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Number 1: Spring 2008

How Not to be a Happy Homosexual

Peter Nevins

In 1919 Freud wrote a paper entitled ‘A Child is Being Beaten’. He was curious as to why a number of his patients, whom he was treating for hysteria and obsessional neurosis, confessed to indulging in the fantasy of a child being beaten. I don’t think it is necessary to go into a detailed analysis of this paper. A summary will do at this point. Suffice it to say that Freud gives an account of how masochism develops, how pain can become sexualised and thus ambivalently intolerable, yet desirable. The fantasy has three stages. Firstly, a child is being beaten. The second stage is the thought, ‘I am being beaten by my father’; this thought is never made conscious and is only available in analysis. In the third stage, the father, the class of fathers (or the liberal state) becomes a punishing authority.

Wendy Brown summarises his ideas as follows:

The erotic or pleasurable fantasy of ‘a child being beaten‘ begins as a jealous love-fantasy but soon undergoes a combination of repression and regression that turns it in a masochistic and sexual direction. Guilt, overdetermined in its sources, is the mechanism of the turn.

While calling this masochistic moment of the fantasy the most important one (albeit later repressed and generally inaccessible to the conscious mind of the adult analysand), Freud reminds us that it is already engaged in managing another repression: incestuous desire. This masochism which sites its own distress and guilt, generally produces a third phase in which the masochistic desire to be punished as a means of confirming and preserving illicit love is distributed onto others with whom we identify while appearing to passively ‘look on’ The third phase seems at first to convert the masochism of the second phase into sadism once again. However, Freud does not argue that such a transformation occurs; rather, this phase operates as an artful cover for an enduring masochistic resolution of illicit love. In fact all the apparently distinctive phases of the fantasy resolve into one familiar Freudian Story: Oedipal conflict is managed by substituting punishment for love and is lived in the form of punishment as love. (Brown 2001: 51)