The Queer Psychoanalysis Society

Archive for July, 2012|Monthly archive page

What’s Queer About Psychoanalysis?

In Freud, Gender Studies, Lacan, LGBT, Literature, Mythology, Politics, Polymorphous Perversity on July 24, 2012 at 5:38 pm

by Chase Dimock

Whenever I “out” myself as a student of Freud, I am inevitably greeted with comments like “Isn’t that the guy who said we all secretly want to have sex with our moms?” or “You know he’s been disproved, right?” It is true that Freud’s work has been diluted with bad pop culture appropriations that have turned his thousands of pages of careful analysis into a couple of slogans to be thrown around at cocktail parties. Yet, it is also a testament to his enduring influence and value in the cultural imaginary. 120 years after his first publications, he is still the most famous and widely recognized psychologist in the world.

To say that Freud has been “disproved” is to ignore the process by which human thought evolves over time and builds on the speculation and observations of the previous generations. Many of Freud’s ideas are in some ways antiquated or incompatible with the direction in which our social values have turned (penis envy comes to mind here). But, Freud himself was open to changing his beliefs over the course of his career. He added footnotes over the years to many of his texts to address new findings that changed his opinions about their subjects. Still, several of the core principles of Freudian thought endure today. Even those most rabidly against psychoanalysis cannot dispute the presence of unconscious associations, the value of putting one’s inner thoughts into narrative (the “talking cure”), and the importance of analyzing the systems of authority and power under which we mature and with which we identify.

Yet, I have no intention of defending Freud as a clinician, a scientist, or as any of the other roles that represent fields in which I have no expertise. Rather, I am interested in maintaining Freud’s relevance to my own field: the study of literature and culture. This is why, when I respond to any of the above questions or challenges to my interest in Freud, I say, “Freud was the greatest mythologist of the 20th century”. By “mythologist” I do not mean myth as a false or fictional idea. Instead, I conceive of Freud’s mythology as one part classical mythology and one part the cultural mythologies described by the French semiotician Roland Barthes. Mythology is not simply a bunch of quaint stories from antiquity, but it is rather an on going process through which cultures communicate their values, ideologies, and desires and grapple with that which is beyond their complete comprehension in the form of easily relatable narratives and archetypes. Mythology simplifies and personifies the “other”. Just as the ancients used the cruelty and petty competitions of the gods to personify the natural and social elements beyond human control and explanation, so too do we today use mythological constructs like “the invisible hand” to explain laissez-faire economics or “maternal instinct” to account for the infinite intimate ways a mother understands her child that have not been put into language. Freud’s great contribution toward personifying the “other” was recognizing that the “other” resided in our selves and in fact is an integral part of self.  Freud dramatically and effectively illustrated how the “self” is in of itself a mythology: a split entity made up of an ego, id, and super-ego–all subject to the associations and eruptions of the unconscious.

This then answers the original question of this essay. What’s queer about psychoanalysis is what’s at its very core: the mythology of self. When we navigate away from uncritical assumptions about there being an essential, stable self, we unsettle the very foundations of all other normative assumptions attached to it, including norms about gender, sexuality, race, and any other social constructs that we try to etch post-natal into our DNA. While Freud was no queer theorist, he gave us a model of subjectivity through which the “queer” could be investigated. With the theory of polymorphous perversity, Freud speculated that sexuality in infancy begins with a form of “perversity” in which “the formation of such perversions meets but slight resistance because the psychic dams against sexual excesses, such as shame, loathing and morality—which depend on the age of the child—are not yet erected or are only in the process of formation” (57). Sexuality, according to Freud, begins with an exploration of one’s own body in which activities that adults have been taught to think of as shameful are freely pursued. It is additionally important that sexuality begins with physical pleasure. It is only later in the child’s life that they learn to find other things (people and objects) attractive and to want to derive pleasure from them. Read the rest of this entry »

Queer Before Queer

In Counter-transferences, Freud, Queer Theory on July 24, 2012 at 5:21 pm

by Diego Costa

It may be easy, for the psychoanalytically uninitiated (those quick to roll their eyes without engaging with the actual literature), to take Foucault’s figures of 19th Century power-knowledge – “the hysterical woman, the masturbating child, the Malthusian couple and the perverse adult” – as a series of jabs at a psychoanalytical project, which, at least partially created these figures. However, that would be to confound psychiatry, psychology and psychoanalysis into one big homogeneous monster, and mostly, to ignore psychoanalysis’ dynamic, and multipronged, unfolding throughout the 20th Century.[i]

Foucault’s envisioning of that potentiality of desire(s) somehow unbound by a pre-made tautological relationship to objects, free to roam around like flanêurs, against what he called the “deployment of sexuality,” is perhaps the unseen link that can suture both queer and psychoanalytic projects[1]. To insist on not seeing that conduit line may mean to keep on tripping over it, and allowing it to knot up and around the researcher’s own desire for truth of her object of study. For, as we know, any analytical project that demands its truth without accepting its risks is one fated to be a victim of its own perversions. The desire of the theorist, or the “instinct for research” (Forschertrieb) or knowledge (Wisstrieb), whose first signs are known to coincide with the sexual life of children’s “first peak,” is too often missing from queer work’s considerations, although it is never absent. And we would do well in recognizing the desire of the (queer) theorist, always already a (sexual) sublimation vying for some kind of mastery, precisely when it takes the shape of such symbolic reluctance: where is, for instance, the theorist’s dealings with her own “counter-transferences”?[ii]

This is not to say that queer theorists haven’t included their own selves, consciously and not, whilst producing their work. I am suggesting, however, that we would benefit from a more calculated, and strategic, awareness of self-implication in conducting research that is akin to the extensive work that psychoanalysis has created concerning the analyst herself as a desiring subject. The branches of Queer Theory that resist a psychoanalytical approach often reveal a blinding U.S.-centrism in their claims of Austria-centrism against psychoanalysis itself, along with the history of a certain sublimation that comes with “I,” including strategies to control the personal risk inherent to the research, keeping it from contaminating the researcher herself, or exposing an always already contaminated researcher.[iii] The irony, or the kinship, being the way in which Queer Theory and psychoanalysis aim to detect the undetectable…What is most interesting about psychoanalysis if not its inherent queering mechanism? With its constant flow of remembering and forgetting theory, using and misusing theory, setting up and putting on theory into a scene (that is alive), there is no mode of thought/contemplation, inquiry/deconstruction, perception/narrativization, engagement/awakening, intellectualization/being queerer than psychoanalysis’. Read the rest of this entry »

Magic and the Link Compliment of the Borromean Rings in America

In Freud, Instinct for Research, Lacan, Mythology, Politics on July 16, 2012 at 8:00 am

by Albert Herter

A salvo

The Lacanian want-to-be-analyst in America is not unlike John the Baptist who when asked to identify himself said ‘I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness…’  There is a wildness in the cry of those who cannot be but amateurs (in the sense of lovers and without financial benefit) but on the other slope we have the fate of a tamed and harnessed Lacan, in the stable with all the other thinkers waiting to become usable in American universities, servicing the humanities.  One receives a credential with a sigh of defeat.  But despite this wildness the amateurs would like to contribute to the edifice being constructed across the Atlantic, and in South America.  Eventually we would like to build on New York bedrock.

Marie-Hélène Brousse, during the Paris-USA Lacan Seminar at Barnard College this past September, said that when Lacanian analysis comes to the States it falls flat.  Only in the Arts, specifically directors such as the Coen Brothers, Tarantino, etc., is Lacanian analysis alive and well.  It is alive in so much as it is ‘subversive’ and ‘creative’.  This is in fact my own history, coming from an arts background and education, I found Lacan through a gallery.  I now belong to a reading group that is currently reading Miller’s address to the congress and the group consists primarily of musicians.  There is a dearth of ‘men of letters’ here, no symbolic fortress to support us.  As Lacan already noted during his sojourn in the States – there is a deficiency in the symbolic.  We are adrift in a soup of imaginary phosphorescence, bursting, oozing, continually reconfigured.  No wonder the Health Care Industry compensates with an obsessive reliance on statistics and categories- that makes everything appear impossible.  So this is the field one wishes to practice Lacanian analysis on.  An amorphous threat of litigation is pervasive.  As far as I understand, the bare minimum in order to practice legally is a two-year social worker program.  In some senses two years is not a long time, but in terms of an ethics of desire it is a very long time.  Presumably one learns more than how to call the police if the patient mentions suicide but still.  I considered making analysis my art practice.  At one point I investigated what sort of credential a fortune-teller requires. Perhaps we are the new magicians. W.H. Auden wrote ‘To believe that a world of nature exists, i.e. of things which happen of themselves, is not however invariably made.  Magicians do not make it. ” Just as the Imaginary after the Symbolic is not the same, Magic after Science would not be the same.  One need only conjure up the image of CERN, the 27 km circumference circular tunnel located 100 metres underground with its 2,400 full-time employees searching for the God particle to get a sense of the desperate need to make nature cough up another signifier.

There is a magician in England named Derren Brown who is ‘a performer who combines magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship in order to seemingly predict and control human behaviour, as well as performing mind-bending feats of mentalism’.  He is essentially a cognitive behavioralist suggesting actions to weak-willed volunteers.  In addition to his stage show he has a series where he exposes frauds who claim to speak to the dead or heal the sick.  He keeps company with men like Richard Dawkins.  What I would call the missionaries of science- Brian Greene, Daniel Dennett.  The prevalent magic of today is the magic of suggestion, hypnotism, nudges. Algorithmic magic. Everyone knows that the birth of psychoanalysis was tied to the renunciation of hypnosis.

Rogue analysis, Black Market analysis

The practice of Lacanian analysis in America is irredeemably political, at least for the foreseeable future.

Ego psychology fit very well within the American program of forging individuals, harnessing their desires to the wagon of capitalist growth. A positivism and naivité which wanted to know nothing of lack or castration.  The New Yorker reports that Freud has finally landed on Chinese soil and will hopefully work the same magic, to reinvigorate the engine of endless expansion.  The article asks ‘Does psychoanalysis have a future in an authoritarian state?’  It tells about the suicides of workers at Foxconn factories, which make iPhones and other electronics, and a series of murderous attacks on young children by middle-aged men. According to The Lancet, nearly one-in-five-adults in China has a mental disorder, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  As regards the USA, perhaps Lacanian analysis has no relevance to a country that has not yet experienced a sort of ‘historical narcissistic disaster’.  Which has not yet been truly occupied.  And it may yet be awhile before the ground is fully prepared.

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“The Conference”: an excerpt from Gender’s Hourglass

In Gender Studies, Lacan, LGBT, Literature, Transgender on July 13, 2012 at 12:49 am

by Cybele Marcia Carter

Editor’s Introduction

        In her previous excerpt from Gender’s Hourglass, “The Institute”, Cybele Marcia Carter explored a fantasy that nearly all queer individuals share—the desire to go back in time to relive one’s adolescence armed with the knowledge of and security with our sexual and gender identity from the present. For Carter, this meant traveling back to a formative moment in time in 1972 when she was institutionalized for being transgendered. Carter writes in her introduction to the first installment:

 What I was (and still am) may have been diagnosed as a disease in 1972, but is accepted as (mostly) routine today – a transgendered female.  Neither my doctor, who recommended institutionalization, nor my parents or sisters at that time, understood what gender dysphoria (feeling born and trapped in the body of the wrong gender) or Gender Identity Disorder (GID) were.  They could not know that, while born as a boy, I had always lived with the certainty that I was female and should have been born and raised as a girl.

What fascinates me about Carter’s story is its testament to how gender and sexuality are discursively constructed. Most queer coming of age novels of the 20th century include some variation of a scene in which the character sees the word “homosexual”, “gay”, “lesbian”, or any term of queer identity in a novel, a dictionary, or encyclopedia and suddenly becomes transformed by access to textual authority. Just as an infant in Lacan’s mirror stage is born into the symbolic through the misrecognition of the self as a whole that must be maintained, I believe that this event of textual discovery for a queer youth is its own moment of misrecognition, an instance of being born into an identity category expected to wholly define the self that one must constantly strive to fit and resemble.

“Gay” is both a description of one’s self and an aspirational model to pursue for the self that subjects the individual to all of the expectations and limitations of that identity category. We are given language to inform the self, but it has an inherent, impersonal lack that can never satisfy the desire for psychic wholeness. A child born into the symbolic feels an inherent lack in themselves, and when a queer child first learns of a word for his/her gender or sexual feelings, they are deceived with a second moment of misrecognition that could make them believe that the feeling of lack was caused because they did not know they are this thing called “gay” and that by now knowing they are “gay” they have a wholly explanatory term for their self. Thus, part of maturing into a queer sexual or gender identity means realizing the inadequacy of all categories of identity, and developing strategies for signifying the self that use common terms and discourse to others in order to make one’s self legible without being reduced to a one-dimensional figure.

Carter’s story understands the importance of a queer youth to have access to language, knowledge, and discourse on gender and sexual identity. Yet, instead of having some enlightened clinician from the 70s to inform her teenage self, she supplies it herself from 2012. Her teenage self is not just given the message of “you are transgendered and that is okay”; she is granted all of the experience of growing into her gender identity over the course of the next 40 years. There is something in “queer experience” and living queerly between the lines of male and female–the lasting affect of navigating gender that informs gender identity in ways that the signifier/signified system of language excludes.

The Conference

The Gran mal conference would be, I felt, the make-or-break point of my efforts here at the Institute to form a new life; a new past, present, and future for myself.  If my explanations were convincing enough regarding my being born transsexual, and needing to live as a female being as important as breathing itself, then I would have the medical community here behind me.  And that was important in persuading my parents to let me remain Cybele and to begin taking female hormones.

But if I couldn’t persuade Kilroy’s colleagues to back me, I wondered if he would in turn back off from supporting me.  Nobody likes to swim against the tide or to go it alone, as I myself knew quite well.  Still, I knew I could count on Miss Williams’s support in any case; and perhaps she would convince the others on their own terms.

Miss Williams led me down the hall to the south side of the ward and used her elevator key to take us down to Level 1.  This was where a long hallway took us down into the actual hospital, with its own maze of corridors; until we found the conference room.  I was lost myself; but Emily had been there before, it seemed.

Now as for the room: perhaps you’ve seen, in old or classic movies such as Young Frankenstein, something called an “operating theater”.  This is a large room like an auditorium, or a small amphitheater: with banks of seats rising tier by tier so that all the attendees can get a good view of a platform, or stage, upon which a physician would perform an operation.  Or, in this case, introduce a rather unique patient.  As we entered through a set of double doors, I almost backed out.  Every one of the 50 or so seats in the theater were filled with white-coated physicians, psychologists and graduate students.  All eyes turned to me as I came in, blushing and flushed with my natural shyness.  Dr. Kilroy was standing beside a raised podium to my left, upon which a microphone was planted.

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