Fantasy and the Limits of Enjoyment: ‘The Mother-Daughter Relationship’: Thread and Needle : 6th January 2004 (London) : Pierre Naveau

by Pierre Naveau on January 8, 2004


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.  The complete set of lectures is available at  /library. For Kant with Sade: April 1963: Jacques Lacan see here  

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

by Pierre Naveau

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 available at /authors by date  or  authors a-z  or  lacan – April 1963 


Pierre Naveau – 6th January 2004


Pierre Naveau (1947-2021) died in July 2021.  He is much missed. Pierre gave permission for this text to be published on LacanianWorks (as did Jean-Louis Gault for his text) in 2011. Thus, his support was vital to the very early development of LacanianWorks and its getting underway. My gratitude and thanks. The following information was correct in 2008. The following information was correct in 2008.

Pierre Naveau is a member of the École de la Cause freudienne (ECF), of the World Association of Psychoanalysis (WAP) and of the New Lacanian School (NLS). 

He is Senior Lecturer (Maître de conférences) at the University of Paris 8 and at the Clinical Section of the department of psychoanalysis of the University of Paris 8. 

Other texts by Pierre Naveau here   & at  /authors a-z


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. This is the pocket, shortened version.

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

Information, references & Notes   Kant with Sade: April 1963: Jacques Lacan  or  here
Note there are two versions : full length & shortened/pocket.  Both are available from  /lacan or /lacan

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’. See  Philosophy in the (Boudoir) Bedroom: 1795: Marquis de Sade  or  here though it is available on the internet. 

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. See   The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire (Royaumont): 19th to 23rd September 1960: Jacques Lacan  or here

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)

Seminar XX : 21st November 1972 : pI 4 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation : I am leaving you then on this bed, to your own inspiration. I go out, and once again I will write on the door – so that as you go out you may perhaps take note of the dreams that you will have pursued on this bed – the following sentence: the enjoyment of the Other, of the Other with – it seems to me that given the time, huh, it ought to be enough for me to stop there, anyway I have sufficiently pounded your ears with this capital O that comes after, and since nowadays this O can be found everywhere, put before the other, more or less advisedly moreover! This is printed without rhyme or reason – the enjoyment of the Other, of the body of the Other that symbolises it, is not the sign of love. : See Seminar XX : Encore 1972 – 1973 (from 21st November 1972) : Jacques Lacan or here  &

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

Seminar XX : 13th March 1973 : pVIII 14-15 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation : Luckily, there was subsequently an opportunity to become aware that the perversions, are, the perversions as one grasps them in neurosis, as one believes that one can map them out, are not at all that. Neurosis, is the dream rather than the perversion – I mean the neurosis. That neurotics have none of the characteristics of perverts, is certain; simply they dream about it, which is quite natural, because otherwise how could they reach their partner?

People then all the same began to meet perverts. These are the ones that Aristotle did not want to see at any price. People saw here that there is a subversion of behaviour based, as I might say, on a know- how which is altogether linked to a knowledge. And to a knowledge about the nature of things. A direct engaging, as I might say, of sexual behaviour with, it must be said, what is the truth of sexual behaviour, namely, its amorality. Put some soul, at the start, into it, if you wish: âmoralité.

There is a morality, this is the consequence, a morality of sexual behaviour which is under-stood in everything that is said about the Good. Only, by dint of saying it, of saying the Good, well then that ends up with Kant, where morality (la moralité) – two words this time – admits what it is. And this is what I believed I should put forward in a little article: Kant with Sade; morality admits that it is Sade. You can write Sade as you wish, either with a capital S, to pay homage to this poor idiot who gave us interminable writings about it, or with a small s in order to say that it is when all is said and done its own way of being agreeable, because this is an old French word which means that, or better still: çade, namely, that morality, it must all the same be clearly said that it ends up at the level of the ça, and that it doesn’t go very far. In other words that what is at stake, is that love is impossible, and that the sexual relationship is engulfed in non sense, which does not in any way diminish the interest that we may have for the other.

Because, it must be said, the question is the following: in what constitutes feminine enjoyment, in so far as it is not-all occupied by man, and even, I would say, that as such, it is not so at all, the question is to know precisely what is involved in its knowledge.

See Seminar XX : Encore 1972 – 1973 (from 21st November 1972) : Jacques Lacan or here   &

9)    Civilisation and its Discontents (1930[1929]): Sigmund Freud:

Penguin Freud Library 12. Civilization, Society and Religion:  p243-

SE XXI p58 -145 :  As a result, their neighbour is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him    SE XXI p111 : See 

10) Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920): Sigmund Freud:

Penguin Freud Library 11. On Metapsychology: p271

SE XVIII  p1-64  : It has not been possible to isolate one reference.  Some possibilities :

SE XXI p35 The manifestation of a compulsion to repeat … exhibit to a high degree an instinctual [triebhaft – the word ‘Trieb’ bears much more of a feeling of urgency then the English ‘instinct’.] character and, when they act in opposition to the pleasure principle, give the appearance of some ‘daemonic’ force at work. …

SE XXI p36 This same compulsion to repeat frequently meets us as an obstacle to our treatment when at the end of an analysis we try to induce the patient to detach himself completely from his physician. It may be presumed, too, that when people unfamiliar with analysis feel an obscure fear – a dread of rousing something that, so they feel, is better left sleeping – what they are afraid of at bottom is the emergence of this compulsion with its hint of possession by some ‘daemonic’ power. 

But how is the predicate of being ‘instinctual’ related to the compulsion to repeat? At this point we cannot escape a suspicion that we may have come upon the track of a universal attribute of instincts and perhaps of organic life in general which has not hitherto been clearly recognized or at least not explicitly stressed. It seems, then, that an instinct is an urge inherent in organic life to restore an earlier state of things which the living entity has been obliged to abandon under the pressure of external disturbing forces; that is, it is a kind of organic elasticity, or, to put it another way, the expression of the inertia inherent in organic life.

This view of instincts strikes us as strange because we have become used to see in them a factor impelling towards change and development, whereas we are now asked to recognize in them the precise contrary – an expression of the conservative nature of living substance.

SE XXI p53-54  In the obscurity that reigns at present in the theory of the instincts, it would be unwise to reject any idea that promises to throw light on it. We started out from the great opposition between the life and death instincts. Now object-love itself presents us with a second example of a similar polarity – that between love (or other affection) and hate (or aggressiveness). If only we could succeed in relating these two polarities to each other and in deriving one from the other! From the very first we recognized the presence of a sadistic component in the sexual instinct. As we know, it can make itself independent and can, in the form of a perversion, dominate an individual’s entire sexual activity. It also emerges as a predominant component instinct in one of the ‘pregenital organizations’, as I have named them. But how can the sadistic instinct, whose aim it is to injure the object, be derived from Eros, the preserver of life? Is it not plausible to suppose that this sadism is in fact a death instinct which, under the influence of the narcissistic libido, has been forced away from the ego and has consequently only emerged in relation to the object? It now enters the service of the sexual function. During the oral stage of organization of the libido, the act of obtaining erotic mastery over an object coincides with that object’s destruction; later, the sadistic instinct separates off, and finally, at the stage of genital primacy, it takes on, for the purposes of reproduction, the function of overpowering the sexual object to the extent necessary for carrying out the sexual act. It might indeed be said that the sadism which has been forced out of the ego has pointed the way for the libidinal components of the sexual instinct, and that these follow after it to the object. Wherever the original sadism has undergone no mitigation or intermixture, we find the familiar ambivalence of love and hate in erotic life.

SE XXI p54 : It might indeed be said that the sadism which has been forced out of the ego has pointed the way for the libidinal components of the sexual instinct, and that these follow after it to the object. Wherever the original sadism has undergone no mitigation or intermixture, we find the familiar ambivalence of love and hate in erotic life.

If such an assumption as this is permissible, then we have met the demand that we should produce an example of a death instinct – though, it is true, a displaced one. … Clinical observations led us at that time to the view that masochism, the component instinct which is complementary to sadism, must be regarded as sadism that has been turned round upon the subject’s own ego. But there is no difference in principle between an instinct turning from an object to the ego and its turning from the ego to an object – which is the new point now under discussion.


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. 

See  Seminar VII: The ethics of psychoanalysis: 1959-1960: begins 18th November 1959 : Jacques Lacan or  here

12) Seminar VII: p76-80 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: See here

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 : See Seminar X: The Anxiety (or Dread): 1962-1963: begins 14th November 1962: Jacques Lacan    or here  &  The Sadeian position in Jacques Lacan’s Seminar X & LacanianWorks posts  by Julia Evans on 16th January 2012 or here  

I have failed to find Pierre Naveau’s direct reference to this point. The following is the quote:

Seminar X : 16th January, 1963: Chapter VIII p70 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation : If there is something there called sadistic desire, with all the enigma it involves, it is only articulatable, it is only formulatable in so far as this schize, this dissociation, that it aims essentially at introducing in the other, by imposing on him, up to a certain limit, that which cannot be tolerated, at the exactly adequate limit where there manifests itself, where there appears in the other this division, this gap there is between hisexistence as subject and what he undergoes, what he can suffer in his body.

And to such a degree is it this distinction, this division, this gap as essential that is involved and a matter of questioning, that in fact it is not so much the suffering of the other that is sought in the sadistic intention, as his anxiety – precisely here I articulate, I designate, I note this little sign, $ ө , which in the first formulae that I believe in my second lecture of this year, I introduced concerning anxiety, I taught you to read by the term not 0 I told you, but zero – the anxiety of the other, his essential existence as subject with respect to this anxiety, this is what the sadistic desire wants to make vibrate.

And it is for this reason that, in one of my past seminars, I did not hesitate to relate its structure as properly homologous to what Kant articulated as a condition for the exercise of pure practical reason, of a moral will properly speaking, and, in a word, to situate there the only point where there can be manifested a relationship with a pure moral good.

I apologise for the briefness of this reminder. Those who were present at this rapprochement will remember it; those who were not able to attend will see, I think, appearing in the not too distant future what I took up of it again in a preface to Philosophy in the Boudoir which was precisely the text around which I had organised this comparison.

What is important today and the only thing I want to add another touch to, is that what characterises the sadistic desire is properly that he does not know that in the accomplishment of his act, of his ritual – because it involves properly speaking this type of human action in which we find all the structures of ritual – what he does not know, is what he is looking for, and what he is looking for, is properly speaking to realise himself, to make himself appear, to whom – since, in any case, this revelation can only remain obscure to himself – to make himself appear as pure object, black fetish.


Other texts by Pierre Naveau here   & at  /authors a-z


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