The Queer Psychoanalysis Society

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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 »

Growing Up Gay and Amish in America

In LGBT, Literature, Polymorphous Perversity, Queer Theory, Uncategorized on April 17, 2012 at 8:41 am
by James Schwartz

Leaving the Old Order Amish community equals leaving everyone and everything you know. Any Amish that identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or gender questioning will be met with condemnation and  Scriptures (Leviticus, always a classic).

They will not be handed a complimentary copy of ‘Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality’ by John Boswell.

Where traditions and heritage run deep there is little choice but leave or live a lie.

Most Amish are of German descent but we are of Swiss stock, my Mom passing when I am 9, thus my upbringing with my father, a model of Swiss tolerance.

I don’t join the church and will not go back.

I go clubbing in Indiana and Michigan.

At 22 I step onstage, making my drag debut at Brothers Beta Club (Kalamazoo, MI) Closet Ball pageant and perform at The Zoo Bar.

I would exchange the cabaret for the poetry slam circuit in my mid 20s and seriously began writing with stars in my eyes.

The Literary Party: Growing Up Gay and Amish in America collects my poetry, writings from 2005-2010 with a few early poems.

THE BEGINNING

 The black garbed men cluster by the shed

 As the morning sun burns mists away

 The unharnassed horses away are led

 To the barns stuffed with hay

 The men kiss in the Spirit of the Lord

 As Christ once kissed his band

 Across the green a rushing stream

 Serenades the countryland

 Only the brethren greet with a kiss

 I am but a child yet know

 What today I am to miss

 And how far I have to go

 To find redemption at the border

 Of new beginnings and the Old Order.

 

INDIANA 2 AM

I was such a queer thing.

Even growing up.

Sexuality is not a choice.

Listen to my femme voice.

Even throwing up…

I was such a disco boy.

Spinning through school.

Twirling in my first disco.

The Seahorse Cabaret 2.

Indiana 2 a.m.

He stares at me and smiles…

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Robert McAlmon’s Psychoanalyzed Girl and the Popularization of Psychoanalysis in America

In Freud, LGBT, Literature, Polymorphous Perversity, Sublimation on February 14, 2012 at 1:45 am

Freud (far left seated) and Jung (far right, seated) at Clark University in 1909

by Chase Dimock

A writer, publisher, and a connoisseur of the Parisian nightlife, Robert McAlmon was a fixture of the Lost Generation’s expatriate community in Paris in the 20s and 30s. McAlmon took Hemingway out to the bullfights in Spain that he would immortalize in The Sun Also Rises and he typed proofs of James Joyce’s monumental novel Ulysses. Through his publishing company Contact Editions, he was the first to publish works by such luminaries of the modernist movement as Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, William Carlos Williams, Djuna Barnes, H.D., and Nathanael West. Yet, his own reputation as a writer never reached the heights of those that he helped.

As a bisexual man in what most presumed to be a marriage of convenience to lesbian poet Bryher (H.D.’s longtime partner), McAlmon was one of the first American writers to depict the queer subculture of American expatriates. In Distinguished Air: Grim Fairy Tales, he detailed the exploits of Berlin’s cabarets and in the recently rediscovered The Nightinghouls of Paris, he dished on the queer affairs of the writers that inhabited the bistros and bars of Montparnasse during the famed expatriate period. I have written on McAlmon’s biography and poetry in greater detail in this previous article.

The story below comes from McAlmon’s first book of fiction, A Hasty Bunch. James Joyce himself suggested the title to McAlmon, commenting on the speed with which he wrote the stories and their roughness. By reading just a few sentences of the story, it is apparent that Joyce’s judgment is well justified. “The Psychoanalyzed Girl” should be considered part of McAlmon’s juvenilia as its awkward phrasings search for the more polished voice of ironic detachment and sardonic wit that would come with his later, more mature work.

Nonetheless what I find fascinating about this piece is its place as a cultural artifact of the influence of psychoanalysis on the Lost Generation of American writers. McAlmon’s opinion in this story is none too favorable. He satirizes the hyperawareness and self-centeredness that psychoanalytic therapy causes in his friend Dania, depicting her as perpetually self-analyzing and becoming progressively more alienated from her own reality as she obsesses over self-knowledge at the expense of self-experience.

Written in 1922, McAlmon’s short story testifies to the sudden rise in popularity of psychoanalysis in America in the 20’s. Freud made his first visit to America along with Carl Jung and others in 1909 and gave a series of five lectures at Clark University to both academic and lay audiences. The fact that psychoanalysis would become widely adopted in America in just over a decade after his visit exceeded what he and his contemporaries thought was possible. As Sanford Gifford writes:

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The Newborn Aestheticization of Brazilian Misery

In film, Mythology, Polymorphous Perversity, Primitive Traumas on January 15, 2012 at 11:08 pm

                       Image

by Diego Costa

The film is “Vidas Secas”, or “Barren Lives.” The director is Nelson Pereira dos Santos and it’s 1963. The black-and-white film stock seems to crackle along with the drought-stricken land on which the characters step. They are a family searching for water, food, maybe even work. The dog is a barely animate sliver of flesh, the children not that much different. They make their way through the arid backlands of Northeastern Brazil as if obeying some kind of ontological compass one would reach if all of the ideological and historical gunk could be physically deconstructed. A kind of desperate drive stuck on the last bit of brittle bone before whatever humanity was left melted back into the earth. This isn’t the allegorical “becoming animal” borne out of the kind of existential wretchedness in the last scene of Béla Tarr’s “Damnation” (1988), when a man in a suit in the middle of nowhere ends up getting down on all fours and barking back at a stray communist doomsday dog in some kind of recoupling. The scenes also bear none of the spent humanity-cum-figurative bestiality of the horny garbage man in a rubber cat-suit finding solace in a no-man’s-land garbage dump in Joao Pedro Rodrigues’ “O Fantasma” (2000). This is misery so de facto that representing it requires a good bit of perversity. The kind of misery that is as abundant in certain corners of the world as it is perennially projected into an elsewhere that “Africa,” “Haiti,” or “developing world,” seem increasingly unfit to single-handedly contain.

ImageAt the same time “Barren Lives” was being made a brand new city, Brasília, was being built from scratch (with a manmade lake and all) in the middle of Brazil. The parallels couldn’t be more contrasting: the frail bodies of the Northeasterners headed to some elsewhere/nowhere and the modernist edification of large phallic structures for the new Brazilian capital. The irony seems more narrative-friendly once so many of the hungry travellers end up electing Brasília as the promise-land and populating not the city itself, but the slew of unaccounted-for slum-like “satellite cities” surrounding it.Who could have known, then, that five decades later, the city spawned as artificially as the Northeasterners’ misery was thought to be “natural,” would be home to Mangai. A branch of a restaurant that already exists in the Brazilian Northeast itself, Mangai is nothing short of a spectacle normally reserved to countries whose ethos is more imbricated in artifice. Mangai is outrageous bad taste of the Americana sort, a cartoonish appropriation akin to Mall of America’s Rainforest Café in which servers introduce themselves as tour guides of the amazing “adventure” patrons are about to embark in. Located in a new development by the (manmade) lake Paranoá, alongside several extravagant restaurants and the popular food kiosks selling hot dogs and corn-on-the-cob that such things beget, one has to climb a few flights of stairs to arrive at Mangai’s entrance. There one finds a collection of hammocks, as if the thematic substitutes of comfy couches for waiting or a babysitting-like McDonald’s playground. Read the rest of this entry »

Childhood Sexuality and The Other

In Freud, LGBT, Performativity, Polymorphous Perversity, Queer Theory on December 29, 2011 at 12:03 am

by Rebecca Katherine Hirsch

Wondering as I do about socially gendered responses to expressions of childhood sexuality, I find myself drawn to the idea of The Other, that old, constant scapegoat. The Other is an amorphous entity that disquiets because of its familiarity covered over with a veneer of foreignness. The Other conveniently directs our attention away from our own perfectly human issues of contention and casts them unfairly onto a foil that reminds us of ourselves under the guise of our discomfort with someone else.

As men are socially deemed “normal,” I think that women and children are perfect representations of The Other. As said Berta Bornstein in the 1948 article “Emotional barriers in the understanding and treatment of children,” “Children frighten us by their unpredictability, their highly charged emotions… and by their closeness to the unconscious… although it has rarely been admitted, children throughout the ages have been considered a threat by their parents and by society in general.” To clarify, I do not mean to suggest that female-bodied adults may be described this way, but that society clumps them in the same category, effectively creating in the cultural conscience the construct of the infantilized female who, alongside the naturally infantile infant, both pose a “threat” to our generalized sense of “adulthood” which is represented by a particularly repressed idea of maleness.

However, this unease around children–especially children of the opposite sex in a world that generally sees gender as a binary and gender-meddling as inappropriate–can be seen as an inverted unease concerning oneself, and the unconscious fear of the Oedipal crime, which may make itself known in “unnecessary brutalities in training and discipline, for the alleged purpose of changing children into human beings.”

To a misogynistic or misanthropic adult (which are basically the same), all children seem non-normative in that nothing they do conforms to a particularly stringent superego’s enjoinders to be quiet, disciplined, sexless. Holdover ideas of Victorian sexlessness pervasively inform our cultural sense of sex. The societal message is still that sex is bad and specifically women and children are “untainted” by this badness unless they are tainted, in which case, they are bad. But of course, all people are sexual and all people were children. This fretful, cultural finger-wagging only serves to make obvious the finger-wagger’s own discomfort with sexuality. Sexuality, after all, has vastly different meanings and significances to different people. Sexuality in children is equivalent to the body. Early erogenous zones include the nose, eyes, skin; sexuality is the sensations of being held, fed, bathed. It is safety and comforting excitement.

How do parents or caretakers, informed by our cultural Victorianism, experience and react to expressions of childhood (and female) sexuality based on socially gendered conditioning? As says Joseph D. Lichtenberg in 2007’s Sensuality and Sexuality Across the Divide of Shame, “Throughout the developmental cycle parents and other authorities indicate to children those body pursuits they regard as approved, and those body pleasure pursuits they regard as prohibited, and shameful.” Prohibited actions might be those considered “too” sexy (like touching your genitals even though a body is all you have) or “perverse” (like not conforming to socially-created gender roles even though, according to Lichtenberg, the “repudiation of opposite-gender traits… signals a failure in development and the formation of a defensively rigid masculinity or femininity.”)

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