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There is nothing extraordinary in delegating a human activity; indeed one could say that an activity first becomes specifically human by being The Enjoying Machine delegated, either to a thing, such as a tool—man often being defined precisely as a “tool-making” animal—or, to another man, a “speaking tool,” Aristotle’s designation of the slave. These two ways of transferring one’s activity to another are the very stuff of history, the substance of the progression of technology and the concomitant development of class relations (the means of production and the relations of production, to nostalgically recall the Marxist terms). The gesture of delegating an activity both defines man’s nature and, by the mediation it introduces, exposes it to alienation. So human activity is, by definition, always “inter.” That one could delegate one’s passivity is far less obvious, and one of the many problems it involves is knowing if a clear limit could be set up between activity and passivity. Can one unproblematically put such things as laughing, crying, or praying under the simple heading of passivity? Where does passivity start, and activity stop? Is laughing passive? Surely it is generally provoked: it is by its nature a reaction to something, but then again, is there ever an action that would not also be a reaction? Can one perform an unprovoked action? Like the Kantian causa noumenon of the notorious third antinomy in the Critique of Pure Reason, a cause that wouldn’t itself be an effect? Even in the extreme case of perception, with our senses merely being affected by external stimuli, one can hardly maintain, at least after the Kantian turn, that it is simply passive—Kant’s point being precisely that the subject always already contributes to the constitution of what she perceives.

Delegating laughter to another is certainly paradoxical, but perhaps not primarily by virtue of its passivity. It is rather laughter’s incalculable character that makes it so, the way in which it can be seen as intimately human (and indeed another common definition of the human is “the laughing animal”), so irreducibly human that it cannot be delegated. Whereas “the tool-making” animal necessarily delegates, “the laughing animal” doesn’t—at least not until the recent invention of canned laughter. So is feeling ever simply passive? If it is initially a reaction (but this is true of any activity), it is itself only palpable by “actively” expressing itself, by being “acted out,” made visible, externalized in one way or another, worked-through, and thus by itself becoming a cause for other reactions, so that the line is always blurred.

Perhaps the crux of the matter doesn’t lie so much with passivity, whose boundaries can never be strictly established, but rather with the concept of enjoyment. Enjoyment is what lies at the bottom of those intimate feelings enumerated in the catalogue of interpassivity. On the one hand, enjoyment is something untransferable (ultimately incalculable and immeasurable),6 and on the other, a bonus, a reward, a gain, a benefit, a blessing—so why on earth would one want to delegate it at all? Perhaps instead of interpassivity one should speak of “inter-enjoyment.” This brings us back to the point with which we started: enjoyment (in passivity) as the reverse side of the subject (as activity). The crux of passivity is the enjoyment it involves. Nevertheless the problem is thus displaced, since one can easily conceive of getting enjoyment 92 Penumbra from activity, but is it of the same kind as the unavowable and shameful enjoyment in passivity? And is enjoyment simply passive?

Here the intervention of psychoanalysis is called for, and I suppose inevitable. To be brief, let’s say that if enjoyment is what people are after, then it can and should be complemented by the concept of desire. We thus obtain the conceptual pair, desire and enjoyment, which can perhaps substitute the somewhat dubious pair, activity and passivity. But do they fit? Is desire really after enjoyment? Does desire seek enjoyment? In the Écrits, we find the following brief sentence, one of Lacan’s notorious proverbs: “For desire is a defence, a defence against the transgression (outre-passer) of a limit in enjoyment.”7 This elementary psychoanalytic insight—desire is a defence against enjoyment—seems considerably to complicate our problem, or perhaps to utterly simplify it.

The very nature of desire is to be interactive. There is no desire that is not entraîné, provoked by the other. One desires by relying on the desire of the other, so there has to be an elementary identification with the other for desire to emerge. Lacan never tired of repeating that the subject’s desire is the desire of the Other, and we can paraphrase: the subject’s desire is the desire of the claque. One can easily see that with the claque one’s reactions, judgments, and opinions are always framed in some way by the claque, which offers the entries, the attitudes, the proper ways of responding, and which instigates our wish to participate in the first place. One has always already unwittingly started participating. If desire necessarily takes support in identification, its crucial form is the identification with the desire of the other. Surely there is a paradox here. If one only desires what one lacks, the identification with the desire of the other entails an identification with what the Other lacks. In desire, one is dragged into activity in order to figure out what has dragged the other into activity (this is at the core of its interactivity). What makes the Other tick? What is it after? How and why does it desire? How does it enjoy?

Or does it enjoy at all? One can only find this out by adopting the desire oneself, which is thus indeed nothing but the desire of the Other. Apart from assuming that the Other (of the claque) knows, there is also the supposition that the Other enjoys, so one follows the claque, one goes through the motions indicated by the claque, in the hope of being awarded the prize of enjoyment.

But here is the rub.

Desire is coupled with identification, but it doesn’t result in enjoyment— it is maintained by being perpetually dissatisfied. The supposition that the Other enjoys does not lead to enjoyment; it prevents it. The lack has to be maintained if desire is to be sustained. The subject loves her lack; she would give up anything to keep it. Should she attain enjoyment, her very status as subject would collapse, insofar as subject and desire are here synonymous.

The first form of interpassivity follows from this. If desire is but a defence against enjoyment, then an ingenious way of defending oneself consists in The Enjoying Machine entrusting enjoyment to the other. “The other enjoys, so I want to enjoy as well” leads directly to “The other enjoys, so thank God I don’t have to!” Let the claque do what it is supposed to do anyway, that is, enjoy—instead of me.

Let the video watch my favorite movies for me, for otherwise I would have to enjoy them myself, and that would be unbearable. I can see in advance the disappointment that this would bring; I can see that I can never measure up to the supposed enjoyment. By leaving satisfaction to the other, I can continue to suppose that there is such a thing as the satisfaction of desire.

Were I to enjoy myself, hope would vanish, so if the other enjoys for me, I can maintain and preserve my desire by defending myself against enjoyment, in accordance with the nature of desire.

It is not difficult to recognize here the strategy of the obsessional neurotic, the direction that Pfaller has admirably explored.


Yet, this line of reasoning still places interpassivity in the realm of interactivity: it is a possible strategy to circumvent the impasse of desire and a way to prolong it. It is the point where desire, as essentially interactive, presents its limit-case, but which follows from its logic as one of its possible outcomes.

Desire mimes passivity in order to deal with the deadlock of its inherent interactivity. It mimes passivity to avoid enjoyment, but does it not yield some enjoyment nevertheless? If the subject is by definition the subject of desire, and if desire is a defence against enjoyment, can the subject nevertheless obtain some bit of enjoyment? Does she get what she defends herself against?

Can one enjoy by letting the other enjoy and thus resign oneself to one’s own incurable dissatisfaction? And since I propose to replace interpassivity with “inter-enjoyment,” one can further ask: is enjoyment “inter”? If desire is essentially “inter,” does the same go for enjoyment?

It is here that the psychoanalytic concept of drive should be introduced.

To put my thesis in somewhat simplified terms, I would say that the key to interactivity lies with desire, while the key to interpassivity lies with the drive. And since we disposed desire and enjoyment in a neat pair of opposites, it follows that enjoyment is placed on the side of the drive. For if desire is maintained by being constantly unsatisfied, then drive is something which, alarmingly, always finds its way to enjoyment and satisfaction.8 Let’s take an example from Lacan, which in fact faithfully follows Freud’s argument: “Even when you stuff the mouth—the mouth that opens in the register of the drive—it is not the food that satisfies it, it is, as one says, the pleasure of the mouth.”9 What satisfies hunger? Apart from the trivial necessity of eating in order to survive, how can we place hunger in our dichotomy of desire and drive? It might seem rather strange to treat hunger as an instance of desire, but once the need to eat becomes inflected with demand, as it necessarily does in the earliest stage—demand for attention, demand 94 Penumbra for love—it gets inextricably caught in the web of desire. The argument has been made often enough; it forms the backbone of the well-known dialectical progression need-demand-desire.10 One could well ask if hunger, insofar as it involves desire, depends on the claque. This may appear a bizarre suggestion, but there is indeed the massive presence of “the mother’s claque” (the mother being the first instance of the Other), her approval and delight with the baby’s eating. One eats not simply to satisfy one’s need, but also to satisfy the mother’s desire, which ultimately coincides with the subject’s own. One can’t even eat without some applause, as it were. But insofar as hunger is desire, it is always unsatisfied; whatever and however much one eats, it is not “it.” The various bulimic and anorexic disorders present spectacular proof of this. However much one stuffs the mouth of desire, it never gets enough; any food turns out to be the wrong kind of food and the satisfaction of hunger highlights all the more the falling short of enjoyment. Desire is that which remains hungry despite the amount or quality of food.

Drive is different: it is a satisfaction, an enjoyment that one gets as a by-product, so to speak, of the dissatisfaction of desire. One hasn’t satisfied desire, but one has enjoyed anyway—it is a surplus enjoyment, an additional enjoyment surreptitiously sneaking into the very process of vainly seeking enjoyment. In the case of the oral drive, oral pleasure has been added regardless of the dissatisfaction of desire and even because of it. The object consumed is never it, the real thing, but some part of it is necessarily produced in the very act of consumption—and this bit is the object of drive.11 So if desire can never reach enjoyment (indeed it does everything to avoid it through the

pretense of pursuing it), then the problem of the drive is the very opposite:

one can never be rid of enjoyment. It is a curious kind of enjoyment provided by the drive’s not reaching its goal and by an object that is indifferent. Freud has already seen this in his famous paper on the drives: “[The object] is what is most variable about an instinct and is not originally connected with it …. It may be changed any number of times in the course of the vicissitudes which the [drive] undergoes during its existence.…”12 If the object is not important, then how does the drive get its satisfaction? The oral drive may seem to be firmly coupled with the breast as its object, but the breast is ultimately not essential to it; rather, the drive is satisfied by circling it, as Lacan says, without reaching its goal.13 The drive is satisfied through its being thwarted, “inhibited in its goal” (zielgehemmt), but nevertheless it doesn’t miss its aim.

Lacan actually uses the English distinction between aim and goal, which is

indiscernible in the French le but:

Here we can clear up the mystery of the zielgehemmt, of that form that the drive may assume, in attaining its satisfaction without attaining its aim.… When you entrust someone with a mission, the aim is not what he brings back, but the itinerary he must take. The aim is the way taken. The French word but may be translated by another word in English, goal …. If the drive The Enjoying Machine may be satisfied without attaining what …would be the satisfaction of its end … it is because … its aim is simply this return into circuit …. The objet petit a is not the origin of the oral drive. It is not introduced as the original food, it is introduced from the fact that no food will ever satisfy the oral drive, except by circumventing [circling around] the eternally lacking object.…14 The drive reaches its aim without attaining its goal; its arrow returns from the target, like a boomerang. However, contrary to what Lacan suggests, it doesn’t return back to the subject because the subject is essentially the subject of desire, as we have seen, while the drive, with its bit of surplus enjoyment, has no subject (at least not in any ordinary sense, not even the Lacanian one).15 There is no subject at the origin of the drive; there is only the subject of desire emerging from its entanglement with the Other and enjoyment is but its by-product. The drive has no origin and no end; its only subsistence is in the circular movement yielding a tiny bit of enjoyment—but an enjoyment that cannot satisfy desire or fill the lack, an enjoyment from which desire flees.

All this appears to be at odds with the usual representation of the drive as a biological or somatic pressure, as a reservoir of energy or a field of forces— the notions that we find abundantly scattered throughout Freud’s writing.

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