amusing it might seem with respect to the coldness of the man, Kant is the turning point, and never noted, to our knowledge, as such.
Philosophy in the Bedroom comes eight years after the Critique of Practical Reason. If, after having seen that the one accords with the other, we show that it completes its we will say that it gives the truth of the Critique.
For this reason, the postulates in which the latter culminates: the alibi of immortality where it represses progress, holiness, and even love, anything satisfying which might come of the law, the guarantee which it requires from a will for which the object to which the law refers would be intelligible, losing even the flat prop of the function of utility to which Kant had confined them, restore the work to its diamondlike subversion. Which explains the unbelievable exaltation which any reader not forewarned by academic piety receives from it. Nothing which might have been explained about it will ruin this effect.
Assuredly Christianity has educated men to pay little attention to the jouissance of God, and that is how Kant slips by his voluntarism of the Law-for-the Law, which really piles it on, so to speak, with respect to the ataraxia of Stoic experience. One might think that Kant is under pressure from what he hears too closely, not from Sade, but from some mystic nearer to home, in the sigh which stifles what he glimpses beyond having seen that his God is faceless: Grimmigkeit? Sade says: Being-Supreme-in-Wickedness.
Pshaw! Schwarmereien, black swarms, we expel you in order to return to the function of presence in the Sadian fantasy.
This fantasy has a structure that one will find further along and in which the object is only one of the terms in which the quest which it figures can die out. When jouissance is petrified in it, it becomes the black fetish in which the form-most definitely offered in such a place and time, and still today, for one to adore the god-can be recognized.
It is this which befalls the executor in sadistic experience when, at its most extreme, his presence is reduced to being no more than its instrument.
But that his jouissance congeals there, does not withdraw it from the humility of an act to which he cannot but come as a being of flesh and, to the bones, the serf of pleasure.
This duplication does not reflect, nor reciprocate (why wouldn't it mutualate?) the one which occurs in the Other of the two alterities of the subject.
Desire, which is the henchman [suppot] of this splitting of the subject, would doubtless put up with being called will-to-jouissance. But this appellation would not render desire more worthy of the will which it invokes within the Other, in tempting this will to the extremity of its division from its pathos; for to do this, desire sets forth beaten, promised to impotence.
Because it sets forth submitted to pleasure, whose law is to turn it always too short in its aim. A homeostasis which is always too quickly recovered by the living being at the lowest threshold of the tension upon which it subsists. Always precocious is the fall of the wing, with which he is given to sign the reproduction of his forms Nevertheless this wing here has the task of raising itself to the function of figuring the link of sex to death. Let us leave it to rest behind its Eleusinian veil.
Thus pleasure, down there the stimulating rival of will, is here no more than a faltering accomplice. In jouissance's own time, it would be simply out of play, if fantasy did not intervene to sustain it by the very discord to which it succumbs.
Thus we are in a position to interrogate the Sade, mon prochain whose invocation we owe to the perspicacity of Pierre Klossowski. Extreme, it dispenses him from having to play the wit [des recours du bel esprit].20
Doubtless it is his discretion which leads him to shelter his formula behind a reference to Saint Labre. We do not find this reason compelling enough to give him the same shelter. That the Sadian fantasy situates itself better in the bearers of Christian ethics than elsewhere is what our structural landmarks allow us to grasp easily.
But that Sade, himself, refuses to be my neighbor, is what needs to be recalled, not in order to refuse it to him in return, but in order to recognize the meaning of this refusal. We believe that Sade is not close enough to his own wickedness to recognize his neighbor in it. A trait which he shares with many, and notably with Freud. For such is indeed the sole motive of the recoil of beings, sometimes forewarned, before the Christian commandment.
For Sade, we see the test of this, crucial in our eyes, in his refusal of the death penalty, which history, if not logic, would suffice to show is one of the corollaries of Charity.
Sade thus stopped, at the point where desire is knotted together with the law. If something in him held to the law, in order there to find the opportunity Saint Paul speaks of, to be sinful beyond measure, who would throw the first stone? But he went no further.
It is not only that for him as for the rest of us the flesh is weak, it is that the spirit is too prompt not to be lured. The apology for crime only pushes him to the indirect avowal of the Law. The supreme Being is restored in Maleficence.
Listen to him bragging of his technique, of immediately putting everything which occurs to him into operation, thinking moreover, by replacing repentance with reiteration, to have done with the law within. He finds nothing better to encourage us to follow him than the promise that nature, woman that she is, will magically always yield to us more.
It would be a mistake to trust this typical dream of potency.
It sufficiently indicates, in any case, that it would not be possible for Sade, as is suggested by P. Klossowski even as he notes that he does not believe it, to have attained the sort of apathy which would be "to have reentered the bosom of nature, in a waking state, in our world,"21 inhabited by language.
Of what Sade is lacking here, we have forbidden ourselves to say a word. One may sense it in the gradation of the Philosophy toward the fact that it is the curved needle, dear to Bunuel's heroes, which is finally called upon to resolve a girl's penisneid, and quite a big one.
Be that as it may, it appears that there is nothing to be gained by replacing Diotima with Dolmance, someone whom the ordinary path seems to frighten more than is fitting, and who-did Sade see it?-closes the affair with a Noli tangere matrem. V . . . ed and sewn up, the mother remains forbidden. Our verdict upon the submission of Sade to the Law is confirmed.
Of a treatise truly about desire, there is thus little here, even nothing. What of it is announced in this crossing taken from an encounter, is at most a tone of reason.
R. G. September 1962
* For which it was destined on commission. I add here, because it's droll, that they put themselves in the position of having to re-commission it from me when the success of Ecrits rendered it plausible ( to the person who replaced me?)