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Number 1: Spring 2008

Homosexuality: Why Psychoanalysis?

Stephen Gee

Peter Nevins deconstructs identity politics and its affirmations. He critiques the contemporary compulsions to assume a common goal of happiness in our culture and values psychoanalysis as holding open a place where one can be miserable. For gay men the culture of happiness hides a cycle of complaint which is tied to an identity forged in trauma. Nevins’ theoretical starting point is Slavoj Zizek’s Lacanian reformulation of the superego–the ever present incitement to enjoy–no matter what. The ideal identity of the über-gay has a miserable underside owing to the unanalysed attachment to being punished. He draws on Freud’s ‘A Child is Being Beaten’ (Freud: 1919). In Freud’s analysis the little girl is unable to articulate a wish to be beaten by a father whom she incestuously loves. Nevins transfers this idea to the contemporary gay man who unconsciously requires punishment from the Big Other after whom he illicitly lusts. There’s a barely conscious insecurity: can Western societies sustain recently-won civil rights and the incitement to unbridled sexual enjoyment now that the law has withdrawn to barracks? Nevins sees a way out of compulsive misery by an uncoupling from the rule and regulatory power of fixed identity. Alluding to the melancholy formation of contemporary gay identity, he proposes what might be a mourning and a return to what also might serve as a subversive stance–the irony of the traditional queer figure, divested of social power who can, from the outside, see the very artificiality of the social arrangements taken for real by those privileged to be on the inside.

The role of insult and persisting oppression in identity formation is the theoretical and clinical theme of Fedja Dalagija’s paper. He admits his reservations and ambivalence about psychoanalysis while setting value on the initiatory subversion that can be found in a reading of Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (Freud: 1905). He argues that Freud contests any notion that gender is fixed or complete, either biologically or psychically. However, the possibilities for a freer social elaboration of homosexuality are soon closed down–an historical missed opportunity perhaps? It is as though this potential, theoretically latent and even alluded to by Freud in his relationship with Ferenczi, sends his followers into a spin. Unconsciously insulted and traumatised by the subversive possibilities of psychoanalysis itself, Ferenczi and later, Klein, Kohut and others go into a pornographic delirium when they attempt to theorise homosexuality. The history of psychoanalysis repeats the trauma and ends up being part of the culture of insult. This trajectory is deftly described by Dalagija in the work with his patient. He defines adolescence as the crucial period when trauma is inflicted by anti-gay bullying and insults.