The Queer Psychoanalysis Society

Posts Tagged ‘Freud’

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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What’s Queer About “The Trip” ?

In film, Freud, Lacan, LGBT, Queer Theory, Sublimation on December 13, 2011 at 12:03 am

by Chase Dimock

To an American audience, I would not have to strain too desperately to prove that there is something gay about a movie featuring two British men touring gourmet restaurants in the English countryside while singing Abba and Kate Bush in the car. Yet, what’s queer about The Trip has nothing to do with any present or latent homosexuality (of which there is none in the film), but rather it is about how heterosexuality appropriates the discourse of homosexuality in order to repress or sublimate its own desires and sentiments. The increased visibility of male homosexuality in the public sphere over the past four decades via the modern gay rights movement changed the way in which heterosexual males view and speak of their relationships with one another. Centuries of male patriarchy that segregated the sexes, created legions of boys clubs among rich and poor alike, and reinforced the sexist idea that truly intellectually satisfying companionship could only come from another rational male mind suddenly became infused with a “homosexual panic”. Publicly visible homosexual emotional intimacy created the fear that others might read heterosexual emotional intimacy as sexual intimacy and thus the privileged bastions of masculinity such as the YMCA, the Boy Scouts, the Friars, and every cigar club this side of Vienna eventually seemed, well…gay. In The Trip, we see a turn in the way in which heterosexual friendship navigates the looming specter of gay discourse. Departing from decades of paranoid disavowal and overwrought displays of cliché gestures of straightness that seem only to parody heterosexuality, The Trip appropriates queer discourse as the two protagonists create a running joke about homosexual desire for one another throughout the film. But, neither of them is laughing. Rather, the unabashed and unashamed references to homosexuality cover up the real intimacy that they share with one another as friends which neither one wants to declare aloud.

In The Trip, British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play fictional versions of themselves. Coogan is hired by a newspaper to write an article about some posh country restaurants and he takes the assignment with the hope of bringing his much younger girlfriend along to show her the North of England where he grew up and to rekindle their strained relationship. When the girlfriend chooses a journalist assignment in America instead, Coogan asks his friend Brydon to come along, who becomes, as Coogan jokes, “his substitute girlfriend.” As the two journey between upscale eateries, the film stages a sharp dichotomy between the personal lives of the two friends. While Brydon is the cliché image of heterosexual domestic happiness, established through a series of calls with his wife in which he impersonates Hugh Grant, Coogan on the other hand is confronted with his failing relationship with his girlfriend, his strained, decidedly unfatherly relationship with his son, and his stalled career ambitions to become a serious, Hollywood actor. The bulk of the film consists of a series of conversations between Coogan and Brydon while eating, driving, or touring the countryside. Rather than directly addressing any of the tension building up in his personal life, Brydon engages Coogan in a perpetual game of celebrity impersonation one-ups-manship as the two of them argue over the finer points of impersonating Michael Caine, Al Pacino, or any of the other actors whose career Coogan envies. Read the rest of this entry »

Queer Before Queer

In Counter-transferences, Instinct for Research, Sublimation on November 22, 2011 at 12:23 am


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’.

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What’s Queer About Psychoanalysis?

In Barthes, Freud, Lacan, LGBT, Mythology, Queer Theory, Stockton on November 21, 2011 at 11:47 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 »


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