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Number 1: Spring 2008

Interpellation and Intensity: Thinking Homosexuality with Psychoanalysis

Philip Derbyshire

This paper is an attempt to link the historical shifts of homosexual culture and psychoanalysis. It is based on two assumptions about historicisation: firstly, that historical experience varies both phenomenologically and in terms of its conditions of production; and secondly, that concepts and categories of thought are historical in themselves, emerging at particular junctures and carrying within them traces of their origin, even as they are reconfigured over time. My contention is that the conference title ‘Homosexuality: Why psychoanalysis?’ has to be thought through in terms of the shifts that each term has undergone, as well as through the story of their confrontation.

In one sense, we can see psychoanalysis and homosexuality as historically coeval formations. As Foucault has made clear, the term ‘homosexuality’ does not denote a single condition or identity, with some essential substrate underlying the different manifestations of same-sex sexual behaviour across cultures; rather, it is the name for a particular node within a developing discursive formation on sexuality. Such a formation is dependent on the broader shifts within industrial society, where the family is privatised and excluded from the main centres of production, and sexuality becomes isolated, autonomous and specialised. Psychoanalysis–as an explanation of other phenomena within the social–perversely only becomes possible to the extent that its explanans, sexuality, has become detached from the social and developed into an independent sign system. However this specialisation, involving the emergence of an autonomous sexual culture, is precisely what allows homosexuality to take on an existence as a visible and threatening behaviour in need of explanation. Psychoanalysis can be deployed as a particular form of explanation of and intervention into homosexuality only because it shares similar discursive and social pre-conditions.1 Thus, psychoanalysis and homosexuality are heir to a similar logic but distinctly different development, and have been engaged in long-term dialogue and acrimony. Homosexuality was one of the objects which psychoanalysis helped to construct, even as it made its own claim for authority and knowledge: it leans on homosexuality in order to produce some of its fundamental concepts and self-narratives. The theory of narcissism springs to mind, as does Freud’s account of the dynamics of his relations with other psychoanalysts, notably Jung and Ferenczi, and the deployment of the notion of sublimated homosexual libido as the basis of sociality. There is an obvious Derridean interrogatoire which interrogates the centrality of a continuously objectified homosexuality to the production and articulation of psychoanalysis.


  1. See Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Interpretation as a Socially Symbolic Act, 64-65, for a sympathetic account.