Femininity

From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Lacanian Psychoanalysis
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A feminine structure, on the other hand, is defined by a different relationship to the Other and jouissance - what Lacan calls Other jouissance. The problem with talking about this Other jouissance, however, is that it cannot be spoken about. Speech is related to the symbolic order and is therefore phallic. If we could talk about this Other jouissance then it would, by definition, be phallic, as the symbolic order is phallic. Other jouissance is precisely something that one can experience but say nothing about and thusit is impossible to define. Now clearly this does not get us very far in an introduction to Lacan, so let us try to say what we can about this particular form of enjoyment. Fink points out that the notion of Other jouissance in Lacan is rather ambiguous and offers a number of possible readings: it could mean 'the jouissance the Other gets out of us', or 'our enjoyment of the Other', or 'our enjoyment as the Other' (2002:38). All are possible readings of Lacan's formula. Fink also remains unclear why this Other jouissance should be defined as feminine (2002:40).

The most well-known example of Other jouissance from seminar XX is of the statue 'The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa' by the Italian Baroque sculptor Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680). This piece shows St Teresa swooning in ecstasy while pierced by an arrow from an angel poised above her. Lacan comments:

[I]t's like for Saint Teresa - you need but go to Rome and see the statue by Bernini to immediately understand that she's coming. There's no doubt about it. What is she getting off on? It is clear that the essential testimony of the mystics consists in saying that they experience it, but know nothing of it.[1]
This experience of unspeakable ecstasy is what Lacan calls Other or feminine jouissance. The idea of Other jouissance is seen to mark an advance over the phallocentrism of Freud, in that Other jouissance is 'more than' phallic jouissance; it is beyond the symbolic and the subject and therefore 'outside the unconscious' (Soler 2002:107). Both men and women can experience phallic, or Other, jouissance and what defines whether or not a person has a masculine or a feminine structure is the type of jouissance they experience. There is one crucial difference, according to Lacan, between men and women, however, and that is that women can experience both forms of jouissance while with men it is either one or the other (see Fink 2002:40-1). For Lacan, it is not the case that women are defined negatively in relation to men; a woman is not a man and therefore lacks something that men have - a penis. Rather, women have access to something more than men - a surplus jouissance.
  1. 1998 [1975]: 76