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Number 1: Spring 2008

Interpellation and Intensity: Thinking Homosexuality with Psychoanalysis

Philip Derbyshire

It is this viscerally experienced collusion of psychoanalysis with the general climate of social ostracism that leads to a near universal condemnation of psychoanalysis by the gay movements of the 60s and 70s, and to the exploration of other accounts of the subject that might provide an alternative account of sexuality. Foucault of course is central to this project–both historicising psychoanalysis and looking to a Deleuzian model of desire as positive flow as an alternative. For Foucault of course, the construction of sex as the secret of the subject was part of the secular deployment of the dispositif of sexuality: it is the importance given to sex as such that gives theoretical and moral weight to the contingency of sexual choice. If sexuality were to be revalorised, then homosexuality–and object choice in general–becomes of transient significance, merely the site of a particular, quasi-aesthetic work on the self.

Foucault also provides the inspiration for another engagement of psychoanalysis with homosexuality that marks Judith Butler’s work, although he might be surprised at the consequences. As several other papers here illustrate, Butler takes Freud’s model of desiring bisexuality and its vicissitudes to give an account of the melancholic structure of heterosexuality: the forced repudiation of a homosexual component of desire originally present in all subjects, lends a constant aura of loss and hence a melancholy colour to all heterosexual relations. This view, then, mobilises psychoanalysis as a critique of ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ but is double edged, especially with regard to male homosexuality, since the loss of the possibility of a heterosexual object choice must be seen as producing a melancholic homosexuality: all sexuality is shrouded, marked by melancholy. Something similar–that is, a critical use of psychoanalytic concepts which then seem to rebound evaluatively on homosexuality itself–can be seen in the nineties development of ‘queer theory’ with its intermittent embodiments in artistic and sexual practice, which sees exclusive identity and object choice as the problem. Opposing any disjunctive organisation of sexuality, ‘queer’ valorised all those phenomena that lay ‘in-between’, or better, ‘prior-to’ sexual difference: the transsexual, the mixed body, the sexual chimaera, and buttressed such valuations with thefts from Lacan: the contrast between a marked ‘phallic’ sexuality and some putative beyond, another jouissance.6 But such a deconstruction of binary sexuality–in the name of an in-forme and against the supposed commodification of desire in gay culture–ends up equating all non-queer sexual forms, and seeing them as reactionary. Homosexuality becomes somehow retrograde, too fixed. As I argued above, this disowning of homosexuality was in part a disavowal, in the wake of AIDS, of the very sexual experimentation that gay culture had endorsed, in favour of a utopian fantasmatic of identity.


  1. Lacan’s belated engagement with feminism at the level of desire can be seen in his notion of the other jouissance developed in Seminar XX; Encore.