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Number 1: Spring 2008

Interpellation and Intensity: Thinking Homosexuality with Psychoanalysis

Philip Derbyshire

Over the same period how we understand psychoanalysis has changed too: the current field that bears its name shows no signs of unity, synthesis or consensus, but only a genealogical relation to a past set of problematics and institutional histories and an active engagement with a changed experience of ‘dis-ease’. Not only have psychoanalytic concepts been invented, developed or discarded, but the very objects that psychoanalysis investigates have shifted. Hysteria, depression, the various forms of ‘psychic misery’ also have their histories, their historically variable explanations, and their historically variable articulation and importance.4 As Derrida once remarked, psychoanalysis is only unified by the name of Freud and, one might add, by the notion of the unconscious (Derrida 1998: 80). How the unconscious is understood, and which ‘Freud’ any practitioner is faithful to, is a matter for debate. It is telling that many of the papers in this issue offer quite un-Freudian accounts of the social trauma surrounding homosexuality and locate the difficulties encountered by gay analysands not in the foundations of the subject, but in mechanisms of insult and repression, or in an extended notion of the Freudian subject that sees the absolute otherness of the other as traumatic in itself. The many traditions of psychoanalysis are open to recombination in a way that is finally limited only by the performative ascription of the title ‘analyst’, and by the outcome of agonistic discussions within discursive communities.

In consequence, the intersection of homosexuality and psychoanalysis has altered profoundly. For the most part psychoanalysis has claimed the high ground as a discursive formation that can illuminate homosexuality. Through much of the twentieth century, psychoanalysis was a mechanism for explaining and managing homosexuality– either allying with other institutional apparatuses in its repression, or at its most liberal, producing a species of tolerance–Freud’s own position, and Lacan’s, despite the latter’s theoretical waywardness.5 The epistemic thrust of this psychoanalysis as a form of explanatory sexual taxonomy could be seen as bringing psychoanalysis close to a positive psychology that was part of a Foucauldian disciplinary apparatus: the homosexual was an object of scrutiny, knowledge and control, and psychoanalysis one of the forms of that knowledge, that with state and religious definitions of the deviant, policed the field of sexuality.


  1. Barbara Ehrenreich’s recent history, Dancing in the Streets, points up how melancholy became an extensively experienced affect in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in part because of the isolation of the Protestant self. Unfortunately, she simply identifies this melancholy with ‘depression’, a much later production that is in part organised around a hegemonic biologism. 

  2. Especially in the 50s, Lacan was notable for taking on homosexual analysands without attempting to change their orientation. However, he was also unscrupulous in using them for his own ends. One of his analysands, François Wahl, was instrumental in editing the Ecrits into an almost readable form. Elisabeth Roudinesco gives an often comical account of Wahl and Lacan’s relationship. Lacan analysed another gay man, Jean Beaufret, and his boyfriend. According to Roudinesco, Lacan used Beaufret’s analysis to secure access to Heidegger, whom they both met in Freiburg in 1953. He also absorbed Beaufret’s interpretation of Heidegger into ‘The Rome Discourse’ (Roudinesco 1997: 224-226 and 332ff.).