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End of Dissatisfaction?, The

Jacques Lacan and the Emerging Society of Enjoyment

Todd McGowan

Publication Year: 2004

Exploring the emergence of a societal imperative to enjoy ourselves, Todd McGowan builds on the work of such theorists as Jacques Lacan, Slavoj Zðizûek, Joan Copjec, and Theresa Brennan to argue that we are in the midst of a large-scale transformation—a shift from a society oriented around prohibition (i.e., the notion that one cannot just do as one pleases) to one oriented around enjoyment. McGowan identifies many of the social ills of American culture today as symptoms of this transformation: the sense of disconnection, the increase in aggression and violence, widespread cynicism, political apathy, incivility, and loss of meaning. Discussing these various symptoms, he examines various texts from film, literature, popular culture, and everyday life, including Toni Morrison’s Paradise, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, and such films as Dead Poets Society and Trigger Effect. Paradoxically, The End of Dissatisfaction? shows how the American cultural obsession with enjoying ourselves actually makes it more difficult to do so.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series in Psychoanalysis and Culture

Title page, Copyright page

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pp. ix-x

An early version of a section of chapter 2, entitled “From Enjoyment to Aggressivity: The Emergence of the New Father in Contemporary American Society, ”appeared in the Journal for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society 3.1 (Spring1998): 53–60. An early version of a section of chapter 7 appeared as “‘In That Way He Lost Everything’: The Price of Satisfaction in E. L. Doctorow’s World’s ...

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Introduction: Psychoanalysis after Marx

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pp. 1-10

The salient feature of contemporary American society is the premium that it places on enjoyment. Ours is what Michael Wolf calls an “entertainment economy,” in which, as Neil Postman puts it, we risk “amusing ourselves to death.” This enjoyment explosion seems to represent a marked change from just forty years ago—as if we have entered into a new epoch of social relations ....

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Chapter One. From Prohibition to Enjoyment

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pp. 11-40

If today, in the midst of a full-fledged consumer culture, we are surrounded everywhere by the demand that we maximize our enjoyment, this represents a significant departure from the way in which society has traditionally been organized. Prohibition has always functioned as the key to social organization as such, demanding that subjects sacrifice enjoyment for the sake of work, ...

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Chapter Two. The Decline of Paternal Authority

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pp. 41-58

The emergence of the society of commanded enjoyment enacts a dramatic shift in paternal authority. In contrast to the society of enjoyment, the fundamental feature of the society of prohibition is a strong paternal authority who enforces this prohibition and thus acts as a barrier to enjoyment. Keeping society free of open displays of enjoyment, the symbolic father helps to keep subjects content ...

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Chapter Three. Embracing the Image

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pp. 59-74

It is a truism to note that we live in an increasingly image-dominated society.This dominance of the image is integral to the society of enjoyment because it provides an avenue for the imaginary enjoyment that characterizes this society. The image allows subjects to imagine that they are complying with the command to enjoy, though the enjoyment that one derives from the image is...

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Chapter Four Shrinking Distances

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pp. 75-94

While the society of commanded enjoyment is one based on the image and its overproximity, the society of prohibition is a society of distance. The explicit prohibition of enjoyment makes possible the idea of transcendence—the idea that in the distance or beneath the surface there exists something radically different. Prohibition establishes a barrier that one must not trans-...

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Chapter Five. Interpretation under Duress

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pp. 95-120

The distance that prohibition provides for subjects offers them the space for critical reflection. Through this distance, the structure of the society of prohibition thus allows for subjects to make sense of it. When this distance collapses under the weight of the imperative to enjoy, we lose our ability to interpret events occurring in the world—to connect isolated events to the larger ...

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Chapter Six. The Appeal of Cynicism

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pp. 121-136

If the turn from prohibition to enjoyment puts up a barrier to interpretation, the role of cynicism in the society of enjoyment becomes clear: it allows the subject to overcome this lack, to feel secure in her/his knowledge of the Other. In contrast to the na

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Chapter Seven. The Politics of Apathy

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pp. 137-154

The turn to a society of enjoyment is a mixed bag in terms of political activity. On the one hand, subjects in this society are much less willing to accept the pronouncements of authority figures on face value, and questioning becomes a fundamental fact of life. However, this questioning does not often manifest itself in political activity. One of the most counterintuitive features ...

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Chapter Eight. A Missing Public World

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pp. 155-176

The idea of a public world, a neutral territory free from private interests, has lost its viability because, swept up in the promises of the society of enjoyment, we no longer want to pay the price for entering into this world. Unwilling to pay its price, unwilling to accept a requisite sacrifice of enjoyment, we recoil from the public world and confine ourselves to our private ...

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Chapter Nine. Explosions of Incivility, aggressiveness, and Violence

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pp. 177-190

Social interactions in the society of enjoyment necessarily involve an encounter with the other’s private enjoyment. Whereas within the society of prohibition subjects hid their enjoyment, fearful of violating the prohibition and enduring some form of censure, today the situation has become completely reversed: subjects feel guilty not for exposing their enjoyment publicly, ...

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Conclusion. From Imaginary Enjoyment to Its Real Counterpart

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pp. 191-196

The society of enjoyment is a society that appears to be breaking apart, to be losing its cohesion. Its symptoms (disconnection, incivility, etc.) seem to indicate that, with the turn away from prohibition and toward enjoyment, the social bond is imperiled. Widespread hostility to authority and unrestrained enjoyment appear to threaten the very continued existence of the social world ...


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pp. 197-232


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pp. 233-238

E-ISBN-13: 9780791485712
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791459676
Print-ISBN-10: 0791459675

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: SUNY series in Psychoanalysis and Culture