Documenting its entry into English, thanks to Naomi Schor from whose Breaking the Chain: Women, Theory, and French Realist Fiction this note is taken.
To footnote “jouissance” is at this belated poststructuralist moment to perform a highly ritualized gesture. This then is the obligatory metatextual note on jouissance. The difficulties in finding a suitable English equivalent to the French jouissance were to my knowledge first articulated by Roland Barthes’ translators; see Richard Howard, “Notes on the Text,” in Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, and Stephen Heath, “Translator’s Note,” in Barthes, Image-Music-Text. In the first instance the translator has chosen to translate the untranslatable word throughout by “bliss,” a decision criticized by Heath, who adopts a more complex strategy which involves resorting to “a series of words which in different contexts can contain at least some of [the] force” (p.9) of the original French term. I have opted for yet another unsatisfying solution, that favored by other (feminist) translators (Michèle Freeman, Alice Jardine, Parveen Adams): the non translation of the untranslatable. Thus, for example in her “Translator’s Note,” Jacqueline Rose explains that she has left such terms as signifiance, objet a, and jouissance “in the original . . . in order to allow their meaning to develop from the way in which they operate.” Feminine Sexuality: ‘Jacques Lacan and the école freudienne,’ Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose, eds., p. 59. For an illuminating and pertinent study of the peculiar linguistic status of jouissance, see Jane Gallop, “Beyond the Jouissance Principle,” Representations (1984), no. 7: 110-115.
Gallop is quite helpful in identifying its semantic reach. She takes the reader back to Roland Barthes whose The Pleasure of the Text outlines the pivotal distinction between plaisir and jouissance.
Briefly, Barthes distinguishes between plaisir which is comfortable, ego-assuring, recognized and legitimated as culture, and “jouissance” which is shocking, ego-disruptive, and in conflict with canons of culture. [Note how the two terms are even marked differently; one by italics, the other by quotation marks.]
As is de rigeur (her word play), Gallop warns of rigidification:
If jouissance is celebrated as something that unsettles assumptions, it becomes ineffective when it settles into an assumption. If jouissance is “beyond the pleasure principle,” it is not because it is beyond pleasure but because it is beyond principle.
The gendered consequences are expressed in the final note that serves as a postscript.
[…] I was led to think that the “we [women] have it; they [men] fear it” is a strategic feminist reversal of the tradition that polarizes sexual pleasure into something men want and women fear. Beyond the strategic necessity of the reversal, I am trying to suggest that the polarization is a defence against a powerful ambivalence in which the subject both wants and fears something overwhelming, intense, pleasurable, and ego-threatening. Indeed, one of the functions of polarized sexual roles — the double standard, rake and virgin — may be to defend against the intolerable ambivalence of simultaneously “knowing” and “fearing.”
And so for day 1406