Lacan has given us many an aphorism. One of the most famous of Lacanian aphorisms is,
il n’y a pas de rapport sexuel.1
This is usually translated as,
There is no such thing as a sexual relationship.
Thomas Svolos has written that a better translation for this equivocation would be “There is no such thing as a harmonious sexual relationship.” Svolos elaborates,
when it comes to the issue of sexuality as a relation to an other, to one’s intimate partner, we find Lacan’s most famous formulation on the matter, il n’y a pas de rapport sexuel, which we might translate as “there is no sexual relationship” or “there is no sexual harmony” or “there is no sexual ratio,” indicates that for every speaking being, sexuality is something that is struggled with in one way or another. Thus, there is no natural or harmonious relation between two speaking beings with regards to sexuality. There is no sexual utopia. Speaking beings will often act as if there is (why not?), but that is only a fantasy. 2
Simplifying this for myself I’d say that some relationships can be harmonious. Take for example when I order a coffee from a barista in a Starbucks.
I ask for an Americano. The barista tells me how much this will cost. I pay. They make me the Americano and give it to me. I leave.
That is a simple and harmonious relationship.
Other relationships have what we could broadly call a sexual component, a sexual tension, as part of them. Such relationships are always complex, which is to say they are not harmonious. They are not harmonious because the sexual tension will be unpredictable, it will lead to things being said or done that have unanticipated effects. Sometimes these effects will be enjoyable and sometimes they will be painful.
The main point: When sexuality is part of a relationship we don’t really know what is going to happen.
Lacan’s Seminar XVII: The Other Side of Psychoanalysis was given in 1969, in the wake of May 1968. During this seminar Lacan was heckled by some people who saw Lacan as a representative of “the master” they were attempting to overthrow through protest and revolution.
In response to the attempts to disrupt his teaching Lacan said,
“As hysterics, you demand a new master. You will get it!” 3
What I think this points out is the fact that just as not sexual (i.e. meaningful) relationship can be harmonious because meaningful relationships are sexual because they lack harmony. We all have a sexual relationship with society. Some will deny this, but its true.
Ergo no revolution, no matter how complete, no matter how effective, no matter how sweeping, can create harmony.
- Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre XVII. L’envers de la psychanalyse, 1969-70. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991: 134 ↩
- Svolos, Thomas. Twenty-First Century Psychoanalysis (p. 9). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition. ↩
- Žižek, Slavoj, (2003), HOMO SACER AS THE OBJECT OF THE DISCOURSE OF THE UNIVERSITY. Accessed on 6/23/20.
I also want to point out that some translations of this quote are “As revolutionaries, you seek a new master. You will find one.” ↩