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On the Twisted Structure of Sado-Masochismin Lacan’s Anxiety Seminar

The Letter, Issue 51, Autumn 2012, Pages 45 - 68


Brian Robertson

As early as his Three Essays, Freud accounted for sadism and masochism in terms of two, mirrored (or dialectically opposed) articulations of the selfsame aggressive drives. More recently, attention has been drawn to various elements at work in the two perversions that fail to fit within Freud’s dialectical model. Gilles Deleuze, for example, has criticized Freud’s conception of sadomasochism as an artificial clinical entity and has insisted upon introducing a strict dissociation between the two perversions. This paper aims to rearticulate the relation between the two perversions by means of a close reading of Lacan’s Anxiety Seminar. Instead of dismissing Freud’s account, or attempting to move beyond it, this paper shows how Lacan returns to Freud in order to reformulate a more comprehensive, structuralist reading of sadomasochism. As the paper demonstrates, it is only when sadism and masochism are taken together that they allow us to seize hold of the ‘twisted’ knot of anguished enjoyment that inhabits the heart of human desire. The paper also offers a detailed account of the ‘zig-zag’ schemas of sadism and masochism that Lacan elaborates both in his Anxiety Seminar and in his article Kant avec Sade.

Keywords: volonté de jouissance, anxiety, law, fetishism, perverse velleity

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Issue 51: Editorial

This 51st issue of the The Letter was put together by editor Tony Hughes who is currently ill and continues the project begun in issue 41...


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