Fantasy and the Limits of Enjoyment: ‘The Mother-Daughter Relationship’: Thread and Needle

by Pierre Naveau on January 8, 2004

I will speak about the last page of Lacan’s text ‘Kant with Sade’, where Lacan writes:

Of what Sade is lacking here, we have forbidden ourselves to say a word [on that point].  One may sense it in the gradation of the Philosophy [the Philosophy in the Boudoir] towards the fact that it is the curved needle […] 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 Dolmancé, someone whom the ordinary path seems to frighten more than is fitting and who […] closes the affair with a Noli tangere matrem.  Violated and sewn up, the mother remains forbidden.  Our verdict upon the submission of Sade to the Law is confirmed. (‘Kant with Sade’ p75 – see note 1)

My objective is to comment on these lines of the text.

Sadism is, in this text, an affair between a mother and her daughter.  That is a very paradoxical point.

Lacan underlies that Sade is not psychotic – he is submitted to the law.  Why?  Because, for him, the mother remains forbidden.  The title of my presentation is ‘Thread and Needle’. You will see why.

The limit between pleasure and jouissance


Jouissance is forbidden.  Lacan says precisely:

“Jouissance is forbidden to he who speaks as such”.

(from ‘Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire’ see note 4)

But, it is not the law itself that bars the subject’s access to jouissance.  It is pleasure that sets the limit on jouissance.  This means there are two laws:

Law with a capital ‘L’ and law with a small ‘l’.

My thesis is that the Sadean philosopher tries to find a solution to the problem of the difference between these two laws.  On the one side, there is the Law of prohibition of jouissance, and we can add, of prohibition of the jouissance, and we can add, of prohibition of the jouissance the mother, and, on the other side, there is the law of pleasure, or rather the law of permission of pleasure.  We could speak of an antinomy between pleasure and jouissance, a natural and a cultural barrier.

For psychoanalysis, the limit between pleasure and jouissance is embodied by the phallus.  The phallus bears the mark of the prohibition of jouissance.  Lacan formulates what he considers a principle – the principle of sacrifice.  The Sadean philosopher, like Dolmancé, who is the principal character in the ‘Philosophy in the Boudoir’ and appears, at the end of the text, when Lacan says ‘there is nothing to be gained by replacing Diotima with Dolmancé’ – the Sadean philosopher, like Dolmancé, rejects this limit.  The affect that is linked with that rejection is anger.  The Sadean philosopher is an angry man;  Dolmancé is always boiling with rage.  The presence of the tormentor in “sadistic experience” “is reduced”, as Lacan says, “to being no more than its instrument.” But the fact that the jouissance of the tormentor, the executor, is petrified – it is the word used by Lacan – in this experience, does not withdraw it from the humility of an act to which he cannot escape as a being of flesh and, as such, as the slave of pleasure.

I will explain why the Sadean philosopher is an angry man:  The fact that his jouissance is petrified in the sadistic experience “does not withdraw it from the humiliation of an act…”, the sexual act, “to which he cannot but come as a being of flesh…” as Lacan says, “and, to the bones, the serf of pleasure”. In that sense, a being of flesh and bones is submitted to the law of pleasure.  And the Sadean philosopher too, as a being of flesh and bones, is submitted to that law!  The expression of Lacan is a poetic one.  He says in ‘Kant avec Sade’:  the Sadean philosopher, as a being of flesh and bones, is “submitted to pleasure whose law is” – it’s a quotation – “to turn it always too short in its aim” (Kant avec Sade: Speaker’s own translation).  Lacan describes that unavoidable limit in these poetic terms:  ‘Always precocious is the fall of the wing’. Lacan comments on this metaphor by giving the following indication:  “This wing here”, he says, is raised “to the function of representing the link of sex to death”. It is why the Sadean philosopher must sustain his effort with sadistic fantasy.  The name of such an effort is anger, or rage!

So what is jouissance?  Jouissance is the inaccessible point that the tormentor tries to reach beyond pleasure.  This paradoxical point can only be reached on the Other’s body, because the crossing over the frontier between this side and beyond produces pain.  Lacan emphasises this point.  He says that pain begins at the point where pleasure ends.  “Always, and however prolonged pain is supposed to be, it has nevertheless its term, the fainting of the subject”. (See note 6)  Lacan indicates here what the aim of sadistic experience is.  It is precisely the fainting of the subject.  The Sadean philosopher takes the place of the Other who aims at the subject’s splitting.  This gives us a sort of formula:  here is the place of the subject and here is the place of the Other.  The tormentor takes this place and, therefore, his effort is to create the splitting of the subject:

Other   |   Subject

(a   <>   $ )

He takes the place of the Other.  The pervert (and for Lacan this is a characteristic of perversion) takes the place of the Other.

Lacan wrote on the blackboard, at the beginning of ‘Seminar XX: Encore’ this sentence:

“The jouissance of the body of the Other is not the sign of love.” (See Note 7)

My thesis is that the Sadean philosopher is the enemy of love.  He bets on jouissance against love.  So we encounter here another antimony, the antinomy between jouissance and love.  Jouissance is an experience, it is not a sign.  Love, on the other hand, is a sign.  As Lacan says about Sade in Encore (See note 8: p87).  From this point of view, Lacan says that “neurosis is not perversion, neurotics dream of being perverts, but neurotics have none of the characteristics of perverts” (See note 4: Subversion of the subject and the dialectic of desire).  Why?  Because the place of the neurotic and that of the pervert in the fantasy are not the same.  The characteristic of perversion is that there is a direct connection between sexual behaviour and its a-morality.  Perversion is a knowledge.  It’s a knowledge which lacks in the neurotic.  Perversion is a know-how to do with sexuality.

The maxim of the Sadean philosopher is the problem of morality.  He refers to Freud on that point.  In ‘Civilisation and its Discontents’ (See note 9), Freud writes that the problem of morality is the problem of evil.  Jouissance is evil.  Jouissance is evil, because it implies suffering for the Other, for my neighbour.  Lacan establishes a connection between ‘Civilisation and its Discontents’ and ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’. (See note 10)  Freud shows in ‘Civilisation and its discontents’ that there is an innate tendency to evil in man.  Freud writes there in a Sadean style, as Lacan indicated, and I quote:  “Man tries to satisfy his need for aggression at the expense of his neighbour.  1.  To exploit his work without any compensation.  2.  To use him sexually without his consent.  3. To appropriate his goods.  4. To humiliate him, to inflict suffering upon him, to torture and kill him.” (Note 9:p302)  Lacan underlines that, for Freud, pleasure keeps the subject away from jouissance.  The pleasure principle, as an unpleasure principle, naturally embodies a beyond.  But the pleasure principle is calculated to keep the subject on this side of the border, rather than to push him to go beyond it.  Lacan says, in the ‘Ethics of Psychoanalysis’ (Note 11), that Sade wants always to go beyond.  The name of his desire is to go through; to go beyond.  But he is submitted to the law.  So there are two kinds of transgression of the law:  the transgression of the law of pleasure and the transgression of the law of the prohibition of jouissance.

Comment on the ‘Philosophy in the Boudoir’ & Conclusion & Discussion



These sections are included in the complete text which is available here.





The London Society of the New Lacanian School’s seminar of 2003-2004 centred on Jacques Lacan’s writing: ‘Kant avec Sade’ from the French ‘Écrits’ (Seuil, 1966).  This text was transcribed by Natalie Wulfing from the spoken seminar.  The subsequent editing sought to retain the style of an informal seminar.  Pierre Naveau gave this seminar during the NLS Seminar 03-04 ‘Kant with Sade’: Fantasy and the limits of Enjoyment


References and notes

1)     ‘Kant with Sade’ by Jacques Lacan. Published in English

a) translated by J. B. Swenson in ‘October’ MIT Press, Mass. 1989: for availability see here.  All page numbers are from this translation.

b) translated by Bruce Fink in: Jacques Lacan: Écrits – The first complete edition in English: W.W. Norton & Co: 2005: p645 onwards

2)     The essay ‘Kant with Sade’ was to have served as a preface to ‘Philosophy in the Bedroom’.  It was published in the journal ‘Critique’ (CXCI, April 1963) as a review of the edition of Sade’s works for which it was intended: the 15-volume set brought out in 1963 by Éditions du Cercle du livre précieux.

3)    ‘Philosophy in the Bedroom’ by the Marquis de Sade translated by Seaver and Wainhouse: Arrow Books: 1965: London.  (Now e-published & information available here. )  In the first paragraph ‘boudoir’ is substituted for ‘bedroom’.

4)     Jacques Lacan: ‘Subversion of the Subject and Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious’: in a) Écrits: a Selection: translated by Alan Sheridan: Routledge, London and New York: 1977 or in b) Écrits – the first complete edition in English, op. cit.

5)    ‘The subversion of the subject and the dialectic of desire in the freudian unconscious’:  Jacques Lacan writes: This text represents my contribution to a conference on “La Dialectique”, held at Royaumont from September 19 to 23, 1960.  The conference was organized by the “colloques philosophiques internationaux”, and I was invited to participate by Jean Wahl.

6)    In the Bruce Fink translation (op. cit. note 1), this becomes: However prolonged one assumes it to be, pain, like pleasure, nevertheless comes to an end – when the subject passes out. (page 653)

7)    On feminine sexuality, the limits of love and knowledge 1972 – 1973: Encore: The seminar XX of Jacques Lacan: Edited by Jacques-Alain Miller: Translated by Bruce Fink:  W. W. Norton & Co:  Page 4 (Details of e-publications of Seminar XX available here)

8)    Seminar XX op.cit. page 87: Session of March 13th, 1973: Chapter VII: A love letter (une lettre d’âmour)

9)    Civilisation and its Discontents (1930[1929]): Sigmund Freud: Penguin Freud Library 12. Civilization, Society and Religion:  p243

10) Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920): Sigmund Freud: Penguin Freud Library 11. On Metapsychology: p271

11) The Ethics of Psychoanalysis 1959-1960: The seminar VII of Jacques Lacan: Edited by Jacques-Alain Miller: Translated by Dennis Porter: Routledge: 1992: Availability given here: Seminar VII: The ethics of psychoanalysis: 1959-1960: Jacques Lacan or here

Seminar VII: Session of April 27th, 1960:  Chapter XV: The jouissance of transgression: p197:

Sade is at this limit, and insofar as he imagines going beyond it, he teaches us that he cultivates its fantasm with all the morose enjoyment – I will come back to this phrase – that is manifest in that fantasm.                                

In imagining it, he proves the imaginary structure of the limit.  But he also goes beyond it. 

12) Seminar VII: pps76-80 of op. cit.: Session of December 23rd, 1959: Chapter VI: On the moral law: Sub-headings: The critique of practical reason; Philosophy in the Boudoir; The ten commandments; The epistle to the Romans:

Jacques Lacan comments on Kantian ethics & de Sade’s ‘Philosophy in the Boudoir’.

13) Seminar X: L’Angoisse (Anxiety) 1962-1963 Refers to the sadist provoking anxiety in the Other with references to Kant and ‘Philosophy in the Boudoir’.  Session of 16th January, 1963: Chapter VIII p5 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation available at