“The Other jouissance” and “Desire” in Emily Dickinson’s “I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed”: A Lacanian Approach

Document Type : Original Article


1 MA in English Language and literature, University of Guilan, Rasht, Iran

2 Associate Professor of Comparative Literature, English Department, University of Guilan, Rasht, Iran



The present article investigates Emily Dickinson's poem "I taste a liquor never brewed" and aims to solve the confusion of scholars that struggled to specify the precise meaning of some of the terms in the text and fully appreciate the psychic dynamics of it in terms of Lacanian psychoanalysis. The first question the article asks is how is 'desire' represented, and the second is whether the speaker of the poem longs for an 'Other jouissance.' In Seminar XX, Lacan defines Other jouissance as the most intense and ineffable kind and equals it to the jouissance of the mystics. Desire, in Lacanian teachings, is unattainable and an inevitable consequence of language. The famous Lacanian maxims "desire is the desire of the Other," and the "Other is the treasure trove of signifiers" indicate that desire could be represented through signifiers. The article integrates These Lacanian notions in Paul Ricoeur's three-staged hermeneutic Arc, which consists of 1) explanation, 2) understanding, and 3) appropriation. The poem will undergo these three stages of interpretation. By the end of the last stage, the world of the text is appropriated by the selected Lacanian notions. The results of the study are the following: 1) the poem is unique in displaying what Lacan termed 'Other jouissance,' 2) it demonstrates an intense desire for a supreme being—the Other, 3) desire is explicitly named in the poem: it is manifested explicitly in the words ‘liquor," tankards," Alcohol," inebriate," debauchee," drams," drink," little tippler.'


Aiken, Conrad. Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson. New York, Modern Library, 1924.
Azari, Ehsan. Lacan and the destiny of literature: Desire, jouissance and the sinthome in Shakespeare, Donne, Joyce and Ashbery. London, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2008.
Benfey, Christopher EG. A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade. London, Penguin, 2008.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Emily Dickinson. New York, Chelsea House Publishers, 1999.
Braunstein, Néstor. Desire and jouissance in the teachings of Lacan. (2003). The Cambridge Companion to Lacan. 102-115. 10.1017/CCOL0521807441.007.
Cuéllar, Elsa Cajiao. “Disentangling Emily Dickinson’s Riddles and Encoded Voices in” My Life Had Stood—a Loaded Gun” and” I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed”/Emily Dickinson: enigmas y voces crípticas en” My Life Had Stood—a Loaded Gun” y” I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed”.” Atlantis (2015): 27-43.
Cureton, Richard. “A Reading in Temporal Poetics: Emily Dickinson’s “I taste a liquor never brewed”.” Style 49.3 (2015): 354-362.
Dickinson, Emily. “The Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson.” Cambridge, MA: Belknap (1955).
---. and Theodora Van Wagenen Ward. The Letters of Emily Dickinson. Harvard University Press, 1986.
Eby, Cecil D. ““I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed”: A Variant Reading.” American Literature (1965): 516-518.
Eberwein, Jane Donahue. Dickinson, Strategies of Limitation. University of Massachusetts Press, 1985.
Evans, Dylan. An introductory dictionary of Lacanian psychoanalysis. Routledge, 2006.
Fink, B. (1997). The Lacanian subject: Between language and jouissance. Princeton University Press.
Freeman, Mark. “Paul Ricoeur on interpretation.” Human Development 28.6 (1985): 295-312.
Ghasemi, A., et al. “Ricoeur’s theory of interpretation: A method for understanding text (course text).” World applied sciences journal 15.11 (2011): 1623-1629.
Hagenbüchle, Roland. ““Sumptuous—Despair:” The Function of Desire in Emily Dickinson’s Poetry.” The Emily Dickinson Journal 5.2 (1996): 1-9.
Hewitson, Owen. “What Does Lacan Say About... Desire?.” Lacanonline. com (2010). https://www.lacanonline.com/2010/05/what-does-lacan-say-about-desire/
Howe, Susan. My Emily Dickinson. Massachusetts, New Directions Publishing, 2007.
Humiliata, Mary. “Emily Dickinson-Mystic Poet?.” College English 12.3 (1950): 144-149.
Kang, Yanbin. “Dickinson’s Drunkard as an Archetypical Sage.” The Explicator 73.3 (2015): 206-209.
Koukoutsis, Helen. “Emily Dickinson’s Encounter with Victorian-American Buddhism.” Researcher: An Interdisciplinary Journal 24.2 (2011).
---. ““We–Bee and I–live by the quaffing–”: Seduction and Volitional Freedom in Emily Dickinson’s Alcohol Poems.” The Emily Dickinson Journal 27.1 (2018): 74-93.
Lacan, Jacques. “The ethics of psychoanalysis: The seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book VII.” (2015).
---. “Ecrits: A Selection, trans.” A. Sheridan, Taylor & Francis (2011).
---. “The seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book XX: Encore: 1972-1973.” (2011).
---. “Seminar XI.” The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (1981): 1975-1976.
---. “Television: A Challenge to the Psychoanalytic Establishment, edited by Joan Copjec, translated by Jeffrey Mehlman.” (1990).
---. “The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book XXIII: The Sinthome, 1975-1976.” A.R. Price, trans. Cambridge: Polity (2016).
Monteiro, George. “Dickinson’s I’M Nobody! Who Are You?” The Explicator, vol. 48, no. 4, 1990, pp. 261–262., doi:10.1080/00144940.1990.9934020.
Nafi, Jamal Subhi, Randa Hashem Abu Hilal, and Farah Rasheed Jayousi. “Mysticism in the poetry of Emily Dickinson: a theological interpretation.” Epiphany 11.1 (2019): 95-128.
Nasio, Juan-David. Five lessons on the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan. Albany, SUNY Press, 1998.
Ricoeur, Paul. Interpretation theory: Discourse and the surplus of meaning. Fort Worth, Texas, TCU press, 1976.
Sewall, Richard B. “Emily Dickinson: A Collection of Critical Essays. Twentieth Century Views Series.” New Jersey, Prentice Hall. (1963).
Sinnett, Alfred Percy. Esoteric Buddhism. Leipzig, Trübner. 1884.
St Armand, Barton Levi. Emily Dickinson and her culture: the soul’s society. Vol. 9. CUP Archive, 1986.
Smith, Robert McClure. The Seductions of Emily Dickinson. Alabama, University Alabama Press, 1997.
Tearle. “A Short Analysis of Emily Dickinson’s ‘I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed’.” Interesting Literature, 1 Sept. 2019, interestingliterature.com/2018/05/a-short-analysis-of-emily-dickinsons-i-taste-a-liquor-never-brewed/.
White, Fred D. “Emily Dickinson’s existential dramas.” The Cambridge Companion to Emily Dickinson (2002): 91-106.
Wolosky, Shira, and Wendy Martin. “The Cambridge Companion to Emily Dickinson.” Cambridge University Press. (2002): 129.
Žižek, Slavoj. “Courtly love, or, woman as thing.” The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Woman and Causality (1994): 89-112.
---. “Religion between Knowledge and Jouissance.” Lacan.com, (2016). from www.lacan.com/zizsmokeonthewater.html on Jan, 10, 2021.