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Lacan proposes another model, that of the drive as an organ. It is a strange kind of organ, “situated in relation to the true organ,”16 but nevertheless an “ungraspable organ, [an] object that we can only circumvent, in short, [a] false organ … whose characteristic is not to exist, but which is nevertheless an organ.”17 Lacan continues: “This organ is unreal. Unreal is not imaginary. The unreal is defined by articulating itself on the real in a way that eludes us, and it is precisely this that requires that its representation should be mythical ….”18 So Lacan produces his own myth, a parody of Aristophanes’ myth of the missing half: the missing half that would complement a human being (as sexed) and make him or her whole, is a lamella, “something extra-flat, which moves like the amoeba …. It goes everywhere … survives any division … can run around ….”19 Furthermore, “If you want to stress its joky side, you can call it l’hommelette …. And it is of this that all the forms of the objet a … are the representatives, the equivalents.”20 So in order to imagine the object of the drive, one has to conceive of an organ that is lost or missing, but that nevertheless prolongs the body, being moulded by the body’s orifices and borders (all the objects a stem from there). The object is infinitely pliable, yet never fitting and never graspable, except through the circuit of the drive. So in our case of the oral drive, the breast is not the organ of libido; rather, the lamella is this extra-flat, extra-thin foil that always comes to interpose itself between the open mouth and the breast. It is l’hommelette that always prevents us from simply eating an omelette.

96 Penumbra One can provisionally sum up with another Lacanian proverb: “Desire comes from the Other, and enjoyment is on the side of the Thing.”21


So where does that leave us with our problem of interpassivity? By approaching the problem in our terms of drive and enjoyment, as opposed to desire, it appears that both sides of inter-passivity—“inter” and “passivity”— have to be transformed or abandoned.

To start with, it seems that the drive can’t be reduced to the division between active and passive. To be sure, Freud, when considering the vicissitudes of the drives, shows that some of their major transformations consist in reversals between activity and passivity, but he nevertheless maintains that at the core “every [drive] is a piece of activity; if we speak loosely of passive [drives], we can only mean [drives] whose aim is passive.”22 Passivity would thus figure as a derivative subdivision of drives’ inherent activity. Lacan seems to agree: “In fact, it is obvious that, even in their supposedly passive phase, the exercise of a drive, a masochistic drive, for example, requires that the masochist give himself … a devil of a job.”23 Yet, I think it can be argued, on the basis of Lacan’s own account, that the proper mode, or the proper “voice,” of the drive is the middle, a grammatical notion between the active and the passive voices. The drive evolves neutrally, indifferently, though it can bring about both active and passive expressions.

It is something that happens or takes place without a subject actively striving for it or passively submitting to it: perhaps both activity and passivity pertain to the realm of desire and its vicissitudes, whereas passivity figures as the limit-case of activity. One can perhaps cautiously propose another classification of the verbal voices. Whereas, at first sight, the major division appears to be between the active and passive voice, with the middle as an awkward appendix, a second look reveals a more crucial divide between inclusion and non-inclusion of the subject into what the verb describes. On that account, both the active and the passive voice (with the subject either acting or being acted upon) would fall into one category, while the middle voice would form the other one.24 Second, enjoyment is perhaps not “inter” at all. Drive doesn’t care about the Other; it doesn’t worry about the claque. Neither does the drive need the claque to show it the way nor does it call for any identification. It doesn’t get entangled in the desire or (supposed) enjoyment of the Other; it rather refuses and dismisses the Other as such, utterly indifferent to its tricks. So there is an enjoyment outside the claque and it is precisely this enjoyment that psychoanalysis seeks. This is what causes the problem. If interpassivity in the first sense, in its obsessional neurotic variety, remains inherently “inter,” delegating enjoyment to the other, then in the second sense, it keeps all enjoyment for itself—except there is no self for which it would be kept or to which The Enjoying Machine it could be ascribed. Thus, there is no sense in keeping it, both because it is not a quantum to be stocked, and because one gets it anyway whether one wants it or not.

So in this second sense interpassivity, deprived of both “inter” and “passivity,” appears indeed as the shadow of interactivity. In this second sense one cannot delegate enjoyment, but one cannot keep it either. There is an “it enjoys” where both the subject and the Other vanish. To be sure, there is a delegation of enjoyment in a sense—but not to the Other (other subjects, machines, or the phantom of the big Other)—a delegation to an it that eludes the Other, as it also eludes our own body. The lever of enjoyment, as it were, is that unreal bodily organ that one doesn’t possess, but of which one also cannot be rid.

With this second sense of interpassivity, it seems that our topic has disappeared. Interpassivity, instead of being localizable, limited to certain curious, rare, and outstanding phenomena, has become omnipresent and universal.

If we thus make it synonymous with the basic mechanism of the drive, if it coincides with the drive altogether, then one may well ask whether there is any human phenomenon that wouldn’t fall under the heading of interpassivity.25 Is eating, to prolong our example, a case of interpassivity? In our second sense, yes, and indeed very prominently, since it is the very earliest one, and perhaps a model for all others to come. Insofar as drive can be seen as the shadow side of desire, interpassivity sneaks into every human endeavor as its hidden reverse. While in the first sense, it only appeared in some select instances, as a peculiar, but consequential extension of the obsessional logic, in this second sense one cannot be rid of it at all. One cannot choose enjoyment in the drive; one doesn’t enjoy the way one would like to.

Can the two senses be brought together? Is there a possible transition, a bridge between the two? One could say that the very process of psychoanalysis is precisely such a bridge. Lacan sees it along those lines when he conceives of analysis as a transition from the structures of desire to those of drive.

First of all, drive introduces a dimension “beyond the pleasure principle,” while desire, with its defense against enjoyment, remains firmly within the realm of the pleasure principle, all its dissatisfaction notwithstanding. Lacan says, “What is at issue in the drive is finally revealed here—the course of the drive is the only form of transgression that is permitted to the subject in relation to the pleasure principle. The subject will realize that his desire is merely a vain detour with the aim of catching the jouissance of the other.…”26 The aim of analysis is to inflect desire toward this point from which it has been fleeing—to produce something that cannot be directly desired, since desire is indirect by its very nature (it can indeed be epitomized by the formula, “the desire to desire”). That something produced is precisely enjoyment, in which the by-product comes to the fore and is laid bare from under the cover of fantasy. As Lacan explains, “After the mapping of the subject in relation to the a, the experience of the fundamental fantasy becomes the drive. What, 98 Penumbra then, does he who has passed through the experience of this opaque relation to the origin, to the drive, become? How can a subject who has traversed the radical fantasy experience the drive? This is the beyond of analysis, and has never been approached.”27 It is perhaps a bit too much to tackle the tricky problems of fantasy at this late stage. In brief, one can say that fantasy is the support of desire, and the point of analysis is to traverse the fantasy that has been supporting desire, that is, to take that support away. And what is left then, without that buttress, is the drive. Both the traversing of the fundamental fantasy and the destitution of the subject (should one say the knockout of the subject?)—two formulas Lacan gives for the end of analysis—coincide in the drive. In the final analysis, that is, at its end, fantasy is dislodged by the drive. Desire as the defense against enjoyment collapses, and what emerges is the unthinkable beyond of desire, which is also beyond analysis, something that has so far never been approached, according to Lacan.

One can conceive of the beginning of analysis as interactive: the patient enters it with the supposition that the analyst is the other who knows, and who in particular knows the way to enjoyment. There is an attempt at identification with that other and at figuring out his desire. But here the analytic mechanism departs from the common ways of desire: there is no claque. The analyst, that figure of the Other, doesn’t applaud, although he is admittedly being hired and rather well paid. The analyst is anti-claque—someone not to applaud. And since there is no claque to follow (or to oppose), no claque on which to base one’s desire, interactivity eventually loses its footing and desire is referred back to itself, to its own vagaries that lose their ground. It emerges as groundless, that is, grounded only in the contingency of fantasy, and once this is shattered, the only thing remaining is the by-product, the drive: something that is not interactive at all, that is without substance and without a subject, in a manner of (Hegelian) speaking.

The first sense of interpassivity may well appear within the first part of this process, as a defense against what analysis is after. One defends oneself against the analyst, that horrible alien, and one of the strategies of doing this can be the interpassive one. One not only assigns enjoyment to the other, but one also offers oneself as the tool of it. As long as the other enjoys, I don’t have to, so I must secure his enjoyment. One’s mission is to be in the analyst’s secret service. The analysis is at some point always on the edge of a love affair, or a master-slave liaison.28 Should it really turn into one, the subject’s desire would have scored a victory, and one would eventually wind up with a new marvel of interpassivity, the canned analyst.

But if analysis is up to its task, then it should dismantle this mechanism of interpassivity in order to make it pass into the other one, the one aligned with the drive. The emergence of the drive is the endpoint of analysis, and what lies beyond has never been approached, as Lacan said in 1964. But The Enjoying Machine a few years later, he will propose a very precise mechanism for envisaging that beyond: the mechanism known as la passe, the passage from the position of the analysand to that of the analyst. And this is the ultimate point: the emergence of a new kind of desire from the drive, the desire of the analyst.

One of Lacan’s key papers on the problem appropriately bears the title “On Freud’s ‘Trieb’ and the psychoanalyst’s desire.”29 One could say: the birth of the analyst’s desire from the spirit of the drive, or rather from its complete lack of spirit.

Does this new desire avoid the traps of the old desire? Is it a desire liberated from the claque, or is it necessarily accompanied by a new variety of the claque, one that has formed the very substance of the history of psychoanalytic movement through the past century?


1. Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (1959-1960), ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Dennis Porter (New York: Norton, 1992), 252.

2. See Interpassivität, ed. Robert Pfaller (Vienna: Springer, 2000), which summarizes his long-standing efforts on this theme. Two international conferences were organized about it in Linz and Nürnberg in 1998, and Pfaller provides the best summary of this discussion. For Žižek’s further reflections on the theme, see The Plague of Fantasies (London: Verso, 1998).

3. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, always up to its task, gives the following description: “A body of hired applauders at a theatre etc. said to have been originated or first systematized by M. Sauton who in 1820 established an office in Paris to secure the success of dramatic performances. The manager ordered the required number of claqueurs, who were divided into commissaires, those who commit the piece to memory, and noisily point out its merits; rieurs, who laugh at the puns and jokes; pleureurs, chiefly women who hold their handkerchiefs to their eyes at the emotional parts; chatouilleurs, who are to keep the audience in good humour; and bisseurs, who are to cry bis (encore).” The phenomenon appears to have been so ubiquitous in the nineteenth century that numerous authors have spoken about it well before Villiers (most extensively Emile Souvestre in Le monde tel qu’il sera in 1846). In December 1842 an anonymous note in Revue et gazette musicale already suggested the replacement of the claque by a machine, pretending that this device already existed in England and should be imported.

4. Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Contes cruels, ed. Pierre Citron (Paris: GarnierFlammerion, 1980), 100. Subsequent references will appear parenthetically within the text.

100 Penumbra

5. See Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act III, Scene 1. Bottom says, “Write me a prologue; and let the prologue seem to say, we will do no harm with our swords, and that Pyramus is not killed indeed: and for the more better assurance, tell them that I Pyramus am not Pyramus, but Bottom the weaver; this will put them out of fear.”

6. The fact that enjoyment is essentially incalculable presses us all the more to attempt to calculate it. There has been a whole line of thinking, during the Enlightenment, obsessed with “the calculus of enjoyment,” with some hilarious results. See, for instance, Jeremy Bentham.

7. Lacan, Écrits (Paris: Seuil, 1966), 825.

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