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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 TEN: The feminist ethics of lesbian sadomasochism

Lisa Downing Karnac Books ePub

Mandy Merck

When, in her influential 1980s account of feminism’s “sex wars”, B. Ruby Rich assigned “political correctness” the role of casus belli, she matched it with an equally notorious opponent. “Nowhere”, she argued, “has this Manichean struggle between updated bourgeois respectability and its opposite become more attenuated than in the debate over lesbian sadomasochism” (Rich, 1986, p. 529). As Rich herself notes, that sexuality is a rather odd choice for the “bad girl” part in these conflicts. Heterosexual sadomasochism seems a far more prominent practice, and lesbian feminists have been outspoken in its condemnation, seeing in it the inherent condition of all heterosexuality.

Nevertheless, the perception of some intimate connection between feminism and lesbian sadomasochism persists, posed in terms of their successive historical emergence, unacknowledged ideological complicity, or, in the psychodynamics of feminism, as a family romance. Rich, for example, employs all three explanations to describe lesbian sadomasochism as part of a “daughters’ revolt” against the sexual legislations of their feminist predecessors, but enacted within understandings of subjectivity, fantasy, and “health” shared by both sides.

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7. Causation and Destitution of a Pre-ontological Non-entity: On the Lacanian Subject

Dany Nobus Karnac Books ePub

Causation and Destitution of a Pre-ontological Non-entity: On the Lacanian Subject

Paul Verhaeghe

‘[T]he subject is nothing but the impossibility of its own signifying representation.’

Slavoj Žižek1

I. Introduction

The concept of the ‘subject’ is without any doubt one of the most typical and most important Lacanian concepts, through which the entire evolution of Lacan's thought can be studied. Initially, Lacan wrote about the ‘I’ (je), but very soon this was changed into ‘subject’ (sujet),2 Both signifiers represent Lacan's attempt to distance himself from the post-Freudian interpretation of the ego and the accompanying conception of the treatment. This attempt resulted in the establishment of a theory of his own.

With the early Lacan, the subject has to be understood in its radical opposition to the ego. The ego belongs to the imaginary order, whilst the subject belongs to the symbolic. The subject is the subject of the unconscious, as described by Freud with his notion of das Es (the Id), whilst the ego is a mere concatenation of alienating identifications.3

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN: On sexual perversion and transsensualism

Lisa Downing Karnac Books ePub

Vernon A. Rosario

As someone trained in the history of medicine as well as a practising child psychiatrist, I have long been concerned with the role that history—particularly the history of sexuality—can, and should, play in clinical practice. For a decade I have been focusing on transgenderism—a relatively new phenomenon in the history of medicine—by drawing upon my historical and theoretical interests in gender and sexuality in order to assist me in psychotherapy with transgendered children, adolescents, and adults. I will start by situating my historical work on “sexual perversion” and then turn to my recent clinical experiences with transgenderism.

Historically, sexual perversion was central to the early development of psychoanalysis at the fin de siècle. Sexual inversion or homosexuality remained a vexing challenge to analysts throughout the twentieth century and continues to be a controversial issue at the fringes of the profession due to the work of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (www.narth.com) and the inflexible views of analysts such as Charles Socarides (1995), who continue to insist that homosexuality is a curable perversion. Despite this shameful legacy, psychoanalytic theories can still teach us much about sexual diversity and assist therapists in working with a wide variety of clients struggling with issues of gender and sexuality.

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CHAPTER FIVE: The perversion of pain, pleasure, and thought: on the difference between “suffering” an experience and the “construction” of a thing to be used

Lisa Downing Karnac Books ePub

Nicola Abel-Hirsch1

It is widely recognized today that perversion is not limited to a person’s sexual behaviour, but may influence all of an individual’s experiences, relations, and attitudes to reality. This raises the question of whether the perverse relations in these different spheres share a similar structure. This chapter explores the issue in relation to pain, pleasure, and thought, and suggests that the perverse relations in each case are “constructed”, in contrast to experiences that are “suffered” and “discovered” to arise within the self.

A key question asked throughout the history of debates about sado-masochism is why a person would derive pleasure from pain. In these discussions the nature of pleasure and pain has, on the whole, been taken for granted as a “known”, and the question asked only of the relation between them, i.e., why pleasure from pain? I think, however, largely due to the work of Wilfred Bion and its development by Betty Joseph, that the nature of the pain and pleasure themselves, and not just the relation between them, can now be better explored.

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