Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Sexuality and Desire.

During my holiday, I read Jed Rubenfield’s The Interpretation of Murder, which places the psychoanalysts Freud, Jung, Ferenczi and Brill together in a hotel in New York to solve a murder mystery. The combination of characters inevitably leads the book to feel like it’s a bad joke and you are forever waiting for the punchline, but it got me thinking about psychoanalysis.* As a postmodern, social constructionist, I tend to treat psychology with a reasonable dose of scepticism, but the nature of my subject area has required a working knowledge of the field, or at least requires me to dance around it. But, as I read Rubenfield, it reminded me (and to be fair I think this is Foucault’s argument) that it was Freud who place sexuality and sexual drive at the heart of human nature.

It certainly seems to be the case that earlier centuries did not place the same types of importance on sexuality and many past societies separated sexual acts from any innate behaviour or drives. Sexual acts were not driven by any need or natural force, but were active choices or, if driven by anything, it was by a person’s sinful nature and therefore no different than any other behaviours. Today, sexuality (in no small part due to Freud and his followers) has moved to be a central part of our identity and as such is frequently explained in terms of the body/ nature/ drives. Sexual behaviour became both naturalised (sex is normal) and yet of key importance to humankind so that it becomes the main marker of what it means to be human. It is interesting then that I have also read recently (although for the life of me can’t remember who wrote it) that freudianism and feminism evolved at the same time.

It makes me ask, who benefits from a model of humanity where sexual drive is key to being human, and sex is more than just another behaviour? Who benefits when we cannot conceive of relationships between people without being blinded by sex? Who benefits when the idea of platonic friendships (between men and women, but also increasingly between men and men, and women and women) are considered to be unachievable or even laughable concepts (a convenient dividing tool if ever there was one)? Who benefits when rape and objectification can never be fully criticised or rejected, because a sex drive is ‘natural’? Who benefits when we cannot reconfigure sex and sexuality to be something new, different and better for women, because we cannot challenge the idea that sexuality is what drives us as people?

It used to be said that humans were social animals, but increasingly ‘social’ has come to mean ‘sexual’, and again I have to ask who does this benefit? Because, maybe it’s just me, but current social conceptions of sexuality and desire seem to be screwing women over.

* The murder mystery is actually quite compelling, but the characters are very flat; the psychologists become little more than their published texts (which I believe is exasperated by the fact that they quote their own works throughout in response to questions). The author also tries to set up different characters to be the murderer in a rather heavy-handed (and unconvicing) ways, which is annoying. But otherwise I thought this was an ok read.

1 comment:

Katy Murr said...

I think most people are sexual in a big way; I wouldn't try to deny that, yet it is also important that we recognise that we are more than just sexist animals, that we are conscious and, as you say, social doesn't have to include an assumption of the sexual.

The idea, however, that rape, objectification and other sexual abuse cannot or should not be criticised, is absurd. It's important that we recognise that whilst we are sexual, we have a control over our body and mind (or at least only a small minority of unhealthy people do not), and that we need to take responsibility for our sexual choices, as we need to take responsibility in other areas of our life. A sex 'drive' may be natural; abusing your power over someone else and using this 'drive' as an excuse must not be allowed. This, I feel, is where we really need to make the distinction.