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6. Ineluctable Nodalities: On the Borromean Knot

Dany Nobus Karnac Books ePub

Ineluctable Nodalities: On the Borromean Knot

Luke Thurston

I. Introduction

The first step towards an understanding of the Borromean knot—the key figure in the topological elaborations which were the central preoccupation of the last ten years of Lacan's life—is to separate it from its legendary penumbra. A predominant image of the knot as the emblem of a terra incognita of dark, abstruse speculation, the incomprehensible grand finale of Lacanian theory, has led to two opposing forms of misunderstanding: on one side, a sort of transferential supposition of knowledge, elevating the knot to the status of a hieratic mystery, a master signifier available only to the initiated; on the other, the idea of the knot as an irrelevant scholastic whim, which has allowed hostile critics to dismiss any talk of psychoanalytic topology as mere étourderie (absent-mindedness), echoing the title of a famously difficult Lacanian text from 1973.1

If Lacan was himself at times during the 1970's complicit with a certain imaginary notion of the knot (he occasionally allowed his stylistic elegance to slip into self-dramatization, causing one of his followers to refer ironically to ‘the epic of the Borromean knot’), we should not allow its legendary aura to hinder our efforts to analyze its emergence and development in Lacan's thought, and to try to grasp some of the problems and questions it raises.2

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CHAPTER TWO: An overview of perverse behaviour

Lisa Downing Karnac Books ePub

Arnold Goldberg

Introduction

The nature of perverse behaviour becomes an issue both because of its moral position in society as well as because of its personal relevance to psychopathology. In the latest viewpoint of American psychiatry, perversions no longer exist (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). They have been replaced by a less offensive set of words: the paraphilias. These are defined as preferences for, or addictions to, a specific sexual practice, and so this redefinition removes the moral component that is usually understood to be necessarily connected to perversion. I feel that psychoanalysis needs to define the perversions primarily on the basis of the data of psychoanalysis, and so it should try not to mimic the descriptive efforts of psychiatry.

Psychiatry has surely bypassed psychoanalysis in its efforts to reorganize and classify psychopathology. The manuals of diagnosis up to and including DSM-IV are careful collections of descriptive categories that aim to carve out fairly distinct entities that conform, for the most part, to observables and reports. The present state of psychiatric nomenclature is one of description or, perhaps more felicitously, that of phenomenology. Such a choice for categorization is, of course, dictated by a lack of a more clear-cut set of causal determinants of illness. And the accepted classification of infectious diseases is an ideal counter example, wherein the descriptive efforts are all secondary to the specific agents leading to specific maladies. The hope in psychiatry seems to lie more or less in the direction of concentrating upon neuro-anatomical and/or biochemical foci of disease and thereby ultimately to better delineate categories that will go beyond mere behaviour and unreliable subjective experiences.

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CHAPTER TWELVE: Lacan meets queer theory

Lisa Downing Karnac Books ePub

Tim Dean

This chapter envisions a dialogue between Lacan and queer theory, a sort of round table in which various contemporary theorists of sexuality would directly engage Lacan—and he them. But, of course, Lacan died well before queer theory emerged as such; and, as Thomas Yingling observed, queer theorists prepared to grapple with Freud none the less have remained relatively shy of tackling the corpus of speculative work bequeathed by Lacan (Yingling, 1997, p. 191). On the other hand, I discovered to my disappointment at an International Conference on Sexuation (in New York City, April 1997, where I first presented a preliminary version of this paper) that for their part Lacanian analysts proved far less willing to engage queer theory than I, perhaps naively, had anticipated. Yet spurred on by my conviction that psychoanalysis is a queer theory, I’ve persisted with this imaginary encounter, a dialogue between—to invoke Yeats—self and antiself.

In Encore, his seminar devoted most directly to the topic of sexuality, Lacan speaks often of homosexuality, but with the crucial qualification that as far as love is concerned, gender is irrelevant: “quand on aime, il ne s’agit pas de sexe” (Lacan, 1975, p. 27). What should we make of this idea that the gender of object-choice remains ultimately inconsequential in love? Is Lacan merely voicing liberal tolerance, anticipating by a matter of months his transatlantic counterparts’ elimination of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973? (See: Bayer, 1987; Isay, 1996.) Or, more interestingly, could we view Lacan as foreshadowing by a couple of decades the radical move in queer theory to think sexuality outside the terms of gender?1 Although I consider liberal tolerance far less passé than do most queer theorists, I want to make the case for Lacan as more radical than liberal on the question of homosexuality. I will make this case by explaining how Lacan’s account of sexuality reveals desire as determined not by the gender of object-choice, but by the object a (l’objet petit a), which remains largely independent of gender. By detaching desire from gender, Lacan helps to free desire from normative heterosexuality—that is, from the pervasive assumption that all desire, even same-sex attraction, is effectively heterosexual by virtue of its flowing between masculine and feminine subject-positions, regardless of the participants’ actual anatomy in any given sexual encounter.

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CHAPTER NINE: The perverse domination of the fascist and the Sadean master

Lisa Downing Karnac Books ePub

Antonios Vadolas

Introduction

What is the relationship between fascism and perversion? Interwar Fascism, with Nazism as its dominant expression, has been frequently linked to the notion of perversion and its multi-faceted synecdoche. Texts from discourses belonging both to “popular” and “high” culture emblematize this link: cinematography, social theory, political history, and psychoanalysis. The films of three eminent directors—Luchino Visconti (The Damned/La Caduta Degli Dei, 1969); Liliana Cavani (The Night Porter, 1973); and Pier Paolo Pasolini (Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom, 1975)—all illustrate the proximity between fascism and extreme sexual deviation. In the field of socio-political discourse, compelling analyses of fascism have been offered by thinkers in the Frankfurt School (see Horkheimer & Adorno, 1973) and philosopher Hannah Arendt (1958). For more recent accounts, one might turn to works by Slavoj Zizek (1989, 2000) and Juliet Flower MacCannell (1996). Furthermore, psychoanalytic clinicians and theorists, such as Ernest Jones (1974) and Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel (1985), have produced narratives that posit a connection between fascism and perverse sexuality. These texts all share a “macro-structure”. They are narratives produced by and dependent upon a dianoetic context enveloping a message that links fascism to perversion in either its sexual or non-sexual conception.

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CHAPTER EIGHT: Perversion and French avant-garde art 1912-1916

Lisa Downing Karnac Books ePub

Claire Pajaczkowska

“Man has always endeavoured to go beyond the narrow limits of his condition. I consider that perversion is one of the essential ways and means he applies in order to push forward the frontiers of what is possible and to unsettle reality”

(Chasseguet-Smirgel, 1985, p. 61)

“Fetishism is a picturesque symptom”

(Greenacre, 1953, p. 79)

The relation between perversion, transgression and creativity is profound and complex, expressing as it does a confrontation with, and simultaneous retreat from, the rule-governed and law-bound practices of “normal” sexual and social life.1 Each of the three elements feeds off and stimulates the others. The trans-gressive element of perversion is well documented. Law-breaking itself may embody sexual fantasy. In a lecture given at the British Psychoanalytic Society in 1985, Arthur Hyatt Williams gave a lucid description of the structure of perversion as it is expressed in a range of criminal activities. (See also Hyatt Williams, 1998.) One example he offered was of a burglar who was completely unaware of the causes of his repetitive housebreaking. Analysis revealed that the conscious idea of stealing valuable goods was a rationalization of a less rational and unconscious fantasy. According to Hyatt Williams, the burglary was the enactment of a fantasy of entering a forbidden place, which had a sexual significance. The crime of burglary, then, was a form of a perverse fantasy that connected sexual excitement and aggression. From this psychoanalytic perspective we begin to define perversion as something that may be unconscious and that fuses sexual and aggressive ideas in a fantasy of transgressing or damaging law and order.

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