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Wyatt, J. (2005). Jouissance and Desire in Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher. Am. Imago, 62(4):453-482.

(2005). American Imago, 62(4):453-482

Jouissance and Desire in Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher

Jean Wyatt

Where, psychologically, can we locate Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher (France/Austria 2001)? Despite moments in which it appears that we are following traces of feminine desire, I suggest that the film plunges us into a space of maternal jouissance. Since my interpretation of the film hinges on the distinction between desire and jouissance, I begin with a brief exposition of these Lacanian concepts—one that is necessarily provisional and that the essay as a whole will fill out. In the Lacanian lexicon, desire is created by the lack that founds the subject as a member of the social/symbolic order. Once called into existence, desire propels the subject toward the social world, in a never-ending search for a person or object to fill that foundational gap in being. Desire exists within the parameters of social law: as a product of the instinctual renunciation demanded by the social contract, desire finds its origin and its limits in the social order. The hallmark of jouissance, on the contrary, is excess: it is an expression of drive energy—erotic and/or aggressive—that exceeds the limits of social rule and restraint, that goes beyond a rational calculus of the subject's interests, beyond pleasure, even beyond self-preservation. I contend that Erika (Isabelle Huppert), the piano teacher in Haneke's film, lives in a world of maternal jouissance: her mother (Annie Girardot) operates as if there were no law or limit regulating a mother's possession of her child and her rights to that child's body and will.

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