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Translated By: David Macey How can one write a history of perversion? Is it possible to detail the successive incarnations of a notion that calls up both delirium and delight, sadistic crimes and more delicate transgressions?
Can one eschew voyeuristic enjoyment and moralistic condemnation? We had a fondness for the Parisian coupeurs de nattes who would snatch and cut locks from little girls out of school and were disgusted by the unfortunates who would eat soggy bread full of urine left in public urinoirs… all in all, we were baffl ed by the weird tricks human desire invents to reach satisfaction. Today, when it seems that culture has become more relativistic, although perhaps less tolerant, we imagine either a collection of social stigmata or a history of the conceptions of perversion.
Perversion would be considered in an evolutionary way, as varied ideological projections, each sending us back to norms of social reprobation, a nomenclature of practices deemed to be deviating from set standards.
One thesis of her book is that, in order to study perversion, one should go beyond moralizing rejection without falling into the trap of culturalist equanimity.
What must be avoided is losing the conceptual rigor of the term, which is why her book blends theory and history so as to reconcile structure and genealogy. Trying to remain scientifi c, it tends to avoid the baroque catalogues of human idiosyncrasies. The old litany of deviance is unifi ed by a governing principle. Freud and Lacan talk about perversion as a subjective structure.
This structure fi nds its place in a specifi c nosology, to be situated next to psychosis and neurosis. What is, then, perversion as a structure? Psychoanalysis approaches the perverse structure in a genetic sense. Perversion is a disposition that goes back to the evolution of young men and women. Such a simple pattern helps understand the Freudian approach to perversion.
Going further, Lacanian scholars stress the idea of a missed confrontation with the law; any perverse subject illustrates, whether in a creative or stereotyped manner, the fundamentally transgressive nature of the sexual drive. Lacan durably shifted the angle of analysis when he tackled the case of the Marquis de Sade. This last outrage confi rms that the Mother has to remain untouchable, forever forbidden.
We see here how the perverse structure depends upon the law that it negates, just as the tortures imagined by Sade call up the absolute and limitless enjoyment of an evil god. This supreme being becomes a mere parody of the divine law. It is replete with vignettes and portraits and gives a body to the abstract synthesis. This is a primer for students who need to understand more rigorously what is at stake in terms like sodomy, fetishism, and fl agellation.
Roudinesco follows the example of Freud, who would remind his friend the pastor Pfi ster that one has to call things by their names. Roudinesco does not hesitate to plunge into the catalogue of perverse eroticism, from the homicidal madness of the guardians of Auschwitz to the more entertaining aberrations of zoophilia.
She asserts that an explicit description is the best antidote to the imaginary glue in which perverts hope to catch our imaginations. The point is to reach a transcendental point of view and to ask, as Kant did, what are the conditions of possibility of such practices. If one begins at the beginning, we fi nd narratives; Roudinesco focuses at fi rst on two types of perversions that have been documented in history: the excesses of Christian mysticism and the crimes of homicidal sadists.
In the middle ages, one fi nds characters like Catherina of Siena, who loved to suck the pus of cancerous breasts, or Marguerite Mary Alacoque, still revered in Ireland, who would eat the feces left by dysenteric men in a hospice. Such practices were justifi ed if they brought about an ecstatic merging with the suffering body of Christ.
The second half of the diptych coming from roughly the same period is condensed by the case history of Gilles de Rais, who was burned at the stake. The army general who had saved France several times was exposed as a sodomite who had tortured and killed more than three hundred children and young men whom he had seduced.
This is just one part of this general chronicle of historical perversions. Such historiography is fully documented by legal and psychiatric extracts. The broad historical sketch is made more vivid by close-ups. Freud wanted to elaborate a theory of the deepest springs of our being leading to unconscious knowledge at the cusp of our bodies and our speech.
After having been entertained or awed by the historical narrative of extreme practices, we are ready to follow Roudinesco when she intervenes forcefully in recent debates. The term fl aunts its neutrality, limits its scope to observable behavior, and never touches upon issues of subjectivity. Transsexualism and zoophilia also appear as acceptable, if not recommended to all. On the other hand, Roudinesco gives a positive portrait of Robert Stoller, a pioneer for gender theory and queer theory.
For her brand of Lacanian psychoanalysis as well as for Freud, homosexuality is not defi ned as a perversion. Above all, Roudinesco insists that we should stick to the concept and retain all its theoretical valence and purchase.
It is as if our late capitalism could only recognize the results often perverse but denied the causes i. This, no doubt, is a huge program, but it is well sketched in this short book. Freud saw psychoanalysis as capable of tackling a broad history of culture, which includes its many aberrations. Science covers up our infantile fantasies, which leads to more intolerance and exclusion. Freud has also enlisted the help of Senator Bullitt to write a similar historical novel, an antinovel rather, in which the antihero was none other than the American president Wilson.
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Our Dark Side: A History of Perversion (Book Review)
Life Edit Roudinesco was born to half- Jewish parents in newly liberated Paris in September , and grew up there. She was a friend of Jacques Lacan - and whose sister was the feminist Louise Weiss , of the Javal family. Her father was physician Alexandre Roudinesco, of Romanian origin, who had "a passion for history and a phenomenal library". He was born in Bucharest in a Jewish and francophile milieu, and his father had been an editor.
0745645925 - Our Dark Side by Roudinesco, Elisabeth
Who is perverse? But while the experience of perversion is universal, every era has seen it and dealt with it in its own way. The history of perversion in the West is told here through a study of great emblematic figures of the perverse - Gilles de Rais, the mystical saints and the flagellants in the middle ages, the Marquis de Sade in the eighteenth century, the masturbating child, the male homosexual and the hysterical woman nineteenth century, Nazism in the twentieth century, and the complementary figures of the paedophile and the terrorist in the twenty-first. The perverse are rarely talked about and when they are it is usually only to be condemned. They are commonly viewed as monstrous and cruel, as something alien to the very nature of being human. And yet, perversion can also attest to creativity and self-transcendence, to the refusal of individuals to submit to the rules and prohibitions that govern human life. Perversion fascinates us precisely because it can be both abject and sublime.