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Number 1: Spring 2008

How Not to be a Happy Homosexual

Peter Nevins

Let’s start with Lacan’s ‘Big Other’, as understood by Slavoj Žižek. For Žižek the Big Other is a non-existent entity, a fantasy in which, nonetheless, we all believe or at the very least we act as if this were the case (Žižek, 2006:3). This fantasy serves to provide us with a set of unwritten rules, our communal network of social institutions and our customs and laws. The Big Other is a kind of collective lie to which we all individually subscribe. The discovery for lesbians, gay men, women and people of colour that the liberal world to which they presumed they belonged and to which their allegiance and passion were originally directed, did not in fact hold them in esteem, felt humiliating to them in their need of that same liberal world. A more obvious example is the story of the emperor’s new clothes. We all know that the emperor is naked but nonetheless we collude in the fiction that he is wearing new clothes. This is similar to my opening example about the thirteenth floor. However it goes much deeper. Wendy Brown writes:

The modern subject, insofar as our primordial passion is thought to centre on individual license to do what we will, has to be converted to the benefits of being governed and ordered by rules: we have to be persuaded to sacrifice our originary impulse to freedom and self–satisfaction in order to gratify our long-term interests in survival, property and security’ (Brown 2001:47)

We are dealing here with a symbolic fiction, a fiction which possesses performative power, the power to inform our actions. It is socially operative and structures the ‘reality’ in which we participate.

The patients to whom I refer below, no less than all of us, are caught up in this symbolic fiction; yet for them there is something amiss which torments them. There is a life out there that they ought to be living, an aspect of symbolic fiction which they just can’t ‘get’. This is an imagined life built around their own specific cultural demands but nevertheless, unachievable. There are rules they should be obeying yet they are not doing so. At one and the same time this dilemma is agonising yet, as I hope to demonstrate, also pleasurable. These are the ideas evoked by patients in analysis; however what is immediately presented is, of course, resistance to them. ‘If identity formed at the point of injury’, writes Wendy Brown ‘is identity formed in part out of trauma, then there would also be a certain reassurance, and possible even erotic gratification, in restaging the injury…’ (Brown 2001: 55)