Amantine is the heroine of the exceptional short story À Clairmont by Maryse Battistuzzi. She is an old lady with a particular whim that makes other people wonder: when taking her tea she invariably leaves a small quantity in the bottom of her cup. To Amantine, to consume those last sips would doubtless amount “to drinking poison, to an offense, to braving unhappiness in some sort of way.” That is why this tiny remainder of liquid always ends up in the sink.
When Amantine was a little girl, she used to go and stay with her grandmother, Andrée, during the holidays. Andrée “had learnt from her parents what we call ‘good manners’”, and she had taught them to her granddaughter, saying: “we never finish our cup, it’s the workers who do that.” But Amandine “heard nothing of the second part of the phrase.” With her girlish sensitivity she imagined that, if she had to do without that last sip of chocolate, “it was so that she wouldn’t be sad, that there would be some left for her, or that she would not choke with the grounds at the bottom.” At any rate, grandmother Andrée was “authoritarian, demanding, sometimes wicked with that friendly gentleness”: “Nothing belongs to you, my little rat, save for your soup when it’s in your belly”, she said to the granddaughter.
Amandine, who was something of a daydreamer, waited for her granny’s nap in order to escape from the tight holiday schedule and enjoy the freedom to daydream on the living room sofa. And she kept to her old age the habit taught to her by granny; she kept it as a way to live “till the hour of the moribund morning glories” that childhood happiness, the age when fantasy kept desire alive at all costs, despite a strictness that I will immediately call a barrier of jouissance in the discourse of the master.
The sip spilt in the sink is but the surplus value of the surplus value of the labor of a worker. Let us invent the latter, and name him Jean. According to Marx but in terms of Lacan, every working day Jean sacrifices a part of the jouissance that he produces with his work and does not receive as wages but rather surrenders to the master of his labor. It would make perfect sense this master to be Andrée – so let’s suppose she is. For Andrée to be able to maintain her signifying difference from Jean, it does not suffice to own, that is to put in her belly, that piece of jouissance surrendered to her by Jean; a piece of that piece ought not to belong to her either, not to end up in her stomach: then and then only is her class identity affirmed as different from that of Jean.
If Jean is irremediably separated from a part of his jouissance, so is Andrée who is compelled to voluntarily part from a piece that is rejected and put out of signification: it is the rejection of that very part which guarantees that the entire amount of the tea will be invested with the weight of the class signifier. Or, conversely, from the confrontation of the entire amount with the signifying field, a small part should be left outside. A minimal but voluntary separation of appropriated jouissance is therefore what will signify the difference from he who separates involuntarily from a more substantial piece of his own, and surrenders it. In this sense, the jouissance spilt in the sink ensures the introduction in the symbolic field of Andrée’s jouissance, which for that matter emanates from the imaginary confrontation with the Hegelian slave. Andrée, we read, was “sometimes wicked”. Andrée is the master, which means that she maintains no relation whatsoever with the spilt sip as a cause of desire, as that which constitutes her truth. Her discourse as discourse of the master excludes fantasy; it is fundamentally blind.
But the girl literally hears nothing of all that. The girl is devoted to the dimension of the fantasy. For her, good manners aim at one thing: at the formation, albeit artificially, of a lack, therefore to keep desire alive. Alternatively, they are a protective care of her grandmother’s and therefore an expression of her love. At any rate, the dimension of desire is continually present both during Amantine’s vacations and in her old age. As a child, she does not permit adult strictness and vanity to disturb her infantile daydreaming: in fantasy she will seek that eternally separated piece of jouissance which perpetually supports desire.
The cold sip is an object with which Amantine, in contrast to granny, maintains a very substantial relation, to the extent that this object constitutes a cause of desire and also constitutes her truth. Finally, the cold sip allows castration, (-φ), the void which must remain empty to be maintained; Amantine does not fear that void – quite the contrary! Amantine is she who reveals the relation of the master’s discourse to jouissance; who is not a slave; who does not surrender her knowledge: she is obviously the hysterique who, according to Lacan, “in her own way is on a certain strike”. Furthermore, in the years of maturity, one more function will be added to the artificial lack: that of reliving the happy years of childhood, those distant vacations with granny.
That’s why, to Amantine, giving up her good manners would be equal to digesting poison, to an offense, to defying unhappiness. During her whole life she managed to turn “good manners” into a strategy of sustaining desire; to abandon them would amount to surrendering to senescence and death. Amantine proves that, contrary to the obsessional ritual of repetition which submits to dead jouissance and the death drive, fantasy and desire lie on the side of life and serve the principle of pleasure; and, also, that the unconscious has no class, no age, and is immortal.
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Accessible at https://short-edition.com/fr/oeuvre/tres-tres-court/a-clairmont
SeeJacques Lacan, Le Seminaire. Livre XVII. L’ envers de la psychanalyse, Seuil, Paris, 1991,p. 123.
Ibid, p. 124.
Ibid, p. 110.