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Lacan's Sade: the politics of happiness

Wright, Colin



This article assesses the contemporary relevance of Sade’s work and thought by returning to Jacques Lacan’s interpretation of it. It is argued that if the Sadean emphasis on sexual freedom has been co-opted by neoliberal capitalism, this is in part thanks to avant-garde intellectuals of the 20th century who approached Sade through a simplistically libidinal reading of Freud. By contrast, the article argues that Lacan’s more sophisticated reading of Freud enables him in turn to situate Sade amidst 18th-century philosophical and political debates regarding, not sexual pleasure or revolutionary desire, but happiness. Lacan shows that Sade was already challenging the modern, and today market-based, notion of a ‘right to happiness’ with the ‘maxim for jouissance’ he asserted in La Philosophie dans le boudoir. This more troubling Sade, it is claimed, opens up the possibility of a perverse ethic distinct from the ‘polymorphous perversity’ characteristic of contemporary consumer culture and its related conceptions of happiness.


Wright, C. (2015). Lacan's Sade: the politics of happiness. Paragraph, 38(3),

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 18, 2015
Publication Date Nov 10, 2015
Deposit Date Sep 19, 2017
Publicly Available Date Sep 19, 2017
Journal Paragraph
Print ISSN 0264-8334
Electronic ISSN 1750-0176
Publisher Edinburgh University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 38
Issue 3
Keywords Sade, Bataille, Lacan, Kant, psychoanalysis, philosophies of desire, happiness.
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is an Author’s Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Edinburgh University Press in Paragraph. The Version of Record is available online at: