Don Jon and Desire

In Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kundera asks the reader the question whether to prefer a particular lightness of living / love or living a life of burden and heaviness.  He evokes the ideas of Nietzsche and the eternal reoccurrence of the same to consider the existential question that most of us have asked ourselves: Would it have been better for Dasein to have never reflected on itself or i.e. to have never known existence?  This is not the same question that Camus asks in the question of ending existence but instead to never have known existence.  However, what about the  question of corporality which in contemporary discourse we have begin to take seriously with the advent of virtual avatars and mind uploading?  What about the idea of desire and online sexuality (if there is such a thing)?  Pornography and fantasy?

Take for example the 2013 movie Don Jon which depicts a modern day ‘Don Juan’.  A narcissist who finds sexual satisfaction not from the actual sex act but instead through the images and depictions of pornography.  Through the “cloud” of cyber space in which any sexual act can be viewed with just the click of the mouse.  In one poignant scene as he is clicking through many images and masturbating he tells us in an almost mystical sense that the mind stops and the hand takes over.  No doubt the reaction of dopamine, prolactin, and perhaps oxytocin (not necessarily in this case).  I mention these neurotransmitters because as Slavoj Zizek writes:

Even advocates of cyberspace warn us that we should not totally forget our body, that we should maintain our anchoring in the “real life” by returning, regularly, from our immersion in cyberspace to the intense experience of our body, from sex to jogging. We will never turn ourselves into virtual entities freely floating from one to another virtual universe: our “real life” body and its mortality is the ultimate horizon of our existence, the ultimate, innermost impossibility that underpins the immersion in all possible multiple virtual universes. Yet, at the same time, in cyberspace the body returns with a vengeance

If space is moved to a virtuality we would still need the reward centers in order for the chemistry to transmit and to have an experience.  Again one of the main problems with this idea of unlimited pornography is simply desire has no object.  This is depicted in the excellent film Shame in which we see the impossibility of the cessation or fulfillment of sexual desire.  There is always a remainder that is never satisfied.  This is the way that no other species relates to the world, we relate to the world in an excess, or fetishistic parasitic way.  Slavoj Zizek explains it in the Parallax View perfectly

The Freudian death drive has nothing whatsoever to do with the craving for self-annihilation, for the return to the inorganic absence of any life-tension; it is, on the contrary, the very opposite of dying – a name for the ‘undead’ eternal life itself, for the horrible fate of being caught in the endless repetitive cycle of wandering around in guilt and pain. The paradox of the Freudian ‘death drive’ is therefore that it is Freud’s name for its very opposite, for the way immortality appears within psychoanalysis, for an uncanny excess of life, for an ‘undead’ urge which persists beyond the (biological) cycle of life and death, of generation and corruption. The ultimate lesson of psychoanalysis is that human life is never ‘just life’: humans are not simply alive, they are possessed by the strange drive to enjoy life in excess, passionately attached to a surplus which sticks out and derails the ordinary run of things” (Slavoj Zizek, The Parallax View, 2006, London: MIT Press, p.61)

It is here where we should understand Don Jon.  Pornography is not his desire but only the thing that situates the desire (object a).  One of the things we clearly see is that Don Jon is actually fearful that he will be ‘found out’, that he is not able to fulfill the desire of the other.  He will prove he is castrated in the Lacanian sense.  To prove our point in another interesting movie, we see the effect of this in the movie Sleeping Beauty.  The men pay a pretty female to sleep while they molest her and play out their fantasies without being found out.  Of course their fantasies change throughout as they play along, because desire is never satisfied.


About specularimage

Scott Maxwell is a cultural critic, social theorist and creative historian interested in : Psychoanalysis, Biopower and Biophilosophies, Romance philology, Religion and Theology, interested in living philosphers/thinkers Agamben, Zizek, Badiou, Malabou, Johnston. Past thinkers: Foucault, Heidegger, Marx, etc.
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3 Responses to Don Jon and Desire

  1. Uroboros says:

    Very interesting analysis. Desire precedes the (re?)cognition of death, but once the light of death breaks into consciousness, the shadow falls, and nothing is the same again, is it? Desire then becomes the perennial(/proverbial/cliché) excessive reach. Thanks, Heidegger. But in that space, that potential emptiness, we have awareness and some degree of autonomy (right?). I go back to the (false?) dichotomy through which I analyze this space: Nietzschean aestheticism or Kierkegaardian commitment? Take a stand by going with the flow or dropping anchor and make ‘this’ island meaningful? One promises an enriching life worth the struggle, the other despair. Which is which, though? Do you think ‘the body’ has a say? Which excess does our limbic system crave? The ecstasy of titillation or commitment? Each one offers the promise of transcendence… What do you think Zizek say? And have you seen a Pervert’s Guide to Ideology yet? Streaming on Netflix…

    • “The subject is precisely the failure to become a subject” Dolar
      I appreciate the thoughtful response to my post. The first sentence reminds me of Ernst Becker’s book Denial of Death in which he argues exactly what you are saying, that man reflects on his mortality and it is this reflection that creates our symbolic universe. Our symbolic universe provides myths in which to live by in order to accomplish something before death. I would agree to a certain extent and state that it is true death or actually the looming lamella of death that hangs over us like a beast ready to suck the marrow out of our bones. You wrote that desire is an excessive reach, but as Lacan makes clear and Zizek as well, Desire is bound up with the law. The Oedipus myth is this idea that the mother is off limits because the father forbids her (or some other figure that allows a triangulation to occur), the father in this case is the law. As we all know, even St. Paul knew this, the law situates desire, and desire is desire of the other. So are we autonomous? I am not so sure how much actual autonomy we have. Zizek believes that the subject is a mere puppet in the structural universe which is called the Big Other in Lacanese. So again Zizek is unique because he claims that subjectivity itself is the actual nothingness, or void we often come too close to (Real) We are “slaves of the symbolic” order because even before we are born we are thrusted into a particular unwelt, or way of being. Can we change this? Of course we can, as Kierkergaard’s leap of faith in existential crisis shows us. The problem I think, is we seem to move from one symbolic order to another, or we react against the negation of the pre-given symbolic order. Is that freedom? I am not so sure it is.

      • Uroboros says:

        Sorry for the delayed response, sir. Contingencies, contingencies, contingencies…I’m teaching an existentialism unit in my Intro to Phil class, so I’ve been thinking a lot about angst lately, especially in light (and shadow) of my current life circumstances. The chiaroscuro pattern that’s emerging this time through 19C-20C European despair is this: post-Kantian turn, we trade in phenomena, that which happens to appear or show up to a subject as significant, relevant, always already imbued with meaning. What force (or forces) throw(s) these possibilities, these meanings, into relief? History, accidents and adaptations that, overtime, lose their provisional character and become reified as essential edicts of the Big Other. As Nietzsche said, we ‘discover’ truths out there in the world precisely because we have put there in the first place, and, through a kind of collective, historical amnesia, we ignore our own authorship.

        Regarding the issue of freedom, and in terms of a background structural universe, what makes anything stand out as aspects of possible futures and not simply necessary and determined? If we construe our umwelt as an effect of the symbolic universe in which we happen to be negotiating our latent fantasies, even if those fantasies and fetishes are always already, to varying degrees, delimited by desire-repressing Law that hides its own scaffolding and shows up as essential, eternal, objective–even within that paradigm–aren’t there a variety of possible symbolic projects, as Becker construes them, in which some degree of autonomy is at least in principle possible? I guess I still think that angst can cut through the illusionism enough to make freedom possible.

        Can autonomy emerge if one becomes meta-conscious/reflexively aware (enough) of the alienated, taken for granted background where the Symbolic/Law draws its authority? If one changes his/her way of relating to that background, re-describes and redefines its force in terms of one’s own will–even if ‘one’s will’ is ultimately circumscribed by the symbolic universe you happen to have been thrown into–why isn’t that ‘freedom’? Why wouldn’t the term apply? Isn’t determining the extent to which, and the way in which, you relate to the Law what is meant by ‘autonomy’?

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