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Seduction and Desire

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Modern society has introduced many new relationships and family forms and the pluralisation of sexual lifestyles in the hundred years since Freud. This book provides a systematic account of the current state of theory, developing a gender-wide model of human sexuality and outlining the implications of this for psychotherapy practice. The author argues that the development of human sexuality follows no innate biological programs, but takes place in an interpersonal relationship, often established in the early parent-child relationship. Whereas the current psychoanalytic discourse emanates from a rather rigid division of gender relations emphasizing the differences between men and women, Ilka Quindeau develops a gender-wide model of human sexuality in which the 'masculine' and 'feminine' are integrated and contribute to the full diversity of gender identities and sexual varieties. She points to structural similarities of hetero-and homosexuality and perversion and calls for a general human sexuality that is based less on differences between men and women than with each other. Freud's postulation of the the primacy of the genital is thereby called into question, as is the cultural primacy of heterosexuality. The author concludes by asking what the consequences are of this new perspective for the development of psychotherapy practice.

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Chapter One: Seduction, Desire, and Sexuality

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CHAPTER ONE

Seduction, desire, and sexuality

Seduction: the emergence of sexuality

Freud's seduction theory—an underappreciated idea

The theory of seduction holds a curious place in psychoanalytic theory, for like no other concept, it is essentially understood in terms of its rejection. Freud himself, in fact, never spoke of a theory—that label was first given by historians of psychoanalysis—but rather of a “grave error” that he tried hard to rectify throughout his life (1925d, p. 33). As originally formulated, it was meant as a way to get to the bottom of the riddle of hysteria. In the meantime, it—or rather, its repudiation—has come to be invoked for the most varied topics and problems. In the eyes of critics, it was only through this retraction that Freud discovered infantile sexuality, recognized the significance of unconscious fantasies, or even made the emergence of psychoanalysis possible. In the eyes of advocates, Freud's rapid rejection instead marked the beginning of the end of psychoanalysis, with some even suggesting that dishonest personal motives lay behind this change in paradigm (Masson, 1985; Krüll, 1986; Quindeau, 2004a). I will leave these controversies, which I regard as not very fruitful, to one side and instead turn to more constructive perspectives based on Freud's early writings that can extend psychoanalytic theory. In the seduction theory, I see the first efforts to formulate a theory of sexuality: It suggests theses both for the aetiology of neuroses and for the emergence of human sexuality.

 

Chapter Two: Masculine—Feminine

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CHAPTER TWO

Masculine—feminine

Freud's views on masculinity and femininity

Freud's remarks on masculinity and femininity are arguably the most controversial in all of his works. The phallic monism of his theory, and the exclusive focus on the male in his discussion of sexual development, has been deservedly rejected. For in his view, the female is not an independent sex but is distinguished by a fundamental deficit: A woman is a woman because she lacks a penis. In his early theorizing, Freud was not much interested in conceptualizing gender-specific development. For him, the differentiation between man and woman basically does not begin until puberty. In addition, as cultural differentiation into two genders is not easy to discern in the sphere of the psyche, he also rarely uses the sociological terms “men” and “women”, preferring to employ “masculinity” (Männlichkeit) and “femininity” (Weiblichkeit) instead.

Freud's most differentiated treatment of these terms can be found in a footnote, added in 1915, to the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. These terms do not describe characteristics one could assign, respectively, to men or women. Instead, they are currents found in every individual, in different proportions. While it is well known that Freud did not use these terms consistently in his works, and continually reverted to conventional gender stereotypes, it is worth examining this key differentiation:

 

Chapter Three: Homosexuality, Heterosexuality, Perversion

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CHAPTER THREE

Homosexuality, heterosexuality, perversion

Object-choice and the phantasmal conditions for love

“In fact it is always in the form of desire that Freud identifies infantile sexuality in psycho-analysis: as opposed to love, desire is directly dependent on a specific somatic foundation; in contrast to need, it subordinates satisfaction to conditions in the phantasy world which strictly determine object-choice and the orientation of activity.”

—Laplanche and Pontalis, 1973, p. 421

In differentiating sexuality from love and need, a boundary is set for sexuality at the psychic level that separates it from love, and at the somatic level that separates it from need. In the process, object-choice is emphasized, and this concept is therefore very important for the analytic understanding of (psycho-) sexuality. With its help, one can explain the origin of differing forms of sexuality, such as heterosexuality, homosexuality, and “perversions”, and conceive of them as psychically equivalent. In so doing, one can avoid the popular normative hierarchization of sexual forms, which is not confined solely to everyday understanding. Yet, in psychoanalytic theory, just as in its institutional history, there is an entire array of normative judgments, right up to blatant homophobia, and they are in considerable tension with this theoretical conceptualization.

 

Chapter Four: Conclusion: The ‘Suspension’ of Geschlecht Difference

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CHAPTER FOUR

Conclusion: the ‘suspension’ of geschlecht difference. Highlighting the psychoanalytic theory of sexuality

In hardly any other realm is the difference between the sexes seemingly manifested as clearly as in sexuality. At first glance, it seems completely self-evident that there is a masculine and a feminine sexuality. This intuitive clarity, however, vanishes upon closer examination, so that in concluding my line of argument, I would like to speak of a “suspension” or “sublation” of Geschlecht difference in psychoanalytic sexual theory. By that, of course, I do not mean negation or denial of existing differences; I mean it more in the Hegelian sense of the dialectic, whereby the difference of man and woman is both preserved and abolished, and thus transcended, elevated to a higher level. Though, unlike Hegel, we are not dealing with the philosophy of history in the present context, I do associate with this the expectation, that the Geschlecht dichotomy will be superseded and that the notion of gender will gain a new quality and become more relaxed and less intent on demarcation.

 

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