the Cutting Edge of
Ai no korrida is the Japanese title of the movie, In the Realm
of the Senses, by Oshima Nagisa. Even though Oshima preferred the
French title L'Empire des sens, for its closeness to the title of
Roland Barthes' book L'Empire des signes, we think that the
Japanese title deserves more attention. Ai no korrida, whose
translation is Corrida of love, contains the idea of kill; the kill
of what? the kill of the hero, of course; yet why not the kill of
In the Realm of the Senses became famous for its last scene — a scene of castration —, but I regard the turning point as the killing of the hero, Kichiso, leading the heroine to what Lacan calls the feminine jouissance.
This article intends to show how Lacan's teaching can elucidate the movie's framework and conversely, perhaps above all, but also, how the movie illustrates some of Lacan's ideas about jouissance, especially those developed in the Seminar XX — Encore (1972-73). So far no other films have achieved this lacanian uniqueness.
At the movie's end, Kichi, after all their feats, lies completely exhausted; Sada, with her same appetite, is on the watch.
The strangulation that occurred during their sexual intercourses has brought them close to death. Then, Kichi gives Sada this specific order regarding strangulation: "If you start, don't stop in the middle, it hurts too much afterwards." One can recognize the expression of the super-ego, "jouis!" addressed to Sada, where exactly it is only implied. There are three times in Kichi's imperative: the beginning, the middle, and "afterwards," which is in fact the final cause a contrario (the reason why she should not stop). Death and jouissance are indisputably present in this sentence. At the same time, their temporality, the very end of the act, is missing. In the following scene of Kichi's death, Sada is initiated to a new kind of jouissance. This is the only instance when Sada obtains jouissance detached from any sexual act; whereas previously, Sada strangulates Kichi during their love making, she now shows a complete disinterest in his penis. Initially the next scene appears enigmatic: Sada lies naked amid the benches of an open-air theater; a little girl running after an old man, playing hide-and-seek keeps asking: "Are you ready?" The old man answers: "Not yet," until he suddenly disappears. This scene may be understood as Sada's fantasy — the death, the killing of her father.
These scenes correlate with what Lacan taught about fantasy as
the last defense against jouissance. Sada's fundamental fantasy
arises at the same time it is passed over (one may refer to the
Aufhebung here), leading her to a jouissance one should no
longer call sexual, but rather "a glance at feminine jouissance."
In the following scene Sada castrates Kichi's corpse. As Lacan points out,
this scene conveys a certain strangeness and questions the psychoanalytic
concept of castration: "Here we see clearly that castration is not a
fantasy. Castration cannot be placed so easily in the function that it has
in psychoanalysis, since it may be fantasized."1
||She cuts his penis
first, then his testicles. No question, her knife follows the anatomic
section; she cuts the anatomic male organ. What value does it acquire
then, far away from its sexual use? The emasculated corpse of Kichi, in
its connection with the Other, the father of the fantasy, represents the
barred Other () and the useless
genital organ she now possesses is the signifier of this : S(). Sada reaches the other jouissance, the feminine
jouissance, specified by its relation with S().
The difference between the two jouissances is also evoked by the terminology of the script, when a voice-over states that Sada, holding his sex in her hand, roamed the streets of Tokyo for four days with a resplendent face: it is no longer question of happiness (ureshii) but of resplendence (hareyakana): which in Japanese first refers to a clear, cloudless sky. In that way, Sada approaches certain mystics .
In connection to what has gone before, I would like to make a few comments on Lacan's schema:2
The left side concerns the male inscription, and the right, the female inscription. For Kichi, sexual jouissance is associated with the fantasy that he responds to Sada's demande by giving himself over to Sada's sexual games.
|His fantasy supports his jouissance, at the same time his jouissance builds up his fantasy. What Kichi grasps of the Other, incorporated in Sada, is his objet a: "It ( in the masculine position) can never reach its sexual partner, which is the Other, except by way of mediation, as the cause of its desire."3 On the other hand, Sada shows this duality: she has a rapport to the sexual jouissance, —> , and, as she is inscribed on the side of the "pas-toute," she has rapport to the feminine jouissance, demonstrated by the end of the movie, —> S(). From this, three points can be raised: 1 — The position of fantasy is very specific in the case of Sada: it plays the role of a defense against feminine jouissance. It would be the bar separating the phallic jouissance (for women) from the feminine jouissance:||
2 — The place of castration can be revised. For men, castration is a prerequisite: man can approach woman, because he is castrated; "...short of castration, that is, short of something which says no to the phallic function, man has no chance of enjoying the body of the woman, in other words, of making love."4 Castration is, for man, the ratio of the paternal function, , with the phallic function, . For Sada, castration comes last, as part of the real that constitutes S (A); and, in that sense, we can consider castration as part of the real that constitutes S(), and in that sense one can say that castration is her "anti-fantasy." Castration allows Sada to rid herself of her fundamental fantasy, —> a. Thus she reaches the feminine jouissance, —> S() In that way, castration can be conceived of as the passing from the "semblant d'être" to S():
3 — why does S() lie below the female inscription in Lacan's schema? Should it not be exterior to the male and female inscriptions? One can say that it is the logical consequence of three lacanian propositions:
a — woman is basically the Other in the sexual act
b — the Other is the treasure of signifiers
c — there is no Other of the Other.
|The S() occupies a specific position in
woman: a position of "extimity."5 One encounters
a further difficulty: woman considered as a subject cannot be called the
Other, A, nor can she not be a divided subject, . But with respect to
jouissance, Lacan seems to say that one cannot disregard conceiving
of woman as A, nor simply conceive of her as . For this reason, Lacan writes:
"," which is neither A, nor
. From this, one can
understand that the question of the relation between woman and A leads
Lacan towards the concept of God; and, the question of the relation
between woman and leads
Lacan towards the question of the unconscious in women. Moreover, the fact
that —> S() stays within the female
inscription indicates that feminine jouissance is "jouissance de
||I could finish this article by congratulating the actress, Eiko Matsuda, for her exceptional performance, and Oshima Nagisa for his masterpiece. But discrediting the male role, as I have earlier, for example by simply labelling Kichi as obsessional, may be a pitfall of the film. His apparent passivity should not mask that it is Kichi who introduces strangling into their love games, and the one who asks Sada to kill him. One could say without a Kichi, no Sada (also, without a Sada, no Kichi). Kichi loses everything: his strength, his life, and even beyond death, his genitals. In fact, as the action progresses, one comes to understand his position as the same as Sada's: their refusal of the "semblant" associated with the sexual jouissance. He gradually erects it to an ethical position. He becomes conscious that there is no escape from sexual jouissance within the realm of love, conscious that he will not become what she is about to reach, or in other words, he becomes conscious of the inexistence of sexual relation. Therefore, he is the order addressed to Sada; "Jouis!," as the only chance to escape their jouissance.||Notes
1. Jacques Lacan, Le Sinthome, Ornicar? n. #9, p. 38; "C'est là qu'on voit bien que la castration, ce n'est pas le fantasme. Elle n'est pas facile a situer dans la fonction qui est la sienne dans l'analyse, puisqu'elle peut être fantasmatisée." back up
2. In Feminine Sexuality — Jacques Lacan and the École Freudienne, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1982, p.149. back up
3. ibid, p.151, Encore, p. 75. back up
4. ibid, p. 143, Encore, p.67. back up
5. We refer the reader to Jacques-Alain Miller's seminar "L'Extimité," 1985-86, unpublished. back up