Desire, yearning and despair.

7 May

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant argued (in Critique of Practical Reason) that if a man were given the opportunity to have sex with a woman he had long desired on the condition that when he was spent, he went to the gallows, that man would transcend his sensual nature in the face of such an outcome, and walk away from his desire.

This man would, according to Kant, overcome what the philosopher determined to be the “pathology” of such things as wishes and desires, and instead exercise ethical autonomy, reasoning that sex, no matter how greatly desired, was not worth the death that would follow. Kant took his assumption to demonstrate the ability of a human individual to transcend her or his sensuous nature, especially in the face of adverse outcomes.

This perspective has been challenged by thinkers such as Jacques Lacan, and more recently, Slavoj Zizek, both of whom point out that there are some among us who could only enjoy a night of passion if they knew death would follow.

Says Lacan:  “it is not impossible for a man to sleep with a woman knowing full well that he is to be bumped off on his way out, by the gallows or anything else… it is not impossible that this man coolly accepts such an eventuality on his leaving”

Lacan in particular discusses the role of jouissance in such a decision, that untranslatable word (“enjoyment” doesn’t come anywhere near it) that involves living out desire in utter disregard of the consequences.

As Hélène Cixous describes jouissance it contains elements of the erotic, in that it fractures everyday structures, offers sexual rapture, and from a woman’s point of view, offers sublime mental, physical and spiritual experiences. It is a transcendental state, offering freedom from oppressive realities, an escape from hierarchical bonds and systems of cultural, religious, sexual, and linguistic oppression, in short it is: “blowing up the law of the father” (Stigmata).

Lacan being Lacan argues that jouissance can never actually be attained: it remains forever a desire, a yearning. The satisfaction obtained is never the satisfaction anticipated. The reality must inevitably fall short of the imagining. Desire continues to flourish, desire is insatiable, desire is lack.

Or as T.S. Eliot puts it in The Hollow Men:

Between the idea
and the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow.
I once had a wonderful teacher, mentor and friend, an elderly psychiatrist who knew too well the perils of acting on his desires, and had incurred a kind of professional death as a consequence of his impulse towards the experiencing of jouissance. The dire consequences of his forays into inappropriate love affairs didn’t stop him telling me how it would have been if we’d met fifteen years earlier. This was one of the things I loved about him: he knew how much he’d lost by loving the wrong women at the wrong time, and it didn’t stop him openly wanting us, even though his time for that had passed. I’ve no doubt had it not, we would have got into something and being who he was, he’d have incurred an adverse outcome yet again. 
One of the things he taught me was his theory of a role he called “Yearner/Despairer.” In this role, which he willingly admitted to be one in which he spent a large portion of his time, the individual is filled with most painfully ambivalent emotions towards another, see-sawing between intense longing, and the most abject despair that the longing can ever be satisfied because the other is in some way inaccessible, or the longing is unrequited.
My friend argued that this is a role in which many of us spend much of our time, not necessarily on account of another human being, but in longing for things, situations, circumstances that we simultaneously despair of ever acquiring. It is a most uneconomical way to live a life, as the energy expended in maintaining two such contradictory and powerful emotions at the same time, is mind-boggling. 

So what, I asked him, is one to do? Please don’t cross your legs like that, he said, and then went on. All we can do is sit in the ambivalence, he said, and see where it takes us.

But that is too uncomfortable, I protested, how can anyone keep on doing that?

We have no choice, he said. If we sit in it long enough, in that tension of the opposites, another possibility will emerge. But know what you are doing Watch it play out in front of you. Stand back and watch it. It’s the distance you need to learn.

Can you do that? I asked him, because it didn’t seem to me, knowing his history, that he’d chosen such a course.

No, he said. Or rather, very rarely. Even though I knew my desires would see me in the gallows, figuratively speaking, I could never say no to love. But I knew every time what was in store for me. I didn’t do it blindly. I knew what would follow. I made choices. And at times I had to sit in the ambivalence, when things didn’t go as I would have liked. But you must learn to get the distance you need to see what you are doing. Don’t let the emotion blind you if you can help it. Feel it, but don’t let it dominate you. It’s a process, he finished up, and we laughed, because we both hated that word used in that way.

I don’t agree with Kant’s theory that a man (or a woman) will inevitably refuse a night of sexual bliss if the outcome will be certain death, and that this test proves we are capable of transcending our sensual natures. I’m not at all certain that transcending our sensual natures is a worthy goal in the first place. Neither do I agree with Lacan in his assertion that jouissance is only what it is because it is unattainable. That there could ever be an end to desire is unimaginable to me, not because of a failure to achieve the sublime, but because having achieved it, according to one’s own lights, one wants an eternal return.

As for yearning and despairing. It seems to be the human condition. The best to be done is to know it. Or as Cixous puts it:

So let us separate. Let us separate beyond separation. Or else let us love beyond loving. Go further.



65 Responses to “Desire, yearning and despair.”

  1. doug quixote May 7, 2013 at 10:59 am #

    Very fine, Jennifer. I was inspired to revisit Kant, and from there went to his questioning of the argument from design. That led me to teleological arguments, and then to this :

    “The argument from improbability is the big one. In the traditional guise of the argument from design, it is easily today’s most popular argument offered in favour of the existence of God and it is seen, by an amazingly large number of theists, as completely and utterly convincing. It is indeed a very strong and, I suspect, unanswerable argument—but in precisely the opposite direction from the theist’s intention. The argument from improbability, properly deployed, comes close to proving that God does not exist. My name for the statistical demonstration that God almost certainly does not exist is the Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit.

    The creationist misappropriation of the argument from improbability always takes the same general form, and it doesn’t make any difference… [if called] ‘intelligent design’ (ID). Some observed phenomenon—often a living creature or one of its more complex organs, but it could be anything from a molecule up to the universe itself—is correctly extolled as statistically improbable. Sometimes the language of information theory is used: the Darwinian is challenged to explain the source all the information in living matter, in the technical sense of information content as a measure of improbability or ‘surprise value’… However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable. God is the Ultimate Boeing 747.

    …The whole argument turns on the familiar question ‘Who made God?’… A designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right. God presents an infinite regress from which he cannot help us to escape. This argument… demonstrates that God, though not technically disprovable, is very very improbable indeed.

    — Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

    More to follow, must do some work (!) but – discuss!


    • Jennifer Wilson May 8, 2013 at 5:11 am #

      Thanks, DQ. I inspired you to revisit Kant? Then my work here is done for the day. I am intrigued by his commentary on the sublime.


      • doug quixote May 8, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

        Regarding the sublime, I think he and later Schopenhauer overly complicated matters. I incline more to the view that beauty is not essential, unless one defines it as including a hideous beauty, in the way a Tsunami or a volcano can be beautiful.

        The awesome power of natural forces still impresses us with its beauty – it is the truly sublime.

        As I have pointed out, and as Dawkins referred to above, the question of God is rarely far away from a discussion of the sublime; the problem for Kant, with a traditional Christian upbringing, and for most of the philosophers up to and including Nietzsche the gap between what we know and what we know we don’t know yawned very wide indeed.

        What we have today is a very much smaller gap, and the God of the Gaps has shrunk accordingly. The amount of room available for the numinous challenges all those who retain a belief in God, such that many are driven to deny the established facts of science to do so. And they are increasingly hysterical in the process.


  2. samjandwich May 7, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    Yes, great article, which pushes all sorts of buttons for me. If only I had the time to read philosophy these days!

    And equally yes I agree – If we want to think of “the meaning of life” in a secular way, then I think this notion of sitting in ambivalence is very close to the mark. Probably important to point out as well that “ambivalence” is said here without any cultural loading, as I think it’s conventional to think of it as signifying apathy, whereas here it is meant in the technical sense of having equilibrium between yearning and self-control. Really it’s a state of spiritual balance, which I would say is probably not dissimilar to what buddhists think of as enlightenment or christians think of as “knowing god”. But perhaps I would add to that and say that I don’t think a person can reach this state spontaneously. Rather they need to learn through experience, and through feeling the effects on their own feelings of being at various positions in the continuum.

    I think that in order to relate to the notion that we would fulfil our deepest desire at the expense of our own life, it’s useful to try to remember a time when you were in a state of high anguish.

    For me, it was a time a few years ago when I was going through a gob-smackingly confusing break-up with a woman who I suspect suffered from Complex PTSD/Borderline Personality Disorder/whatever you want to call it. For those of you unfamiliar with this phenomenon you should look it up in your own time, because it’s actually quite fascinating and very useful to understand. But the upshot was basically that she was engaging in the most bizarre, self-destructive and malignant behaviour, for which she was unable to feel any sense of responsibility – instead blaming me for “making her have to do it”. And even though I loved her very much and could see that her behaviour was the result of her disordered thinking emanating from her past experiences, I felt that I was at the absolute limits of my tolerance as well, and so I felt the need to tell her exactly what I thought of what she was doing. This for me was somewhat akin to ripping my heart out, as the only weapon I had left, and throwing it at her. I knew that by doing so it would completely nullify any chance of my having anything more to do with her from then on, and would consequently devastate me in a life-long sort of way, but it was the only thing I felt I could do at the time.

    I feel as though what I have gained from this is a small insight into why people would throw everything away in order to do what they feel will fulfil their deepest desires – eg to have sex with the person of their dreams only to be sent to the gallows directly afterwards, or to run towards enemy machine guns in the vain hope of capturing one as a contribution to saving your country, or to throw your child off a bridge in a misguided attempt at taking revenge on your partner. This is the tension of the opposites spilling over I guess. I would call it committing “spiritual suicide”, after which time you become a kind of zombie. That’s certainly how I felt for the 12 months or so after my comparatively minor experience.

    And for me this is the interesting part – that the fulfilment of desire is only fleeting, and assuming it doesn’t kill you, then you will eventually land back in this state of ambivalence. Here it seems to me that this realisation is the “in” that you need in order to reach the state of “loving beyond loving”. Another personal example: I’m a classic car nut, and a couple of years ago I dropped a large amount of money on a 40-year-old Ferrari. At first I was a bit deflated… it’s just a car, ultimately. You sit in it, fill it will fuel, and it drives on the road and takes you to where you want to go. But I’m finding now that the longer I have it and the more I get to know it on a day-to-day level, the more I fall in love with it! Unfortunately though the other 40% of my car-nuttedness that it doesn’t fulfil has returned to the state of ambivalence, and I’m now shopping for a 40-year-old Aston Martin…

    (as an aside, I would say all this fulfilling of desires and bugger the consequences is a somewhat dangerous idea, because it could almost be taken to validate or even ennoble acts of fulfilling one’s desire at the expense of someone else, eg rape, murder, theft etc, or indeed of “spiritual suicide’ as a necessary precursor to actual suicide)


    • Jennifer Wilson May 8, 2013 at 5:12 am #

      The battle between desire and reason. Ah, I know it well. It never ends.


  3. hudsongodfrey May 7, 2013 at 1:54 pm #

    Oh boy, at first I thought, as if I needed another reason not to sleep with Slavoj Zizek.

    Seriously though the main thing I see in it that I’m quite ambivalent about is the whole Yearner/Despairer thing if it leads to putting people in categories of either one or the other, even momentarily in a relative kind of way. I find the notion that people’s basic personalities are more or less fixed to be absurd. We change our minds as often as we change our moods. What is interesting are the attachments we retain for our strongest desires and how they motivate us to behave quite irrationally at times in ways I’m sure Kant would also disapprove of.

    I always thought Kant’s example was slightly absurd if taken as commentary on desire rather than mortality. My first reaction being that surely he simply meant that we don’t really countenance our own mortality. Whereas from the desiring point of view some of us can be quite good at delayed gratification and maybe even develop a preference for it. Maybe I’d be one of those who’d go on harbouring whatever feint hopes may linger for longer than others might. To think that we might not be filled with hope for something or someone that we desire seems describable with the more ordinary word, joyless.

    There’s a lot more to this I think than meets the eye. In the meantime you have to tell us, what year and model is the Ferrari? There’s one I’ve always wanted but it’s probably about ten years older. 🙂


    • Jennifer Wilson May 8, 2013 at 5:14 am #

      No, yearner/despairer isn’t two separate categories, it’s experiencing those emotions simultaneously. Longing for someone. something and at the same time despairing that the longing will ever be satisfied. I also think Kant’s example rather absurd


      • hudsongodfrey May 8, 2013 at 10:07 am #

        Thanks Jennifer, that’s all I wanted really was confirmation that I’d understood correctly.

        It may be almost too obvious to say that if we actually understood then we’d have a lot less trouble navigating our relationships. But then I’m just as sure that knowing more and risking less might drain away all the best kinds of excitement,

        If we experience our relationships as a series of conquests whereby the longing is satisfied by whatever form of consummation we obtain then we may indeed experience despair for the lost feeling of longing itself. My way of saying that I think the two co-exist in a state of tension that we’re probably wise to try and balance out. If indeed relationships are ever the kind of things we choose to be wise about 🙂


  4. hudsongodfrey May 7, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    Oh by the way it just occurred to me to let Tim Minchin make the other side of the argument….or at least something of a different perspective, for fun!


    • hudsongodfrey May 7, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

      Oh yeah and I may have neglected to mention that the later half may be slightly NSFW….


      • helvityni May 7, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

        …what the fuck does NSFW mean, all’s lost to me. I so wish people would not assume that everybody knows the meaning of ALL acronyms…I refuse to Google trivia, I’ll pass…….sorry.


        • hudsongodfrey May 7, 2013 at 5:42 pm #

          Not Safe For Work LOL 🙂


          • helvityni May 7, 2013 at 6:04 pm #

            …forgiven, but only because it’s you, HG.


    • samjandwich May 7, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

      Heh, never seen this dude before. He’s like a hairy, Australian version of Eminem!


  5. Anndra May 7, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

    pen-Umbra… I live most of my life here. Today is none sae bad…


    • helvityni May 7, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

      pen-Umbra? Que? What? Time to give up blogging….?


      • Anndra May 7, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

        Life in the middle of the shadow, between dark and light – The penumbra (from the Latin paene “almost, nearly” and umbra “shadow”) is the region in which only a portion of the light source is obscured by the occluding body. An observer in the penumbra experiences a partial eclipse. An alternative definition is that the penumbra is the region where some or all of the light source is obscured (i.e., the umbra is a subset of the penumbra) – Don’t stop blogging; what would we wish for otherwise (O:


        • helvityni May 7, 2013 at 10:21 pm #

          Thanks for explaining Anndra, I lost all interest in Latin when my wonderful Latin teacher drowned in a boating accident; I’ll check your blog….did you call yourself Tigabu or something like that, I think you used to write here when Jennifer first started her blog,


          • Anndra May 7, 2013 at 10:34 pm #

            Anndra/Tiga/Tigabu/Something are all me, and yes, I used to post a bit. Got sick of the sound of my own voice and the razors of myself and others. That point when we are being clever, yet all we’re really doing is saying that you are right and I am wrong; would you like pie with that. Most of what I write is pie…

            Not to belittle the brilliant minds here, cos you are, but sometimes, just sometimes, there aren’t words, there aren’t reasons, there’s just cuts and wounds and healing and festering and scabs and scars. I still come and listen, and occasionally speak but mostly I am off getting cut up somewhere else. I enjoy it/hate it/love it – Penumbra (O:


  6. PH Duck May 7, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

    Had a great day out today at the Twitter yep spent the entire day taking in the views of those who bother to heckle where we are at & whats going on. Twitter is some place not dissimilar to Plato’s 2013 Parthenon. A shearing shed of fleece. And shore as shorn sheep the MSM brings out all the burrs, resistance, hornery temperaments and some of the finest Bigga Binda fleeces.
    Then to stumble into Desire Yearning & Despair really shook my hand piece, especially on this day when we have been to that #womenofcaliber can breed & receive benefits according to their income.
    I’m off the fool LOTO expects Australians to consider him as a potential PM.
    Loads of love all round , excuse me please but that man is dangerous, do not let him loose with any firearm.


    • helvityni May 7, 2013 at 10:25 pm #

      PH Duck, Bigga Binda, are you from Crookwell, where the fine fleeces grow?


    • gerard oosterman May 7, 2013 at 10:39 pm #

      Any histograms on their fleeces with a mean16 micron or less?


  7. Garpal Gumnut May 7, 2013 at 7:59 pm #

    Jennifer may I posit a corollary to your posit, and I am happy for you to delete it if you deem it inappropriate, but perhaps if you could, place in another part of your blog.

    A Grazier in North Queensland is going broke. Cattle prices are falling, there is drought and a high Australian dollar. A TV Programme detailing appalling treatment of animals exported has been broadcast.

    Should he be concerned about the treatment of his cattle once they have been sold live, and taken overseas, given that a ban on those exports may influence his going broke.

    Can the body politic and media far removed from his concerns of having to lay off workers with families, be an influence on his decision to sell the cattle.

    Should he be more concerned about survival, and the livelihood of his workers and their families, than the treatment of his sold cattle?

    Does Kant have an answer?

    I tend to go with Lacan.


    • samjandwich May 7, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

      I know you’re addressing Jennifer here… but may I suggest that graziers from North Queensland are perfectly capable of giving consideration to more than one thing at a time?


    • doug quixote May 7, 2013 at 10:09 pm #

      Yes, delete it. Not everything is political.


    • gerard oosterman May 7, 2013 at 10:20 pm #

      Oh, go on. Garpal .
      What about the pensioner who is faced with a high bill. Should he pay or just ignore the bill. Kant does have an answer. Avoid cant.


    • hudsongodfrey May 7, 2013 at 10:43 pm #

      It may well be that this is too far off topic if you’re just trying to smuggle in the political argument, which I only question because I think the comparison between philosopher and psychologist you’re trying to make seems to be to be a weak one.

      Jennifer explained it at greater length why she chose to use certain references and I understand that it fits with the context she was developing.

      I think that if you just wanted to contrast Kant with what is probably the main competing school of thought about animal rights then why not reference some of the utilitarian arguments that Peter Singer makes. Thats’ the main reason I’m not pursuing it out of a newly found respect for staying on topic, because even if I don’t know where you’d like to go with it where I’d go with it just doesn’t seem to have anything to do with this article,


      • Garpal Gumnut May 7, 2013 at 11:09 pm #

        Thanks hg, as I said it is a corollary. And as such may be moot in the context or not. I am happy for it to be debated elsewhere as I said to Jennifer, but it, to me seems, a valid argument in the context of sexual gratification versus death, and a long held work ethic, toil, sweat and responsibility towards workers, versus an arbitrary “death” via uncontrollable godlike political, economic and weather forces.


        • hudsongodfrey May 8, 2013 at 12:04 am #

          If it helps you the choice between death and sex is hypothetical whereas the situation involving live exports is a real one in which you haven’t accurately described the choices. Most people accept that the animals are bred for slaughter. There’s never been any real expectation that these animals were ever going to be bred for a life of pastoral repose. The question is about whether we can continue to ship and slaughter overseas without sufficient regard for preventing animal cruelty. So can you now see how that argument involving cruelty weighed against profit is completely different from the tensions between desire and yearning in the choice between sex and death?

          I gave you the link called The Happy Place earlier so you can always go there and expound your thesis on this at length so that then if it makes any sense then it might be worth discussing.


          • Anndra May 8, 2013 at 12:22 am #

            Is the choice between sex and death really hypothetical? I would have thought it was just as real as the choice between shaving and not shaving, drinking or eating, breaking and bending… The example given by Jennifer is a hypothetical juxtaposition of the pairing, but daily their are choices made in this very forum between sex and death, surely…


            • Anndra May 8, 2013 at 12:26 am #


              • hudsongodfrey May 8, 2013 at 10:09 am #

                I don’t get that joke but I’m pretty sure my dog does 🙂


                • Anndra May 8, 2013 at 11:17 am #

                  hahaha easy, Fido


            • hudsongodfrey May 8, 2013 at 9:31 am #

              I’m happy to report sex hasn’t killed me yet, but I agree that death would usually put something of a damper on people’s sex lives. I may be wrong, but I think we give up something less than our lives for sex, or in other words something we’re more willing to sacrifice.


              • Anndra May 8, 2013 at 11:23 am #

                I think some people use up their lives in the getting/fulfilment/pursuit of sex, either for pleasure or business and combinations thereof; choices nonetheless. We certainly compromise in the exchange, but some of us have ‘lived’ in relationships where both parties were dead but not smelling of decay; zombie automatons in the hazy dervish of existence without love, meaning or advance …


                • hudsongodfrey May 8, 2013 at 11:43 am #

                  Fair point, though my feeling is that reciprocation in interpersonal relationships makes all the difference. There even been tensions between our relationships and other sources of fulfilment in our lives, but surely the way they’re resolved and therefore how yearning and despair are kept in balance is quite different.


                  • Anndra May 8, 2013 at 11:59 am #

                    I’m not entirely convinced they are. Reciprocity can be just as devoid of fulfilment, either of yearning or repatriation, and done from habit. Are these actions capable of creating real reciprocal tensions if habitual? Can these actions likewise be driven by despair, thus displacing yearning with desperation (anxiety-ridden yearning?) with an outcome of double despair. Desperate yearning with empty despair acting to move us further and further away from balance until the relationship shatters and a new balance arising, independent of the clauses it emerged from? Hmmmm…


                    • hudsongodfrey May 8, 2013 at 12:20 pm #

                      Okay but my point in terms of what Jennifer has posited here would be that reciprocation in an interpersonal relationship leading to jouissance takes on a whole different meaning from the principle of reciprocity limited to kind for kind.


                    • Anndra May 8, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

                      Are the two different? K4K or reciprocity for Jouissance seem to be different faces of the same coin, perhaps meeting at the edge… It seems that the only differentiator here is hedonism, one with, one without, for certainly it requires a hedonistic/centric/solipsistic pairing that might result in gratification Nirvana, jouissance? Is that not kind for kind?


                    • hudsongodfrey May 8, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

                      You may care to ask somebody who thinks power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, but in general I think in different kinds of exchanges we have different kinds of expectations. The problem with saying that the different kinds of exchange are nevertheless still reciprocal is that they intersect so that one usually outweighs the other. So it’s more readily discernible that in the paramount case of sexual desire culminating in jouissance we can sublimate one desire for another to establish the tension between yearning and despair. But when talking about any of those lesser desires for fulfilment that we assume will inevitably be sublimated clearly unless you take Kant’s side then we’re talking about the difference that is almost as stark as that between something voluntary and involuntary.


                    • Anndra May 8, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

                      Ok, I see that clearer now 🙂 Paraphrased from Freud/Allen/White etc.. “Art (Life) is about two things, sex and death (pursuit of/drive to/themes)” etc.. Choosing sex over death, death over sex, sex till death, death sex (strange but true), sex over chocolate, etc., are all choices (with the possible exception of sudden death which, as you pointed out, puts a real dent in your day, and my latte hasn’t even arrived…)

                      I guess I am driving at that insanity/jouissance may be claimed in the ‘we just had to have sex right then and there; we had no choice, finding ourselves caught up in the moment, consequences-be-damned in the pursuit of petit mort oblivion!!!” is still a choice that is reached after a process (often short, like so much) that involves the same faculties of thought/denial/awareness/consequence.

                      Kant or Lacan or Zizek make no difference to me, as these are focussed distillations of social contract tropes. The individual(s) involved make choices without really giving a damn about the other person in the hedonist approach (sex for fun/sport/eroticism/fantasy) even though social or real death may await.

                      The risky/risque sex and bus/death equation applies more and more based on my interactions with others of late; “I could be dead tomorrow”. Most of them are recidivists, and here I guess is where I am going to.

                      Morality seems to be behind much of Jennifer’s story and Kantian/Lacanian manifesto’s. Without the ‘constraints’ of morality to inform decisions, anything can, and does, go (O:

                      I apologise, I have lost the plot, but tangents are what emerge from discussions of this ilk, and the tangent is pointing out that the tension between yearning and despair in Jennifer’s example are not based on morality (tension between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’), but are based on carnality, with morality being upheld in the case of Kant and suspended in the cited Lacanian example.


                    • hudsongodfrey May 8, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

                      I can see that I’m going to have to do this justice when time pressures allow, but never apologise for going off piste with a post as good as this one was. I think it’s one of the more thoughtful responses to any issue that I’ve seen in some time.


                    • Anndra May 8, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

                      Thank you 🙂 I look forward to when you have that extra time 😉


                    • hudsongodfrey May 9, 2013 at 8:18 am #

                      Okay I’ll post my reply a the bottom of the page space for the text being more generous there….


                    • samjandwich May 8, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

                      Before you do Hudson, may I just chime in and say that there are consequences and consequences. Is death equivalent to a lack of jouissance, or does it all simply depend on your priorities? Do you have to reciprocate with something of equal value?

                      Here I defer to Monty Python again:

                      – “There will be no supper tonight”, she will sometimes cry, upon my return home.

                      – “Why not?” I will ask

                      – “Because I have been screwing the milkman all day” she will say, oblivious to the howling error she has made.

                      – “But” I will wearily point out, “even given that the activities of screwing the milkman and getting supper are mutually exclusive, now that the screwing is over supper may surely now logically be got”.

                      – “You don’t love me anymore” she will now often postulate, “if you did, you would give me one now and again, so that I don’t have to rely on that rancid Pakistani for my orgasms”

                      – “I will give you one, after you have got me my supper” I now usually scream, “but not before!”, as you understand making her bang contingent on the arrival of my supper.

                      – “God you turn me on when you’re angry, you ancient brute” she now mysteriously deduces, throwing her sweetly throbbing tongue down my throat.

                      – “Fuck supper!” I now invariously conclude, throwing logic somewhat joyously to the four winds, and so we thrash about on our milk-stained floor, transported by animal passion, until we sink back exhausted onto the cartons of yoghurt.

                      Essentially, it seems to me that love, being as it is drowned out by the calculus of desire and fulfilment, is the elephant in the room, the ignorance of which allows the two former concepts to manifest themselves unfettered.

                      And I’m assuming here that deadly sex doesn’t raise the possibility of the creation of a new life…?


                    • Anndra May 8, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

                      Deadly! That’s brilliant! 😀 What if death, or close approximations of it, are the raison d’etre for the chasing of jouissance (as per our dearly departed German Autoerotic Asphyxiater) and knowing that death may result at the hands of another in a convivial pursuit of the nexus between here and the hereafter? Supper may or may not be the detour used to allow the pantomime the two Python characters enact to unfold, I suspect that it is part of the dance…


          • Garpal Gumnut May 8, 2013 at 12:54 am #

            With respect, hg, I cannot see how the tensions between sex and death are so much different from existential survival, a desire and yearning for a communitiy’s survival and it’s obliteration by a blase outside political , economic or weather influence; and the cruelty involved in agriculture and husbandry.

            Graziers are sexual beings, perhaps more closely aligned to the Grecian principles of sex and reproduction than their city counterparts who decide their fate.

            Cruelty for a Minister of Agriculture purchasing a sirloin at Coles is distant, and sexual desire is not equally distributed to the political class.

            Cruelty is disturbing, as is unearned profit and loss by edict.

            The tensions between desire and yearning are more valid in the plains of North Queensland than in a Canberra Minister’s office with the attendant constipating sexual harassment atmosphere.

            The inevitable tensions between desire, yearning, sex and death are more valid in a rural setting, such as North Queensland, as in ancient Greece, than in a modern office block replete with contained unexplored sexuality and existential angst.

            Sex for the uninitiated is a complex concept, as is death. For the initiated it is of power, desire, yearning, loss, the future, and death. And death is a backward reading of this paragraph


            • hudsongodfrey May 8, 2013 at 10:20 am #

              Okay so keep going….

              I see tension between yearning and despair clearly enough in the context of relationships, as to be able to say that they exist and can perhaps be balanced out after a fashion.

              I see tensions between profit and exploitation of a resource as more of a one way street in terms of the kind of example that you’ve offered us.

              I think that this is probably because in relationships the parties are more equal than they are the other kinds of exchanges that we’d more readily acknowledge as transactional in nature.

              I may be wrong.


            • Anndra May 8, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

              “The inevitable tensions between desire, yearning, sex and death are more valid in a rural setting, such as North Queensland, as in ancient Greece, than in a modern office block replete with contained unexplored sexuality and existential angst.”

              I doubt that death or sex place any value on when and where they happen; to say that one place is more valid than another for either of these clauses to exist is to go down the path of human-inflected and biased judgement that has little actual impact on the argument. Death doesn’t care whether you are in Qld or on the moon, nor does Sex – to use a human-inflected-biased allegory. Validity is subjective.


    • Jennifer Wilson May 8, 2013 at 5:16 am #

      This is a complex question you’ve posed, Gumnut, But a very real one I know. Let me think & maybe others will have ideas.


  8. Garpal Gumnut May 7, 2013 at 11:40 pm #

    To return to Jennifer’s original concept, I note a Mr. Bick has achieved the original suggested acts in one.

    A sordid description of his death has been described over-detailed in the SMH

    Longing, despair and the tension of opposites would appear appropriate in this unfortunate man’s demise.


    • Jennifer Wilson May 8, 2013 at 5:17 am #

      Oh, indeed, oh dear.


    • hudsongodfrey May 8, 2013 at 10:30 am #

      Tragic indeed but where’s the yearning/despair tension in self pleasuring? It almost seems as if there might be an absence of either, but that’s clearly an inadequate interpretation. Far better I think to say that the yearning/despair expresses itself in relation to some kind of fantasy lover, perhaps the imagined version of one’s broken relationship.

      Should we look to the apparent breakdown of the relationship with the boyfriend then there may be something….?

      Like Kant’s example though we’re struggling to imagine whether the poor man’s demise could ever be other than accidental.


  9. paul walter May 8, 2013 at 12:38 am #

    Is there a final signified? Death after life,perhaps? Am in recall of an Anthony Hopkins movie with Emma Thompson called Returns of the Day, that revolves around two people, loyal servants devoted to running of a Lord’s household.
    Gratification is postponed, until it’s too late for any thing beyond a bewildered look of acknowledgement. And how, given these people’s conditioning and the social conditions into which they were cast and forced to survive, could any better have come of it?
    “Quiet desperation”.
    If only it was as easy as is suggested elsewhere. Doesn’t samjandwich’s story allude to a certain possibility,
    that “love” is only for the “the lucky and the strong”, unless people are looking for love as some thing climactic rather than say, a cup of tea, good music and the cat on the lap, which does sound a bit “old” doesn’t it?
    Perhaps love comes in many forms and people are just too thick to recognise it even when it jumps up and bites them in the face.


    • Jennifer Wilson May 8, 2013 at 5:18 am #

      “Every heart, every heart to love will come, just like a refugee” Leonard Cohen. Of course.


      • Jennifer Wilson May 8, 2013 at 5:20 am #

        I wrote an entire chapter of my doctoral thesis on death as a metaphor. One day I’ll put some of it up.


      • paul walter May 8, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

        Yes. That is reminiscent of Diotoma’s thesis in “Symposium”. We will find out if there is wiggle room, or not.


  10. paul walter May 8, 2013 at 1:53 am #

    obviously that movie was “Remains of the Day”
    not the other.. too much eternal return.


    • helvityni May 8, 2013 at 10:03 am #

      And what a movie that was, Paul. Read the Kazuo Ishiguro’s book too; I was amazed how English it was, even the author is of a Japanese origin.

      Loved the movie, and love his books.


      • paul walter May 8, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

        Do both cultures maintain a strand of stoicism?


  11. doug quixote May 8, 2013 at 1:27 pm #

    Death as a metaphor. I recall asking to access your thesis, probably early last year; I think you said it was embargoed for some copyright reasons of the University (?).

    I for one would like to see this chapter, please Jennifer.


  12. helvityni May 8, 2013 at 5:52 pm #

    I don’t really like any activity to be connected with despair, even desire and yarning are best when a touch of humour is thrown in….and the one who get this combination right is of course Philip Roth:

    “My first piece (of raw liver) I had in the privacy of my own, rolled around my cock in the bathroom at three-thirty- and then had again on the end of a fork, at five-thirty, along with the other members of that poor innocent family of mine…I fucked my own family’s dinner”


    • hudsongodfrey May 8, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

      Portenoy no less!

      My how we salivated over how incredibly carnal that seemed, or revelled at least at the permission it gave us to admit, if only to ourselves, that our own pedestrian foibles paled by comparison.


  13. hudsongodfrey May 9, 2013 at 8:19 am #

    Reply to Anndra; May 8, 1:24 pm

    Okay, well I guess that the choice to refute Kant would seem on the face of it to be the ultimate Freudian slip. But I’m not convinced Kant in reaching for a categorical statement is espousing and ideal any more than a modern understanding of Freud thinks of his conclusions about motives as categorical. There’s not only the problem of apparent choice but also that of considerable subjectivity in how we make those choices.

    One of the things you’ve said that I found most interesting was the idea of “distillations of social contract tropes”. Apart from being a handy turn of phrase, one could argue that while some thinkers are busy trying to deconstruct those tropes many are even keener upon rebuilding them in their own image to create or support some other ideological bent. I consider this something of a waste of time on their part. I think like them that you are quite likely to spend an inordinate amount of time off on a tangent chasing what-if’s should you choose to follow those paths. Either that or you approach questions with some pre-existing ideological or religious bent and wind up indulging in a fair amount of apologetics but precious little real thinking. I like neither outcome for a game of soldiers, and you seem similarly intelligent enough to avoid those pitfalls.

    It may be more apt to adopt a realist stance and use a few well-chosen words like “normative” and “subjective” to describe observations we make about others and indeed ourselves. We may conclude that some people are outliers on the bell-curve of decision making who seem so desperately keen on whatever version of jouissance/fulfilment is currently driving them insane. But I think we’ve still got ask whether there’s a ought from an is problem in being judgemental about them in the sense that I think you’re alluding to in saying morality is upheld in the case of Kant and suspended in the Lacan example.

    I find it more satisfactory as a way of thinking to ask about the reliability of the examples that we take on board in terms of whether they really do predict human behaviour, but also to steer clear of assumptions about harm where it is not readily apparent in evidence. So having already canvassed the notion that Kant’s example is such an extreme case as to be a practical absurdity we can move on to misconceptions about jouissance. Lacan describes pleasure/pain or yearning/despair to have an almost karmic symmetry. The upshot of this isn’t so much an “ought” from an “is” as it might almost be termed an “is” from an “is”. If we accept that pleasure is inextricably linked with pain, and vice versa, so that everything we can think or references the opposite of itself then it is nonetheless a fallacy to say that this infers they’re moral equivalents. The moral value of judgements you’d make about hedonism aren’t measured in terms of the inevitable existence of something approaching monogamous love that it infers, but in terms of what harm it does, or who intends harm, in particular to others.

    Perhaps what Lacan does is merely to recognise that there is something about how we understood opposites in language that can be used with reference to observed emotional aspects in a psychological context. And he may even be right about that. But that wouldn’t even make him philosophically removed from Kant if what he effectively claimed to have found was a new type of categorical imperative.


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