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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 ELEVEN: Maternal fetishism

Lisa Downing Karnac Books ePub

Emily Apter

In proposing maternal fetishism as a “new” perversion with a unique relevance for a broader understanding of motherhood and maternal desire, one must first confront the vexed question of whether the whole notion of perversion is so fundamentally outmoded that it deserves to be discarded as a relic of gender-biased psychoanalysis. Unlike neurosis or psychosis, perversion has not been readily ascribed to women in the history of psychoanalysis. In conformity with class- and culture-bound norms, women were habitually diagnosed as hysterical, maniacal, neurotic, frigid, sapphic, narcissistic, melancholic or psychotic—anything, it would seem, but perverse. Case histories of fetishism, masochism and sadism, from Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s sexological work Psy-chopathia Sexualis (1901) to Freud’s essay “Fetishism” (1927e), typically featured male analysands. The protagonist of Sacher-Masoch’s Venus im Pelz (1980) was not Wanda, the dominatrix, but Leopold, the male masochist, who, though whipped and trodden on by a woman, remained empowered in so far as it was he who authorized the conditions of his own bondage and enslavement.

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CHAPTER SEVEN: Birth, death, orgasm, and perversion: a Reichian view

Lisa Downing Karnac Books ePub

Nick Totton

“Why do you have to talk like that?” she asks me. “Talk like what?” I respond. “Speak to them, for them,” she answers. I have fielded this question many times. This time I try to keep it simple: “I am one of them,” I answer. Unsatisfied, she retorts, “But why must your language be so theoretical, so inaccessible?” Finally, I arrive at the answer I should have made long ago: “I like theory,” I tell her, “it is a kind of fetish for me; it turns me on.” [Hart, 1998, p. 13]

A term to get rid of?

There is no getting around it: the word “perversion”, by etymology and usage, is clearly both normative, implying that there is a straight path to which this crooked one is opposed, and punitive, a stamp of disapproval upon those perceived as bad and/or inadequate. What is more, there is not even any agreed and solid definition of “perversion” in psychoanalytic terms. The word can be, and is, used in very different ways, and some of the definitions on offer beg the question of aetiology completely. For example, Stoller (1975) chooses to define perversion as sexually aberrant behaviour based on hatred, thus eliminating all possibility of counter-examples to his hypothesis that this is in fact what perversion signifies.

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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 SIX: The structure of perversion: a Lacanian perspective

Lisa Downing Karnac Books ePub

Serge André

Freud’s work only provides us with a very basic idea of the structure of perversion. He explains the mechanism that he calls Verleugnung, translated into English as “disavowal”, in his 1927 paper “Fetishism” (Freud, 1927e) and subsequently in his 1938 paper “Splitting of the ego in the process of defence” (Freud, 1940e), yet Freud’s explanations in these texts merely constitute a beginning, a way in to the issue of perversion as structure. For example, in “Fetishism”, Freud leaves us completely in the dark concerning the actual turning point of the perverse orientation:

Probably no male human being is spared the fright of castration at the sight of a female genital. Why some people become homosexual as a consequence of that impression, while others fend it off by creating a fetish, and the great majority surmount it, we are frankly not able to explain. It is possible that, among all the factors at work, we do not yet know those which are decisive for the rare pathological results. [Freud, 1927e, p. 154]

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