Wednesday 11 January 2017

Freud's 'Three Essays' and the Critique of Heteronormativity

"Lecture and Discussion: Re-reading Freud's 1905 edition of Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality

This book presentation is devoted to the newly translated and annotated English edition of Freud’s 1905 Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (Verso, 2016)."

I immensely enjoyed attending the lecture by and questions with Philippe Van Haute and Herman Westerink last night at the Freud Museum in London regarding their new translation of Freud's 1905 version of Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. What most resonated with me was their re-reading and presentation of this early version of these texts by way of a contemporary understanding of important issues concerning psychoanalytic theory on infant sexuality as well as urgent concerns today on heteronormativity. Unlike his predecessors, Freud in 1905 suggested that heteronormative or procreative sex constituted a form of sexuality developed in puberty in such a way that is culturally determined through distinctions such as normal and natural. On the contrary, infantile sex is autoerotic and not directed toward an object, but rather concerned with sensual and physiological sensations of for example, pursing lips on a nipple whilst being breast fed. 

This proved to be interesting to me for a multitude of reasons. One main concern is that it presented a version of child sexuality that I felt was unproblematic and attentive to the actual experience of infant sensation. This is opposed to an alternative Oedipal or perhaps literal reading of some of Freud's other theories, which I feel risk projecting adult sexual experience onto children, which I feel to be wrong and potentially dangerous. 

Another aspect I enjoyed was the notion that sexual drive or, as Van Haute and Westerink wished to distinguish, instinct, is relational so that the parent might not even know that he or she is being confronted (though not as a direct object of drive) by an infant's drive, or I would extend, energy. 

With regard to heteronormativity, the notion of a polymorphous, non-object based drive, but also one that is non-procreative and thus 'perverse' is an urgent issue in today's opening of sexuality and understanding of sexual experience in an expanded manner that is inclusive and rejects human sex as limited to reproductive instinct. Freud presents four examples of such kinds of perversions: sadism, masochism, masturbation and inversion (or homosexuality). 

What was particularly interesting was the historiographical research conducted by Van Haute and Westerink, wherein they were able to determine at which moments Freud went back and altered his original statements in the 1905 editions of these three essays and were able to trace at which point he was influenced and encouraged to change or add elements to the texts, which ultimately were more in conjunction with much of the precursive research on sexology that he originally had wished to undermine and depart from. Reading his 1905 essays through the contemporary and relevant lens of Van Haute and Westerink allow for an estimation of Freud as just as challenging and subversive as we like to think he is, not only for his own era, but for our own conceptions of sexuality today.  

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