Cold War “Super-Pleasure”: Insatiability, Self-Stimulation, and the Postwar Brain

Osiris. 2016:31:227-49.


In this contribution, I study the post–World War II discovery of a new “supramaximal” “super-pleasure” in the brain. I argue that the excessiveness of the newly discovered supramaximal super-pleasure challenged existing models of organisms, of the self, and of nature and society, and that it prescribed a rethinking and a repositioning of pleasure. I reconstruct the laboratory enactments and models that constituted this new pleasure as “supramaximal,” instant, and insatiable, suggest several postwar contexts that situate the new pleasure, and examine expert and vernacular reactions to the new super-pleasure. I also introduce and reflect on an approach that “sides with” emotion, and I present the notion of a “missed” emotion. I conclude with a brief consideration of “repetitions”—for science and for pleasure.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Pleasure*
  • Self Stimulation
  • World War II