Ode to perversion
Report of the Saturday of the NLS, 18 January 2014
by Abe Geldhof
On January 18th 2014, Hervé Castanet, professor and psychoanalyst in Marseille, was our guest in the ‘Kring voor Psychoanalyse’ on the ‘Saturday of the NLS’. His lecture was entitled The Oedipus doesn’t say everything about desire. He started with the personal note that he already read the sixth seminar of Lacan thirty years before the official publication. When Jacques-Alain Miller isolated a quote on account of this publication, there was thrown a new daylight on the whole seminar in retrospect. Lacan namely deconstructs there what he had been elaborating in his earlier seminars. In the last chapter he says: “It is in this sense that we can qualify what is produced as perversion, as the reflection of the protest at the level of the logical subject against what the subject undergoes at the level of identification, in so far as identification is the relationship which establishes and commands the norms of the social stabilization of different functions” (Lacan, 1958-1959: 569, own translation). The lecture of Castanet was in fact a rigorous comment of this quote.
And this quote is an important one! Those who followed the recent debates in France concerning gay marriage and those who remarked how psychoanalysis has been misused in these debates, will be warned immediately. Psychoanalysis has been used by some who wanted to reject homosexuality as a perversion. This is nonetheless absolutely incompatible with the Lacanian point of view. In such a use of psychoanalysis the father is considered as a guarantee that anchors the semblances of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ in a biblical relation. Seen in this way, homosexuality doesn’t confirm established ideals and would “thus” be a perversion. This is not the opinion of Lacanian psychoanalysis.
Nevertheless a reading of Lacan's early Seminars III, IV and V could mislead us concerning the status of desire. There he still asserts that so there could be desire, there is a need of the law, the father, the structure, the Oedipus complex. He often quotes in this context the letters to the Romans in which St. Paul judges that the moral law makes sin only more sinful. The law plays in fact in the hands of sin because it spurs on desire to it even more. Desire is so to speak only possible when the third phase of the Oedipus complex has been passed through giving the subject the certificate of “neurotic”. Lacan had already taken the step to unlink desire from the Freudian mythology and from the normative ideal of complete genital love. Against Maurice Bouvet he didn’t believe that the partial drives are bundled in one genital drive targeting one object. In opposition to Melanie Klein her dual conception of the relation between mother and child, he put forward a structure with four elements. The phallus is necessary as a mediating term between mother and child and it is the figure of the father that puts the phallus at its place. This is our dogma, stressed Castanet, but it remains a dogma and as such it has to be questioned incessantly. Starting from the sixth Seminar we can say that desire was before that considered as an imaginary quantity. The Oedipus complex and perversion were facing each other. The consequence is that homosexuality could be considered as an unachieved Oedipus complex and that only neurotics (in the orthodox meaning) could become analyst.
The sixth Seminar of Lacan is a major step forward to this. Now perversion is considered as a protest! And in this context it provokes Lacan’s sympathy. Perversion doesn’t accept what the Other drivels. It is a disagreement with imposed identifications to the social order that makes the subject dumb. When Lacan takes in this point of view, he leaves the structuralism that is like Lévi-Strauss searching for the elementary structures of kinship or like Durkheim researching rules of Patriarchate. With the perversion Lacan introduces a split with regard to the structure. The sixth Seminar can therefore be seen as an important moment: it is the Seminar of the non-existence of the sexual relation.
In a certain sense Lacan is thus paying homage to perversion. This ode concerns especially the point at which a speaking being accepts its most intimate relation to its own body. Nonetheless we can always perceive a double movement in Lacan’s opinion on perversion. After the initial ode there also comes a disregard to perversion. In his Seminar XXI on Les non-dupes errent Lacan for example states that masochism is a sham. “Le masochisme c’est du chiqué”. Lacan is indeed much more resolute in his ode to psychosis. Among other things he praises psychosis because of its rigor. In this sense Lacan pays only homage to perversion insofar as it denudes and challenges desire.
After this theoretical lecture Castanet gave an account on a case in his own practice that has a direct link to what preceded.