Exigency and Enjoyment — Işık Barış Fidaner

Žižek often mentions Lacan’s superego injunction “Enjoy!”, but never resolves its paradox. “Enjoy!” is a paradoxical injunction because enjoyment is by definition purposeless, whereas the superego injunction gives it the form of an exigency (obligation, duty) which is the form of purposefulness. If, as Žižek says, enjoyment is the only substance acknowledged by psychoanalysis, then wherefrom comes this exigency? What is this exigency and how does it organize our enjoyment?

1. How does exigency organize enjoyment?

Following Lacan’s formulae of sexuation, we can distinguish the masculine way of organizing enjoyment from the feminine way of organizing enjoyment.

In the masculine way of organizing enjoyment, exigency universalizes enjoyment: A particular enjoyment is posited as The Exigency and “mere enjoyment” becomes its enabling exception. A prominent example of the masculine organization of enjoyment is employment: A worker is employed for the duration of the working hours when his/her particular enjoyment serves The Exigency of work; (s)he enjoys his/her “free time” as an exception that enables the universal rule and obligation of work.

According to the masculine interpretation of the superego injunction, enjoyment has the form of exigency in two senses: (1) a particular enjoyment is universalized and takes the form of The Exigency, (2) exceptional “mere enjoyment” supports and enables this universalization of exigency. The universalized enjoyment (of work) is directly posited as “The Exigency” and the exceptional “mere enjoyment” (outside work) enables that exigency.

In the feminine way of organizing enjoyment, there is no exception and there is no rule. Instead of the universalization of “The Exigency” with capital letters, we have “the exigent” in the sense of a multiplicity of exigencies in lowercase letters. Multiple exigencies cover the entire field of enjoyment without exception, but they can never be universalized. In other words, no particular enjoyment can hegemonize the field as “The Exigency” that subjugates other enjoyments.

The post-industrial precarious flexibilization of employment is an example of the feminine organization of enjoyment. Indeed, the ultimate example of this precarious flexibility is seen in housework. When “The Exigency” of work is fragmented into a multiplicity of exigencies, the employer (which represents the capital) is also relieved of “The Exigency” to respect the worker’s fundamental rights.

According to the feminine interpretation of the superego injunction, enjoyment has the form of exigency in a single and more literal sense: Enjoyment can never have the secondary status of “mere enjoyment”, it is always experienced as an exigency, as a duty and obligation. Just as everything is prohibited without God (according to Žižek), so too everything turns into yet another obligation without The Universal Obligation.

Based on this sexual distinction, we can say that Proletariat and Precariat are the masculine and feminine versions of the working class respectively.

2. What is the exigency?

Now let’s ask the crucial question: What is the exigency that organizes enjoyment? Where does it come from? To put it more directly, what is the ultimate exigency that shapes our lifes? I could say “death”, but a more appropriate answer is “symbolic castration”.

Now we can see the difference between the masculine and feminine ways of organizing enjoyment more clearly. A “man” posits his symbolic castration as a universal public duty, and preserves the exceptional status to his enjoyment (which frequently involves the fantasy of an exceptional woman). A “woman”, on the other hand, experiences her symbolic castration as all-inclusive of her enjoyment, and does not posit this castration outside her enjoyment. Of course, a man can be a “woman” and a woman can be a “man” in the way of organizing his/her enjoyment.


Işık Barış Fidaner is a computer scientist with a PhD from Boğaziçi University, İstanbul. Admin of Yersiz Şeyler, Editor of Žižekian Analysis, Curator of Görce Writings. Twitter: @BarisFidaner


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