substitution

The thesis that a man tends to act directly and to take on board his act, while a woman prefers to act by proxy, letting another do (or manipulating another into doing) it for her, may sound like the worst cliché, which gives rise to the notorious image of woman as a congenital schemer hiding behind man’s back.* What, however, if this cliché nevertheless points towards the feminine status of the subject? What if the ‘original’ subjective gesture, the gesture constitutive of subjectivity, is not that of autonomously ‘doing something’ but, rather, that of the primordial substitution, of withdrawing and letting another do it for me, in my place? Women, much more than men, are able to enjoy by proxy, to find deep satisfaction in the awareness that their beloved partner enjoys (or succeeds, or has attained his or her goal in any other way).** In this precise sense, the Hegelian ‘cunning of Reason’ bears witness to the resolutely feminine nature of what Hegel calls ‘Reason’: ‘Look for the hidden Reason (which realizes itself in the apparent confusion of egotistic direct motifs and acts)!’ is Hegel’s version of the notorious Cherchez la femme! This, then, is how reference to interpassivity allows us to complicate the standard opposition of man versus woman as active versus passive: sexual difference is inscribed into the very core of the relationship of substitution – woman can remain passive while being active through her other; man can be active while suffering through his other.***

* : When it is applied to our everyday ideological perceptions of the relationship between women and men, the term ‘cliché’ is theoretically wrong. That is to say; when one denounces these perceptions as ‘clichés’, this is as a rule said in such a way that it allows us to dispense with a close analysis of what, precisely, these ‘clichés’ are. Within the social space, everything is ultimately a ‘cliché’ (i.e. a contingent symbolic formation not grounded in the immediate ‘nature of things’). ‘Clichés’ should therefore be taken extremely seriously, and the problem with the term ‘cliché’ is that it is misleading in so far as one can always hear in front of it an imperceptible ‘mere’ (‘cliché’ equals ‘mere cliché’).

** : In the case of men, the presupposed Other’s enjoyment is, rather, the source of obsessive anxiety, the ultimate goal of compulsive rituals precisely to keep the other mortified, that is, to prevent him from enjoying…

*** : When, in his scheme of four discourses, Lacan puts $(subject) under S1,(the master-signifier), is not one possible way to read this substitution to put Woman under Man – to conceive of man as woman’s metaphorical substitute, as her proxy?(The opposite substitution, $ under objet petit a, would, of course, be woman as man’s substitute.)

Slavoj Žižek 1997 Plague of Fantasies

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