from differences Volume 10, Number 1
A Hunger for Science: Psychoanalysis and the "Gay Gene"
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The fact of the existence of sexual needs in human beings and animals is expressed in biology by the assumption of a "sexual instinct," on the analogy of the instinct of nutrition, that is of hunger. Everyday language possesses no counterpart to the word "hunger," but science makes use of the word "libido" for that purpose.
Popular opinion has quite definite ideas about the nature and characteristics of this sexual instinct. It is generally understood to be absent in childhood, to set in at the time of puberty in connection with the process of coming to maturity and to be revealed in the manifestations of an irresistible attraction exercised by one sex upon the other; while its aim is presumed to be sexual union, or at all events actions leading in that direction. We have every reason to believe, however, that these views give a very false picture of the true situation. If we look into them more closely we shall find that they contain a number of errors, inaccuracies, and hasty conclusions. (Freud, Three Essays 135; emphasis added)
Freud's Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality is one of the foundational works of psychoanalysis, ranking alongside The Interpretation of Dreams as a fundamental articulation of the specificity of the psychoanalytic vision of human subjectivity. In the Three Essays, Freud demonstrates that human sexuality is no more reducible to reproductive genitality than the human psyche is to consciousness (Laplanche and Pontalis, Language 419). To launch his radical conception, Freud boldly asserts that hunger, or the "instinct of nutrition," is no analog for human sexuality. He points out that while "popular opinion" and biology share the belief that there is a "sexual instinct" that operates according to the model of an instinctual feeding pattern, psychoanalysis finds this to be a "false picture," fraught with "errors, inaccuracies, and hasty conclusions."
These two opening paragraphs of the Three Essays are most revealing: while they forcefully announce Freud's polemical intentions of distinguishing a psychoanalytic model of sexuality from the domain of biological need, they also disclose the tremendous significance that eating will play in this project. We need read no further to understand that in differentiating human sexuality from the "instinct of nutrition," Freud has claimed that human sexuality is not a biologically innate, fixed pattern of behavior with a preestablished aim and object. By carefully discriminating sexuality from hunger as the prototypical need-satisfying paradigm in the Three Essays, Freud stakes out the peculiar domain of psychosexuality. But it is not only as a negative backdrop that the "instinct of nutrition" has its value for psychoanalysis: human sexuality, according to Freud, owes its origins and its outlines to instinctual dimensions of hunger and the procurement of its satisfaction. That is, Freud's "magnificently indefinite" creation of the drive is at once continuous with and opposed to the dimension of instinct:
To begin with, sexual activity attaches itself to functions serving the purpose of self-preservation and does not become independent of them until later. No one who has seen a baby sinking back satiated from the breast and falling asleep with flushed cheeks and a blissful smile can escape the reflection that this picture persists as prototype of the expression of sexual satisfaction in later life. The need for repeating the sexual satisfaction now becomes detached from the need for taking nourishment. . . . (Freud, Three Essays 182)Firmly situated in the real of need and instinct at some preliminary moment, hunger and eating are the forerunners of a purely sexual drive which will come to seek pleasure beyond and, ultimately, independent of the satisfaction of need. But this intimate link Freud forges between the "nutritional instinct" and the origins of the sexual drive has sown the seeds of a great misunderstanding. Though the drive is a concept "lying at the frontier between the mental and the physical" (Three Essays 182) because of its simultaneous debt to-and cleavage from--the domain of instinctual satisfaction, this "borderline" status has proven nearly impossible to sustain in the history of American psychoanalysis.1
Though the consequences of the collapse of this border have been manifold, they have been particularly disastrous in the instance of homosexuality because it is the drive that shatters the received notion of sexuality. According to popular opinion and biology, reproductive genitality is the fruit of an instinct, sign of the continuity between human beings and Nature. By deploying his "mythology" of the drives, Freud creates a peculiarly human foundation to sexuality which has as its mark a rupture with the "natural" order of things. In the Three Essays, Freud uses homosexuality to show that there is no naturally determined object for the drive, no "irresistible attraction exercised by one sex upon the other." He uses the perversions to show that the drive has no preordained aim like "sexual union." According to Freud's trajectory of the drives, perversion and inversion (homosexuality) are constitutive of "normal sexuality," which is only achieved via a laborious, treacherous, traumatic, intersubjective, social process that is never entirely successful. Human sexuality, for Freud, is anything but instinctual. While the notion of a human sexual instinct provides the ground for a way of thinking in which heterosexuality plays the part of an unquestioned norm against which homosexuality is labeled aberrant, Freud's theory of the sexual drive allows no human subject to escape the exigencies of "deviant" sexuality, and he insists that no human subject's sexual desire, sexual object choice, or even sexual identification as a man or woman are guaranteed in advance through biological inscription. It is because of his theory of the drive that Freud could take the position that "homosexuality is no advantage; that it is also not an illness; that it should neither be prosecuted as a crime nor regarded as a disgrace; [and] that no homosexual need be treated psychoanalytically unless he also, and quite incidentally, happened to be neurotic" (Abelove 59-60). Drive contra instinct provokes questioning about all forms of sexual organization; thus, how reproductive heterosexuality is constituted is as much a question for Freud as the origins of homosexuality, and there can be no necessary link between homosexuality and psychopathology.
While Freud's theory of the drive is radical in that it shows how human subjects are irretrievably "out of sync" with "biological reality,"2 contemporary psychoanalyst Dr. Richard Isay proposes a return to nature: he advocates acceptance of the "gay gene" as the cornerstone of a psychoanalytic, antihomophobic position. "Just as most clinicians generally assumed that the early appearance of opposite sex attraction suggested a biological predisposition to heterosexuality," writes Isay, "I assumed the same to be true for the same-sex attraction of homosexual men" (Becoming 4). This remark leads directly to the concerns of this essay in that it demonstrates that the biological determinism of sexuality in the name of psychoanalysis is not only what Isay is proposing, but it is what he is responding to. That is, it points us to the problem of the fate of Freud's theory of sexuality, a difficulty Freud himself noted in his preface to the fourth and final version of the Three Essays: "some of what this book contains--its insistence on the importance of sexuality in all human achievements and the attempt that it makes at enlarging the concept of sexuality--has from the first provided the strongest motives for the resistance against psycho-analysis" (134). This is nowhere more evident than within the history of psychoanalysis itself, particularly in America. And the "gay gene" is an excellent case in point, for it highlights that circular reasoning around the nodal point of biology through which American psychoanalysis, under the guise of surpassing Freud, reveals itself as pre-Freudian.
It is very clear, for example, that it was only following the expulsion of "homosexuality" as a diagnostic category from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Sexual Disorders in 1973 that biologically reductionistic explanations of homosexuality made their powerful resurgence, the most well-known of which are Simon Le Vay's 1991 anatomical studies of the brain and Dean Hamer's 1993 "gay gene" research. And it is no secret that the politically motivated removal of "homosexuality" as a stand-alone diagnosis was propelled, in large part, by the desire to distance psychiatry from the virulently antihomosexual views represented most vociferously by American psychoanalysts Charles Socarides and Irving Bieber, who asserted that homosexuality represents a necessarily pathological deviation from the naturally derived norm of heterosexuality (Bayer 125). It is thus that we can point to the failure of the homophobic post-Freudian discourse on homosexuality as actually provoking the discovery of the "gay gene," enhancing the appeal of biological determinism as a way of silencing questions about the origins of homosexuality. That is, the resistance to Freud's theory of sexuality displayed by psychoanalysts in the name of "science" left a gap which could only be filled by "science," albeit the dubious science of the "gay gene," which is simply "molecular-biologese" for homosexual instinct.
By now, numerous important critiques have been written that address the problems of genetic reductionism, the conceptual flaws underlying the idea of a "gay gene," and the methodological defects of the research itself (i.e. Byne; Byne and Parsons; De Cecco and Parker; Hubbard and Wald; Nelkin and Lindee). I will attack the problem of the "gay gene" from a Freudian perspective, mapping a few fragments of the history during which the heirs of Freud effaced precisely what it was that psychoanalysis had uniquely to contribute to the discourse of sexuality, thereby creating the foundation for a return to "popular opinion" and biology--a loop back to the analog of the "instinct of nutrition." Overall, I intend to trace some significant markers along the route by which the dismantling of Freud's theory of sexuality took place, a route that led to the public endorsement of the biological determinism of homosexuality by a prominent psychoanalyst, who sees no contradiction in his position.
Richard Isay: The Psychoanalyst and the "Gay Gene"
Richard Isay is an influential American psychiatrist/psychoanalyst who has authored numerous articles on homosexuality and psychoanalysis for clinical audiences. He has also written two books for a wider readership: Being Homosexual, published in 1989; and Becoming Gay, published in 1996. Isay's goal in these texts is to theorize a "normal path of development" for gay men grounded upon the premise that homosexuality is biological in its origins.
Isay is an important figure in American psychoanalysis particularly regarding the politics of homosexuality: He has been an outspoken activist since the 1970s in securing rights for homosexual men and lesbians both within the realm of psychoanalytic institutions as well as in the broader cultural domain. He has also played a crucial part in dismantling the barriers that have traditionally excluded openly gay and lesbian candidates from admission to many American psychoanalytic training institutes. Today, Isay is an analyst in private practice, as well as a clinical professor of psychiatry at Cornell University, a faculty member of the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, and vice president of the National Lesbian and Gay Health Association. While I have great respect for Isay's goals and achievements, as well as for the personal and professional risks he has taken to accomplish them, I also believe it crucial to call attention to the flaws in the logic of his endorsement of the biological determination of sexuality in the name of psychoanalysis.
Isay wrote his first book, Being Gay, in 1989, prior to the supposed "discovery" of the "gay gene" in July 1993. Already, however, he was asserting that homosexuality was innate:
I believe that it is the constitutional presence of homosexuality, rather than the environment, that accounts for sexual orientation. . . . My clinical experience suggests that while the early environment has considerable influence on the manner in which homosexuality is expressed it has an indiscernible effect on the sex of the love object. (Being 20)One problem here is Isay's interpretation of the Freudian term "constitution"3 as a synonym for biological. Isay claims his position represents "a return to Freud, who . . . never lost sight of the major importance of biological factors in understanding a variety of sexual manifestations in human beings" (6). While I will address this problematic interpretation of "constitutionality" later in this essay, for now I simply want to point out how Isay equates Freud's nonpathologizing attitude toward homosexuality with a biological interpretation of the Freudian theory of sexuality. As he writes, "From a clinical standpoint . . . perceiving homosexuality as constitutional permits the therapist to understand and investigate the expression of homosexual orientation with the same neutrality as he does heterosexuality" (21). Note Isay's emphasis on the expression of sexual orientation: questions about the origins of human object-choice and desire should, in his view, no longer be addressed to psychoanalysts, but to biologists.
In his 1996 book, Becoming Gay: The Journey to Self-Acceptance, Isay continues to promote the biological causality of homosexuality. He is now able to cite considerable research to support this view, a perspective initially sparked by his observations of clinical phenomena, including his patients' descriptions of themselves as having been gay for as long as they can remember. Accompanying this acceptance of his patients' historical certainties is his appeal to recent research: "studies suggesting that the concordance of homosexuality is higher in monozygotic twins and nontwin siblings convinced me that homosexuality in men was constitutional and probably genetically determined" (Becoming 4). Among the research he singles out are the studies of Simon Le Vay and Dean Hamer, which "lend further credence to both the biological basis of homosexuality and to its having a genetic determinant as well" (note 6).
Isay's goal in endorsing the genetic determination of homosexuality is to ensure that homosexual men are not pathologized simply on the basis of their same-sex desire. It is his hope that acceptance of the "gay gene" will imbue homosexuality with the same "natural" status accorded reproductive heterosexuality. (Perhaps this is why he disregards the abundant literature criticizing the research he cites.) However, this strategy can never work, because what Isay ignores, or believes he can somehow bypass, is that reproductive sexuality (conflated with heterosexuality) is the absolute bedrock of biologically deterministic theory. Without the cornerstone of a biologically inevitable reproductive sexuality, there would be no mechanism to guarantee the transmission of genes, and that is precisely the point of biological determinism. The biological inevitability of reproductive sexuality is the principle without which biological determinism would fall apart. Reproductive heterosexuality is not simply another trait that is genetically transmitted; it is the foundational principle of the entire theory. It must be presumed as the imperative of life itself for the transmission of biological traits to even be possible. Given this fundamental and exalted position, it is difficult to see how reproductive sexuality and homosexuality can ever be presumed "equal" but "different" within a biologically deterministic framework. The logic of biological determinism can only debase homosexuality as deviant--precisely the position Isay is striving to counter.
Of course, Isay's appeal to biological determinism is a reaction to the decades of viciously homophobic theorizing that took place within psychoanalysis, particularly in America after Freud's death. It is understandable how Isay could imagine that deploying the idea of a "gay gene" might oppose post-Freudian theories situating the supposed cause of homosexuality within the field of early familial dysfunction, constituting homosexuality as an effect of "nurture gone awry." Nevertheless, viewing biological determinism as an attack on this homophobic discourse is quixotic, because, just like biological determinism, such theories are grounded on the premise that heterosexual reproductive sexuality is biologically given, "natural," and "normal." That is, the theory that homosexuality is genetic converges with the theory that homosexuality is "environmental" at the nodal point where human reproductive sexuality is constituted as a biological given. And this is exactly the source of the difficulties. What is ironic is that Freud argued his way out of precisely this impasse nearly a century ago by radically severing human sexuality from genitality and reproduction. It was Heinz Hartmann's ego psychology that was instrumental in suturing these elements, not through explicit pronouncements about sexuality, as we will see, but through his overarching commitment to resituating psychoanalytic theory completely within the framework of biological adaptation.
Heinz Hartmann and Ego Psychology: Biology at the ForefrontThough there are numerous ways to approach the question of how the subversive elements of Freud's theory of sexuality disappeared from view (including the contradictions in Freud's own work), one of the most significant factors is the dominance of ego psychology (which originated in these contradictions) in the history of American psychoanalysis.4 While Hartmann's complete overhaul of Freudian theory in his development of ego psychology moves in the direction of a "de-libidinization" of psychoanalysis, I can only highlight a few of the most salient features of this project for the subsequent theorization of homosexuality.
Hartmann was a close and careful reader of Freudian texts. His overall theoretical goal was to "synchronize" and "coordinate" Freud's psychoanalytic theory in an effort to improve its "preciseness" and "coherence" (Schafer 67, 73). His approach was to organize, edit, and augment Freud's concepts under the umbrella principle of biological adaptation to the environment as the primary motivation of human existence. Because biological adaptation necessitates access to a "reality" to which the organism adapts, Hartmann gives the ego "pure" knowledge of "objective" reality by rendering rational thought and perception continuous, and positing a "conflict-free sphere" or "autonomous ego" as what Lacan calls the "standard measure of the real" (Four 230). Hartmann views human beings primarily as biological organisms and interprets psychoanalysis as a biological science that has as its object the understanding of how humans adapt to their environment. Moreover, he believes this view is completely consistent with Freud's vision of psychoanalysis: "We may not fully appreciate how fruitful it is that the foundation on which Freud built his theory of neurosis is not 'specifically human' but 'generally biological,' so that for us, the differences between animal and man . . . are relative" (Ego 26).
This "relative difference" plays out in Hartmann's approach to the drive, which he notably translates as instinctual drive ("Comments" 71). In fact, this terminological coupling is nothing short of oxymoronic. Rather than emphasizing the gap between human and animal as does Freud in his differentiation of the instinct and the drive, Hartmann's instinctual drives are different by degree, not in kind, from the instincts of lower animals. The term instinctual drive indicates, for Hartmann, the existence of biologically determined impulses or urges, the responses to which are mediated in human beings by the ego (also a biologically determined entity with direct access to "reality"), which allows for a greater plasticity of response and, ultimately, a better chance of adaptation than a mere "instinct." That is, the presence of instinctual drives in humans merely represents, for Hartmann, the phylogenetic superiority of human beings over lower animals in the chain of being. While Hartmann's focus on instinctual drive clearly partakes of Freud's notion of the self-preservative/ego instincts, the place of sexuality in his model of mind is much less clear: "neither the aims of sexuality, nor of aggression . . . suffice to account for the mental mechanisms which serve self-preservation in man" ("Comments" 87). In fact, Hartmann's explicit commentary on sexuality seems quite paltry given the volume of his writings. Furthermore, his remarks on homosexuality are nearly nonexistent: in his 492-page collected works, there is not one index entry under the term "homosexuality," nor is there any discussion of the topic. It is precisely this significant absence that I believe marks Hartmann's importance to the subsequent psychoanalytic theorization of homosexuality.5
In contrast to Hartmann, there is barely a work of Freud's where sexuality, in one way or another, is not taken up, even if only briefly. Freud could not leave his ideas about sexuality unspoken because not only was sexuality the bedrock of his theory of human subjectivity, his ideas were also highly unconventional and could not be left to the reader to intuit. So how is it that Hartmann can remain nearly silent on this topic? Precisely because of his primarily biological conception of human beings. Hartmann's reliance upon a biological bedrock in the explanation of human behavior, his positioning of the ego as the agent of adaptive behavior, is so fully imbued with the idea of the human as animal that he does not see the need to elaborate a specific theory of human sexuality. And the very lack of any explicit theory of sexuality in his work testifies to his endorsement of the biologically deterministic view that human sexuality, like the sexuality of lower animals, is primarily linked with genitality and reproduction in the service of the biological imperative to reproduce and survive. Hartmann's efforts to create a "generally scientific" psychoanalysis built around his thesis of adaptation as the overarching goal and motivation of human life left no room for Freud's elaboration of the problematic effects of sexuality in the formation of human subjects. Whereas Freud had to insist at every turn that psychoanalytic sexuality was not reducible to genitality or reproduction, Hartmann made no such protestations.
Let us look at just one of Hartmann's rare statements on the topic of sexuality in his classic text Ego Psychology and the Problem of Adaptation: "the intactness of certain sexual functions (genital functions) is, up to a point, a guarantee against the interference of libidinal with utilitarian functions" (47). In addition to Hartmann's obvious conflation here of sexual and genital functions is the equally problematic attempt to guarantee the autonomous functioning of "libidinal functioning" vis à vis "utilitarian" ones. Freud's idea that "sexuality and reproduction do not coincide" (Introductory 320) and his conviction that "[t]he multifariously perverse sexual disposition of childhood can . . . be regarded as the source of a number of our virtues" (Three Essays 239) point to his view that human functioning and libidinal "interference" are not mutually exclusive categories. For Freud, "libidinal interference" is the source of all human character, fantasies, and actions, even those that appear most "normal" or virtuous. Furthermore, for Freud, the "fixation" of sexuality under the primacy of the genitals is a wrenching process that is never complete and that extracts a significant cost from the human subject.
Hartmann's assertion of the "intactness" of the "sexual functions," their reduction to the reproduction of the species, and their isolation from the rest of life speaks to the convergence between ego psychology and biological determinism, that is, the peculiar interdependence presumed between the individual and the "environment." In both ego psychology and biological determinism, the surrounding world may affect the individual, and the individual may affect the environment, and, though they may interact, they do not interpenetrate. That is, individual and environment are ontologically discrete, and their mutual effects can be disentangled. This separation can be maintained because both theories presume the human individual is there from the beginning in an incipient form. The movement from child to adult is a process of development that is actually a process of the realization of what is already present. In ego psychology, ego functions such as reality testing, consciousness, language, thought, intelligence, adaptation, even "normal development" itself are all pregiven capacities of the human being. In ego psychology, as in biological determinism, the "environment," whether broadly or narrowly conceived, can either inhibit or facilitate this process of maturation. Consequently, both ego psychology and biological determinism assume exactly what it is they are trying to explain, that is, how the human being comes to be the way it is. Both theories agree that the human being comes to be a certain way because it was "written in" from the beginning. Both posit that certain human qualities that appear to be foundational are biological and innate, and that history and social forces have no real impact, except as epiphenomena. It is thus that the hegemony of ego psychology in the late 1950s through the 1960s in the United States contributed to the wide-scale acceptance within psychoanalysis of the primacy of the biological origins of sexuality, which was the basis for the acrimonious pathologizing of homosexuality that subsequently took place.6
The Unbearable Perversity of Being Human: Freud's View
In "The Disposition to Obsessional Neurosis,"7 Freud writes, "Psycho-analysis stands or falls with the recognition of the sexual component instincts [drives], of the erotogenic zones and of the extension thus made possible of the concept of a 'sexual function' in contrast to the narrower 'genital function'" (323). Here I will take Freud's remark as a guide, and elaborate several features of his theory of the drive and the erotogenic zones that make clear his differentiation of the psychoanalytic theory of sexuality from "popular opinion" and biology.8
I want to return to Freud's opening remarks in the Three Essays pointing to the "false picture" of popular opinion that conflates sexuality with hunger. Freud's first attack against this established view entails an examination of "deviations in respect of the sexual object" (homosexuality or "inversion") and "deviations in respect of the sexual aim" (perversion), an examination which leads him to posit that the sexual drive has no natural object or natural goal. If the object of the drive is contingent, heterosexuality and homosexuality are both determined by the vicissitudes of subjectivity, and the privileging of heterosexuality as a biological given cannot be sustained. If the aim of the drive is not predetermined, the telos of reproductive genital sexuality cannot be supported. The most obvious subversion of biologically determined sexuality lies in these twin postulates that sever the supposed natural link among sexuality, heterosexuality, and reproduction. In fact, by examining "deviance," Freud completely calls into question the entire category of normality, employing his oft-used and oft-misconstrued strategy of undermining the conventional terminology he uses. For if the drive has no singular, fixed aim or object, then it becomes extremely problematic to define homosexuality and perversions as "deviations." Thus, Freud calls attention to an important paradox: it is precisely "the 'perverse' quality of the drive that is normal" (Mieli 196). Homosexuality and perversion, he notes, are both constituent of what appears as normal sexuality in fantasy and practice. This leads Freud to his famous discovery of the "polymorphous perversity" of the infant.
Freud's early work on hysteria had shown that neurotic symptoms always have their origins in repressed sexual ideas traceable to early childhood. Adding this information to the insights gained from the examination of perversion and homosexuality, Freud speculated that apparent "normality" in the sexual sphere established itself only through the subordination of other, very early impulses by repressive forces. He had the idea that something "restrains" the "unacceptable" sexual drive and forces it to take another path. With this deceptively simple notion, Freud is able to turn the conventional wisdom on its head: it is not a "natural" sexual instinct that loses its way to become perversion, but it is perverse sexuality that is molded, or "restrained" into normality. Hence, symptoms are not formed at the cost of normal sexuality, but according to Freud's famous dictum "symptoms are formed . . . at the cost of abnormal sexuality; neuroses are, so to say, the negative of the perversions" (Three Essays 165). In other words, perversion is a lack of the inhibitions that mark neurosis and normality. Moreover, Freud is led to believe that the sexual drive is not unitary to begin with: it must represent "the convergence of several motive forces": "the sexual instinct [drive] itself may be no simple thing, but put together from components which have come apart again in the perversions." It is "the uniform behavior of normal people" that leads to the appearance that the sexual drive is itself uniform, but in fact, there are numerous "component" drives that must come together for the "achievement" of normal sexuality (Three Essays 162). It is now obvious that Freud is taking us further and further from the notion of a "sexual instinct"; yet, it is via "instinct" that sexuality emerges in the human infant. Thus, prior to touching upon a few aspects of Freud's understanding of how the component drives become congealed and transformed into genital sexuality, I will briefly discuss Freud's account of the origins of a distinctive sexual drive in the infant, a discussion indebted to Jean Laplanche's Life and Death in Psychoanalysis.
The Emergence of Psychoanalytic Sexuality: Drive and Autoerotism
Although Freud points out that "popular opinion" and biology are mistaken in their view that sexuality and the "instinct of nutrition" are identical, he also makes it clear that they are intimately related when he derives the sexual drive from the vital functions necessary to sustain life. Freud cites "sensual sucking" (Three Essays 180) as a key example of sexual manifestations of childhood. This pleasurable sucking, beyond the satisfaction of need, can take the form of thumb-sucking, sucking the lip, the tongue, the toe--any part of the body the child can reach and suck upon. To clarify the origins of the relationship between the nutritional instinct and "sensual sucking," Freud tells us that the child's "first and most vital" instinct is sucking at the breast, and thus the child is "familiarized" with the pleasure derived from the warm flow of milk between his lips. Sensual sucking is an attempt to renew this pleasure. "To begin with," writes Freud, "sexual activity attaches itself to functions serving the purpose of self-preservation and does not become independent of them until later" (Three Essays 181-82). What Freud is describing is "a leaning of the drive, the fact that emergent sexuality attaches itself to and is propped upon another process which is both similar and profoundly divergent: the sexual drive is propped upon a nonsexual, vital function" (Laplanche 16). At first, the sexual pleasure of sucking is indistinguishable from the instinct of hunger and the function of feeding. But there is a "moment" when the mouth adds to its role as the organ of the feeding function its function as erotogenic zone; that is when a sexual pleasure derived from sucking is sought for its own sake:No one who has seen a baby sinking back satiated from the breast and falling asleep with flushed cheeks and a blissful smile can escape the reflection that this picture persists as a prototype of the expression of sexual satisfaction in later life. The need for repeating the sexual satisfaction now becomes detached from the need for taking nourishment. . . . (Freud, Three Essays 182; emphasis added)
At first, sexuality is entirely grounded upon the vital function (in this case, feeding) and is merged with it. However, it only becomes "visible" as distinctly sexual, a pleasure no longer attached to any "need," in the "moment"9 of its separation from the vital function, a detachment through which sexuality first comes into existence as autoerotism. Thus, Freud reveals that what is specifically sexual for infants has a history: it is not innate. That is, the sexual drive as a distinctive entity (manifested by sensual sucking) is a secondary phenomenon, rather than necessarily inborn, like an instinct:
To begin with, all psychical activity is concentrated on providing satisfaction for the needs of that [the oral] zone. Primarily, of course, this satisfaction serves the purpose of self-preservation by means of nourishment; but physiology should not be confused with psychology. The baby's obstinate persistence in sucking gives evidence at an early stage of a need for satisfaction which, though it originates from and is instigated by the taking of nourishment, nevertheless strives to obtain pleasure independently of nourishment and for that reason may and should be termed sexual. (Outline 153-54; emphasis added)It must be said that Freud introduces two seemingly directly opposing views of autoerotism in the Three Essays, one of which makes it appear that the sexual drive is, indeed, innate. At one point, he makes reference to autoerotism as having no sexual object at its origins and seems to be advocating the primacy of a biologically determined, autoerotic state (Three Essays 197-98), appearing to suggest that the infant's body can be experienced as a sexual object prior to any other object relations. The idea that the infant must somehow move from an original, self-enclosed position to one of relating to objects is extremely problematic, as numerous psychoanalytic theorists have pointed out (Greenberg and Mitchell 40). But if Freud is the source of this problem, he also offers a way out. Elsewhere in the Three Essays, he clarifies the idea of a primary, objectless state by deriving autoerotism from the vital function that already has an object:
At a time at which the first beginnings of sexual satisfaction are still linked with the taking of nourishment, the sexual instinct has a sexual object outside the infant's own body in the shape of his mother's breast. It is only later that the instinct loses that object, just at the time, perhaps, when the child is able to form a total idea of the person to whom the organ that is giving him satisfaction belongs. As a rule the sexual instinct then becomes auto-erotic, and not until the period of latency has been passed through is the original relation restored. There are thus good reasons why a child sucking at his mother's breast has become the prototype of every relation of love. The finding of an object is in fact a re-finding of it. (222)According to this position, autoerotism is not a state of the primary and total absence of objects, a state which must be overcome in order to enter into the world of object relations. It is "on the contrary, a second state, the stage of the loss of the object" (Laplanche 19; emphasis added). As Freud points out, the object that is lost is the object of the vital function, "the taking of nourishment." The object of the sexual drive is provoked by and represents this loss. That is, the object of the sexual drive is a displacement of the object of the vital function: from the warm flow of milk to its symbol as the fantasmatic breast. "On the one hand there is from the beginning an object, but . . . on the other hand sexuality does not have, from the beginning, a real object" (Laplanche 19). This differentiation between the vital function, the sexual drive, and their respective objects clarifies how it is that autoerotism can appear to be primary and objectless while it is nonetheless derived from an object relation.
The biological instinct, by definition, is capable of deriving complete satisfaction from its objects. But Freud tells us that "something in the nature of the sexual instinct [drive] itself is unfavorable to the realization of complete satisfaction" (Universal 188-89). We can trace this "something" to Freud's constitution of the object of the sexual drive as fundamentally a lost object that the subject is always trying, and always failing, to "refind":
the object to be rediscovered is not the lost object, but its substitute by displacement; the lost object is the object of self-preservation, of hunger, and the object one seeks to refind in sexuality is an object displaced in relation to that first object. From this, of course, arises the impossibility of ultimately ever rediscovering the object, since the object which has been lost is not the same as that which is to be rediscovered. Therein lies the key to the essential "duplicity" situated at the very beginning of the sexual quest. (Laplanche 20)Laplanche makes evident how easily the sexual drive can be mistaken for something belonging to the order of biology when the primordial state of sexuality (autoerotism) is taken for the primordial state of existence. Given its intimate link with the functions necessary for the sustenance of life, sexuality can "pass itself off" as the primal, biological status of human infancy, while, in fact, it "lies in a movement which deflects the instinct, metaphorizes its aim, displaces and internalizes its object, and concentrates its source on what is ultimately a minimal zone, the erotogenic zone" (22).
So how does the infantile, polymorphously perverse cacophony of drives ultimately come to appear as a coherent, uniform genital sexuality? Freud's first answer to this problem in the 1905 edition of the Three Essays is to posit a relatively straightforward route where the only major achievement is the subordination of the component drives to the primacy of the genitals. However, by the time of the last edition in 1924, he proposes a tangled web of intersecting paths of uncertain outcome, encompassing no less than the constitution of the ego, differentiation of "self" and other, the apprehension of sexual difference, the structuring of object choice, and the internalization of the Oedipal interdiction. While I cannot do justice to all these "milestones" en route from the human animal to the human subject, it's certainly apparent how extraneous they would be if the sexual drive were instinctual and had both fixed aim and object.
Thus, I will limit myself to what has proven most problematic: Freud's concept of the libidinal stages, which makes it appear that the sexual drive has a preestablished aim, object, and biologically determined path of "maturation," just like an instinct, and that there are biologically determined "stages" which are "normally passed through smoothly, without giving more than a hint of their existence" (Freud, Three Essays 198).10 This teleological schema, constituting a reversal in the logic of the preceding portions of the Three Essays, is an important source for readings that find in Freud's writings a reason for the pathologization of homosexuality, as well as readings that object to Freud as normalizing and scientistic.11 While such readings obscure the obvious contradiction between the subversive argument of the Three Essays and the developmental model of the libidinal stages, there is another contradiction within Freud's presentation of the libidinal stages worthy of examination. This internal contradiction undermines the thesis of an endogenously motivated maturational scheme, providing a simultaneous account of the "acquisition" of sexuality via the Other.
There is an incongruity between the idea of internally motivated development and the way Freud calls attention to certain points of the body as sources of sexuality (the mouth, the anus, the genitals), when he has made it perfectly clear that any organ or activity can be a source of sexuality. What is so special about these zones that he chooses to highlight them so specifically and emphatically in the context of his "enlargement" of the concept of sexuality? The designated erotogenic zones share the particular characteristic of being at the limit of the body's boundaries, neither distinctly inside nor outside, but both at once. What makes these "breaking points" (Laplanche 23) so significant is that they are the sites of privileged exchanges between the infant and the mother/caretaker, the first Other. Because of the prematurity of human infants (which Freud so often calls attention to as a major determinant of human life), the erotogenic zones are the objects of a particular care and attention lavished upon them by this Other, upon whom the infant is dependent for absolutely everything. The (m)Other lovingly (or not) feeds the child through the mouth; gently (or not) cleans his/her anus and genitalia. But what is "coming in" through these zones from is not simply the machinations necessary for biological existence: every opening also allows for the "importing" of sexuality. It is through this "seduction" that the erotogenic zones are inscribed and libido is "channeled." The (m)Other is able to "territorialize" the infant's body because of her own sexual subjectivity, her own knowledge of and complex relationship to sexuality and sexual difference. In this context, it is interesting to note that after Freud abandons actual paternal seduction as the cause of hysteria, he takes maternal "seduction" as his primary model and emphasizes that "there is indeed a form of seduction which practically no human being escapes, the seduction of maternal care. The first gestures of a mother towards her child are necessarily impregnated with sexuality" (Laplanche 30). The mother is a desiring subject with a sexual life and history that permeates her every exchange with her child. As Freud points out:
A child's intercourse with anyone responsible for his care affords him an unending source of sexual excitation and satisfaction from his erotogenic zones. This is especially so since the person in charge of him, who, after all, is as a rule his mother, herself regards him with feelings that are derived from her own sexual life: she strokes him, kisses him, rocks him and quite clearly treats him as a substitute for a complete sexual object. (Three Essays 223)If sexuality appears to be "already there," this is not simply because it is immanent to the body of the infant child. Freud indicates that sexuality is present from the beginning in the Other. Each erotogenic zone--the mouth, the anus, the vagina, the penis--provides an opening through which "an intrusion" from the adult world can take place through "the most ordinary and innocent of acts" (Laplanche 43). Sexuality is in the way the mother feeds the child, strokes the body, pays particular attention to certain spots and not others, makes certain sounds while changing the baby, and adjusts the pressure of her touch. There is no aspect of the mother/child relationship that is not informed by sexuality, notes Freud, despite the mother's likely "horror" were she to acknowledge this, and her concomitant insistence that her relationship to her child is "pure" and asexual (Three Essays 223). Thus, for Freud, sexuality "is not, in spite of popular conceptions, governed by nature, instincts, or biology but by signification and meaning. For him, sexuality is the consequence of the interaction of the material inscription of desire on and with the child's body" (Grosz 13). This inscription is the effect of lack and necessarily involves the Other.12 Freud's remarks on maternal care make clear the importance of what is "already there," but not at all in the sense of a ready-made instinct.13 What is present as a structural feature of being human is the insufficiency of the child to provide for itself, which will interact with the desire of the Other to produce and organize sexuality.
Sandor Rado and the Expulsion of BisexualityTwo of the major psychoanalytic theorists of homosexuality-as-pathology, Charles Socarides and Irving Bieber (the loudest protesters against the removal of homosexuality-as-diagnosis from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973), also have in common a certain structuring absence at the core of their theories of the etiology of homosexuality. The shared foundation of their position that homosexuality is--by definition--pathological is Sandor Rado's obliteration of Freud's postulate of bisexuality and the consequent explicit formulation of biological heterosexuality as the premise of certain influential schools of psychoanalytic theory.
In the beginning, Freud attempted to explain bisexuality biologically and anatomically, albeit uneasily (Three Essays 141-42; 144). However, as his work continued, he relied less and less on physiology, although he found himself in murky waters, forced to acknowledge that there was no clear alignment among the biological, psychological, and social meanings of masculinity and femininity. Furthermore, Freud had to confront that within each of these disciplines, the meanings of the two terms slide, become confused, and rarely can be fixed except in a superficial, conventional manner (Three Essays 219-20). Although in the New Introductory Lectures, Freud advised his readers against equating "active" with "masculine" and "passive" with "feminine" ("It seems to me to serve no useful purpose and adds nothing to our knowledge" ), he had up until that point done so himself, while acknowledging how problematic such usage could be (Three Essays 219-20). While Freud never abandoned the concept of bisexuality, he also never appeared to be quite comfortable with it. In 1930, he wrote:
We are accustomed to say that every human being displays both male and female instinctual [drive] impulses, needs and attributes; but though anatomy, it is true, can point out the characteristic of maleness and femaleness, psychology cannot. For psychology the contrast between the sexes fades away into one between activity and passivity, in which we far too readily identify activity with maleness and passivity with femaleness, a view which is by no means universally confirmed in the animal kingdom. The theory of bisexuality is still surrounded by many obscurities and we cannot but feel it as a serious impediment in psychoanalysis that it has not yet found any link with the theory of the instincts. (Civilization 106; emphasis added)Despite this theoretical muddle, bisexuality was a clinical phenomenon which Freud found evidence for in every significant case study: Dora, the female homosexual, the Wolf Man, Little Hans. In each instance, "masculine" and "feminine" desires, fantasies, and identifications existed side by side, irrespective of biological sex. But bisexuality remained a problematic concept for Freud until his death, "the unsolved figure in the carpet of the theoretical problem" of sexual difference (Mitchell 50). In one of his last works, he wrote:
For distinguishing between male and female in mental life we make use of what is obviously an inadequate empirical and conventional equation: we call everything that is strong and active male, and everything that is weak and passive female. This fact of psychological bisexuality, too, embarrasses all our enquiries into the subject and makes them harder to describe. (Outline 188)"Embarrassed" as all his enquiries may have been, problematic and contradictory as all his attempts to theorize it may seem, Freud never gave up the idea of bisexuality, which certainly did make sexuality "harder to describe." Based on pseudobiology, tied to conservative terminological conventions, bisexuality is nevertheless one of the most subversive notions in psychoanalytic sexuality. Like the Freudian idea of perversions, it ruptures the biologically deterministic idea of the sexual instinct as a natural link between biological sex and the object. In other words, bisexuality precludes the assumption that the choice of sexual object is determined by biological sex, making clear that neither sexual identity nor object choice is natural, and that neither simply links up with the anatomical distinctions between the sexes. Bisexuality means that neither heterosexuals nor homosexuals--in fact, neither "men" nor "women"--are born, but that they are "made."
Bisexuality was the source of Freud's universalization of both positive and negative Oedipal configurations, and his certainty that
The claim made by homosexuals or inverts to being exceptions collapses at once when we learn that homosexual impulses are invariably discovered in every single neurotic, and . . . a fair number of symptoms give expression to this latent inversion. Those who call themselves homosexuals are only the conscious and manifest inverts, whose number is nothing compared to that of the latent homosexuals. (Introductory 307-08)Such a thesis was clearly untenable to Sandor Rado. Among Rado's numerous claims to psychoanalytic fame, he was the analyst of Heinz Hartmann, onetime Education Director of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, champion of the merging of psychoanalysis and medical science, and founding director of the first psychoanalytic institute based at a medical school (Psychoanalytic Clinic for Training and Research at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University) (Davidman 17-18). "Adaptational psychoanalysis" was the school of thought he originated, which aimed at correlating psychoanalytic ideas with modern biology and getting rid of the "mystic elements" which could not be scientifically proven (Davidman 21). Though Rado liked to stress the differences between his "adaptational psychoanalysis" and the ego psychology of his analysand, they are actually very similar, particularly in their revisionist goals, giving evolutionary biology pride of place.
In 1940, the year after Freud's death, Rado published "A Critical Examination of the Concept of Bisexuality" in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, which became a classic of Freudian revisionism. In this paper, Rado mounted a comprehensive argument against bisexuality, saying that because his careful and comprehensive survey of anatomy showed "there is no such thing as bisexuality in man or in any other of the higher vertebrates," there could be no such thing as psychological bisexuality (463). He stated that belief in bisexuality was unscientific, belonged to outdated anthropology, and stemmed from the "primeval, emotional needs of animistic man" to deny the biological fact of sexual difference (460). He was unwavering in his position that
the sexes are an outcome of evolutionary differentiation of contrasting yet complementary reproductive systems. Aside from the so-called hermaphrodite . . . every individual is either male or female. The view that each individual is both male and female (either more male or less female or the other way around) has no scientific foundation. (Psychoanalysis 2: 96)As a result of this evolutionary logic, Rado concludes that "the desire to fulfill the male-female pattern is a sexual characteristic shared by all members of our civilization" (1: 206). Furthermore, "the male-female sexual pattern is not only anatomically outlined but, through the marital order, is also culturally ingrained and perpetuated in every individual since early childhood" (1: 205). The cultural institution of marriage is, for Rado, a biological necessity: culture simultaneously reflects and promotes nature. It is a natural extension of human existence that substitutes for the innate link between instinct and object in lower animals but is no less biologically determined (1: 316). Rado asserts that, taken together, reproductive anatomy and biologically determined cultural institutions reveal that genital heterosexuality is the natural, adaptive, and healthy pattern of sexual behavior. Homosexuality is not, therefore, a constituent part of all human sexuality, but rater represents a "reparative adjustment" in the face of anxiety elicited by the opposite sex (Critical 467). In fact, Rado believes that the natural "male-female pattern" is the pillar of all human sexuality, including homosexuality: "If male desires male, why does he seek out a male who pretends to be a female? Why does a male impersonate a female, if all he wants is to express a male's desire for a male? . . . Those forced to take a mate of their own sex still strive to fulfill [the male-female] pattern--by approximation" (Psychoanalysis 1: 205). By assuming the natural, universal, and unwavering existence of what amounts to a heterosexual instinct, Rado and his followers were able to insist that homosexuality could be "cured": after all, lurking underneath every instance of same-sex desire was an antecedent heterosexuality, and it was up to psychoanalysts to uncover and reinforce it. "Every homosexual is a latent heterosexual," wrote Bieber (220). Thus, Rado's refutation of Freud's core concept of bisexuality inaugurated a momentous shift within psychoanalysis, spawning a decades-long pernicious industry of "curing" homosexuality. Furthermore, the search to pinpoint the developmental dysfunction that results in homosexuality produced the enduring and erroneous stereotype of the close-binding mother and the distant father (Bayer 30-31).
With the manifest intention of progressing beyond Freud in the name of scientific advancement, Rado managed to arrive at the precise theory of human sexuality that antedates the Three Essays: two distinct sexes existing from birth; a biological imperative toward reproductive heterosexuality; and homosexuality and heterosexuality as distinct clinical entities. This pre-Freudian conception was the basis for his twin postulates that homosexuality is a developmental dysfunction and that, thus, it can be cured. As uncertain a concept as bisexuality may have been for Freud, he never abandoned it, for it stood for the uncertainty of sexuality for all human subjects, not just a select group. Furthermore, it provided the ground for an account of the distinction between the sexes that is a cultural and subjectifying event, not a biological given (the Oedipus complex). Without bisexuality as a core concept, psychoanalysts found themselves endorsing the religio-scientific prescriptions for normality that Freud had previously scrutinized, opposed, and undermined.
Sexuality and the Question of Inheritance
Biological inheritance plays an important role in Freud's theory of sexuality. The construction of sexual desire, sexual object choice, and the apprehension of sexual difference all transpire against the background of the biological capacities and insufficiencies that Freud presumes are inborn and biological. What is "given" for Freud by biological inheritance are the infant's biological needs (eating, urinating, and defecation) and their satisfaction, which provides the foundation for the emergence of a specifically sexual drive. Also crucial for Freud is the biologically given anatomical distinction between the sexes which will produce its peculiarly psychical effects via an encounter with castration. Furthermore, it is the biologically determined inability of the infant to fend for itself that holds center stage for Freud in his account of the importance of the relationship between mother (primary caretaker) and infant vis à vis sexuality in all its aspects. Yet, there is another type of inheritance that is crucial to Freud's theory of sexuality, namely cultural inheritance, and its significance has been obscured by the misreading of the Freudian terms "constitution" [konstitution], "disposition" [die dispositionellen], and "constitutional disposition" [konstitutionellen Anlage].14 While Freud clearly indicated that "constitution" and "disposition" were innate, and thus to be distinguished from "accidental" factors (Three Essays 131, 239-40), these terms do not map on to the more general scientific concept of a biological endowment that is opposed to environmental influences.
Post-Freudian theorists, for the most part, have defined "constitution/disposition" as "biological." A classic example of this misreading is how Hartmann "embraces and expands Freud's late suggestion of the constitutional nature of many ego characteristics" (Greenberg and Mitchell 242). The primary source for Hartmann's interpretation, which he employs in the service of attributing a biological foundation to the ego, is Freud's "Analysis Terminable and Interminable" (Greenberg and Mitchell 242). Hartmann's reading is completely consistent with Freud's essay, which states: "We have no reason to dispute the existence and importance of original, innate distinguishing characteristics of the ego. . . . [E]ach ego is endowed from the first with individual dispositions [individuellen Dispositionen]. . . ." So far, so good. But if we continue Freud's passage, we read:
Moreover, we know that we must not exaggerate the difference between inherited and acquired characters into an antithesis; what was acquired by our forefathers certainly forms an important part of what we inherit. When we speak of an 'archaic heritage' we are usually thinking only of the id and we seem to assume that at the beginning of the individual's life no ego is as yet in existence. But we shall not overlook the fact that id and ego are originally one; nor does it imply any mystical overvaluation of heredity if we think it credible that, even before the ego has come into existence, the lines of development, trends and reactions which it will later exhibit are already laid down for it. The psychological peculiarities of families, races and nations . . . allow of no other explanation. Indeed, more than this: analytic experience has forced on us a conviction that even particular psychical contents, such as symbolism, have no other sources than hereditary transmission. . . . (240)In this text, Freud identifies an original, innate disposition with what is acquired in human prehistory and unconsciously transmitted through the generations. As early as the preface to the 1915 edition of the Three Essays, Freud defined "disposition" [die dispositionellen] as "the precipitate of earlier experience of the species to which the more recent experience of the individual, as the sum of accidental factors, is super-added" (131). In his Introductory Lectures, this becomes codified: "Constitutional dispositions [konstitutionellen Anlagen] are also undoubtedly after-effects of experiences by ancestors in the past; they too were once acquired" (361). Yet, Freud's vitalistic metaphors and his various appeals to biology appear to have overshadowed the way he also imports the psychoanalytic concept of the unconscious into biological terminology, thus transforming it. Freud's peculiar notion of an acquired disposition has disappeared from mainstream psychoanalysis, and "constitution/disposition" has become synonymous with biological factors, thereby eclipsing the significance of his idea of a cultural (structural) inheritance for human subjectivity. Thus, Richard Isay can claim that his endorsement of the "constitutional" basis of homosexuality, qua biology, represents a "return to Freud" (Being 4-6).
The bedrock of the Freudian "constitution/disposition" is Freud's concept of primal/phylogenetic fantasies, which are manifestations, in subjective experience, of events that antecede the subject's own existence and provide a framework for the inscription of sexual identity and the regulation of desire.15 "When Freud asked himself whether there was anything in man comparable to the 'instinct in animals,' he found the equivalent not in drives . . . but in primal [phylogenetic] fantasies" (Laplanche and Pontalis, "Fantasy" 23). In biological theory, what is innate is usually contrasted with what is acquired. But Freud forges the concept of something that is both innate and acquired. Just like a theory of instincts, phylogenetic fantasies represent Freud's effort to explain how what is "innate" is put into place. However, Freud differs from a biologically deterministic view in the emphasis he places on a historical event in human culture as the source of something that appears as inborn in subsequent generations.
The questions that provoked the concept of phylogenetic fantasies first appeared to Freud in the context of his clinical work. There he encountered the presence of particular "universals" that appeared to pervade the sexual lives of his patients. How could Freud explain the resurfacing of certain clinical phenomena among patients whose experiences were variable and idiosyncratic? How could he explain the universality of the Oedipus complex, for example, when familial configurations and roles were not universal? And how could he claim the existence of the castration complex when boys were obviously not castrated for their masturbatory practices or desires in the modern world? Why would there be a danger if there was no real threat? Freud responds to these questions with the idea that there are structures, like the Kantian categories of time, space, causality, etc., that organize experience (Fletcher 112). He writes:
like the categories of philosophy, [phylogenetic fantasies] are concerned with the business of 'placing' the impressions derived from actual experience. I am inclined to take the view that they are precipitates from the history of human civilization. . . . Wherever experiences fail to fit in with the hereditary schema, they become remodelled in the imagination. ("Infantile" 119)It is thanks to such "categories" that individuals can partake of human culture without having to reinvent humanity anew in each generation (Totem 158). Freud is postulating that certain ways of "'placing' the impressions derived from actual experience" are essential to becoming a sexed and sexualized human subject. Among them are the primal scene, which "stages" the origin of the individual; the seduction scene, which "stages" the origin of sexuality; and the castration scene, which "stages" the origin of sexual difference (Laplanche and Pontalis, "Fantasy" 27). Together, these fantasies "dramatize" what Freud postulates as fundamental enigmas that each child must face: sexual difference ("Who am I?") and sexual reproduction ("Where do I come from?").
Freud's myth of the primal father, elaborated in Totem and Taboo, narrates the "inaugural event" of the phylogenetic fantasy of castration. It shows how the origin of civilization is grounded upon the same foundation as the origin of the psychoanalytic subject: the prohibition against incest. According to Freud, this prohibition cannot be accounted for by biology:
What is the ultimate source of the horror of incest which must be recognized as the root of exogamy? To explain it by the existence of an instinctive dislike of sexual intercourse with blood relatives--that is to say, by an appeal to the fact that there is a horror of incest--is clearly unsatisfactory; for social experience shows that, in spite of this supposed instinct, incest is no uncommon event even in our present-day society, and history tells us of cases in which incestuous marriage between privileged persons was actually the rule. (Totem 122)If there were an already existing "instinct" for the aversion to incest, Freud observes that there would be no reason to reinforce this natural barrier with human law. He tells us that this prohibition does not reflect nature: it institutes culture. The primal horde's crime against the father and its effects constitute, for Freud, the event in human prehistory that is transmitted through the generations via unconscious memory traces. It subsequently appears as innate in every human being, inextricably binding together human sexuality, human subjectivity, and human civilization.
Phylogenetic fantasies represent an attempt to explain foundational elements of sexuality for which Freud refused the facile explanation of biological determinism. They inscribe the process of becoming human within a social-historical reality, a reality that is not contingent upon individual lived experience, yet must be taken into account by each individual. According to Freud, the phylogenetic fantasy is only "activated" by actual events in the individual's life. What is transmitted is the framework, the outline; what is lived is the subjective experience with all its variability: "the phylogenetic foundation has so much the upper hand over personal accidental experience that [variations in personal history] make no difference" (Outline 188).16 Yet, it is one's idiosyncratic experience of this universal structure that is the root of the particularity of subjective desires: although the structure of the fantasy may be "given," the shifting, multiple positions in which one situates oneself are not. Freud rejects the notion of a biological instinct that would already be in place, while at the same time admitting that there is a great deal that must already be in place for the individual subject to take his/her place in the symbolic universe.
Freud's phylogenetic fantasies have been expelled from psychoanalytic theory on the ground of their scientific and anthropological inaccuracy: "Born out of Freud's strong Lamarckian convictions, [they are] no longer considered acceptable," states the dictionary of psychoanalytic terminology published by the American Psychoanalytic Association (Moore and Fine 147). In fact, the Lamarckian idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics was already widely discredited by the time Freud expressed an interest in it (Mitchell, "Introduction" 14) and Freud held fast to this interest up until the very end of his work, by which time it had certainly been expelled from the domain of legitimate science (Grubrich-Simitis 98).
The expulsion of phylogenetic fantasies from psychoanalysis has lead to the rejection of the idea of a mode of transmission peculiar to cultural inheritance, and the question of how the domain of the social comes to inhabit the individual psyche ( an issue central to sexuality) has been reduced to biology. The concept of phylogenetic fantasies does not stand or fall with the scientific status of Lamarckian theory or the accuracy of Freud's description of human prehistory. On the contrary, Freud's schema serves the purpose of providing his theory of sexuality with "something which transcends both individual experience and what is imagined" (Laplanche and Pontalis, "Fantasy" 16), and allows sexuality "to be seen as being constituted at the core of intersubjective structures which predate its emergence in the individual" (Laplanche and Pontalis, Language 421). Without a concept like the phylogenetic fantasies, Freud would have had to have let each individual reinvent sexuality anew, or attribute human sexuality to "nature." Although his revisionists chose the latter option, Freud reveals a subject "shot through with sedimented layers of history" (Jacoby 46), a subject that cannot be reduced to a biological being.
Of course, no sooner had [Freud] made a discovery than it would immediately be set upon by the work of gnawing away which always takes place around any kind of speculative novelty and tends to make everything fit back into the routine (Lacan Seminar II 65)
Lacan's metaphor of "gnawing away" seems particularly apropos given our beginning, following the beginning of the Three Essays in which Freud insists that the model of hunger is a false lure for any theory of human sexuality. Yet, bit by bit, bite by bite, chunks representing the "speculative novelty" of Freud's theory of sexuality have been excised. And always, the justifications for taking a piece here and a piece there remain the same--the claim for progress in the name of scientific certainty: Hartmann's de-libidinization of psychoanalysis under the banner of biology, Rado's refusal of bisexuality as a "mystic" and scientifically unfounded fantasy, the banishment of phylogenetic fantasies as Freud's Lamarckian folly. The problem with all these expulsions is not that they do not adhere to the letter of Freud's text, but, rather, that they miss the core of Freud's project: that human sexuality is the mark of a rupture between "nature" and human culture. Freud's theory of sexuality reveals that the drive is never completely subsumed under the primacy of the genitals; by psychoanalytic definition, human sexuality cannot be reduced to genitality. We may be subject to sexed reproduction, but this is neither the cause nor the aim of our desire, any more than we human subjects eat just because we are hungry. In fact, sometimes we refuse to eat precisely because we are hungry, while other times, we eat precisely because we are not hungry. This is the decidedly nonadaptive logic of the divided subject that Freud's revisionists fail to understand.
Gnawing away at Freud's theory, however, may have turned out to be an instance of biting the hand that feeds. By insisting that the human subject is first and foremost a biological creature, the post-Freudians I have discussed here inadvertently ceded to biology the authority to answer the most important questions about the human psyche and human life in general. As critics have pointed out so well, psychoanalysis can hardly play the role of a general science. Its idiosyncratic epistemology--that of the divided subject--is inextricable from its theory of sexuality. By gnawing away at this theory a gap was created, a gap that is only too easily filled by the twin illusions of transparent subjectivity and scientific certainty. That's where the "gay gene" enters. The idea that homosexuality is genetic is "old wine in new bottles"; the innate, biological causality of homosexuality was postulated a century ago. The fact that it appears as a new discovery is the function of a new vocabulary ("genes," "information") and powerful new technologies (DNA testing, gene mapping). However, the fact that it has become so credible, is at least in part attributable to the scientism of Freud's revisionists. When their problematic approach to homosexuality finally (and more than justifiably) failed, they had in the meantime, through their problematic approach to heterosexuality, rolled out the red carpet for the biological determinists and sealed their own fate. Even before the "gay gene," this was already evident in the instance of psychosis, where psychoanalysts no longer have much credibility, and can also currently be seen in the hegemony of psychopharmacological approaches to "depression."
Richard Isay has claimed that the best approach to "de-pathlogizing" homosexuality is to endorse the notion of the "gay gene," to presume that homosexuality is "just as natural" as heterosexuality. While I have pointed out that that logic is internally inconsistent (homosexuality can never be "equal but different" given the primacy of reproduction to the transmission of genes), I have also tried to show that there is much more at stake than this fault. Freud's theory is subversive in that it structurally, if not always explicitly, refuses the ground zero explanation of biological instinct. Consequently, Freud rejects the scientific supposition that drive and object are linked by biology, and he severs genitality and sexuality. "The truly psychoanalytic insight in this account of sexuality is that the process of normalization . . . inevitably fails. . . . The unconscious is a sign of that failure and of the inescapable queerness or perversity of sex in human subjects" (Dean 9). It is through his account of the failure of "normalization" for all human subjects, the inescapable Otherness of the unconscious, that Freud provides the beacon not only for his theory but for his practice. It is certainly clear from history that a clinical approach that emphasizes biology and adaptation will also emphasize conservatism and conformity. Currently, we see in Isay's work an emphasis on the importance of long-term monogamous relationships to the "certainty and clarity about one's personal identity as a gay man" as well as to happiness (Becoming 9). However, according to Freud, there are no contentments when it comes to human sexuality; what we have in common is our discontents, idiosyncratic as they may be. What has been occluded by this post-Freudian fascination with homosexuality are precisely the ways in which sexuality in all its manifestations is the inescapable proof that we are not masters of our own domain. It is no less true today than it was when Freud authored the Three Essays: The attempt to explain sexuality through instinct leaves a lot to be desired.
ONA NIERENBERG is a psychoanalyst and staff psychologist in the AIDS Program at Bellevue Hospital in New York. She recently completed her dissertation, entitled "The 'Science' of Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Critique." Her essay, "Reading, Writing and the Discourse of DNA" will appear in Being Human: The Technological Extensions of the Boundaries of the Body, an anthology forthcoming from Marsilio Publishers. She is a member of the Aprs-Coup Psychoanalytic Association.
1 For example, the "mini-encyclopedia," Psychoanalytic Terms and Concepts, published by the American Psychoanalytic Association, has no entry under "drive," as such, but includes the following statement in the definition of "instinctual drive": "Freud assumed that Triebe are based on innate givens, gene-determined potentials present from birth" (Moore and Fine 101).
2 "Biological reality" in the sense of the domain of the self-preservation of the biological being. This is what Jean Laplanche calls "the vital order," pointing out its "insufficiency" and "deficiency" with respect to human life which provokes the "infestation" of the vital order by sexuality as well as the sustenance of the vital order by sexuality: "Why does one so often have to force children to eat, to offer them 'one spoon for daddy, one spoon for mommy'--i.e., one spoon for daddy's love, one spoon for mommy's love--were it not that appetite is sustained, supplemented, and, to an extent, replaced in the human child by love?" (Life 48).
3 See note 14.
4 Lacan identified Hartmann as his bte noire, citing Hartmann's primary error of building an entire theory around the illusion of the ego as the entirety of the subject, and even more egregiously in the context of Lacan's reading of Freud, claiming that this ego is "autonomous" or "conflict-free." As Lacan points out, Hartmann was a leader in shifting the object of psychoanalysis away from the unconscious to the "autonomous ego." See particularly Seminar II for Lacan's explicit references to Hartmann and his commentary on ego psychology.
5 With this analysis, I break from Lewes's position, which sees the development of ego psychology as "not crucial" to mapping the history of the psychoanalytic theory of male homosexuality (95).
6 Of course, certain tendencies in Freud's own writings contributed to this problem. However, despite the occasions of Freud's explicit biological determinism, the structure of his theory of sexuality explicitly, and implicitly, problematizes the attribution of human sexual desire, sexual object choice, and sexual difference to independent biological factors like instincts or genes, as I discuss in the next section.
7 This essay is pivotal to the development of the Three Essays, a text notorious for its four editions and twenty years worth of emendations, additions, footnotes, and asides, some of which are easily assimilated to the original edition of 1905, some of which are contradictory, and others of which direct the reader to further works for clarification. "The Disposition to Obsessional Neurosis" was Freud's first elaboration of a "libidinal stage," the anal phase. Prior to this, Freud posited an infantile sexuality characterized by the flux of anarchic component drives each seeking their own satisfaction, and a pubertal or adult sexuality during which these drives come under the primacy of the genital zone. "Pregenital Organization" is a concept Freud introduces in "Disposition" in 1913 with regard to the anal organization of the libido. Combining this with his postulates about the oral organization, Freud adds the section on "The Phases of Development of the Sexual Organization" to the Three Essays in 1915, and this section (with the addition of the third, phallic phase in a 1924 footnote) subsequently became somewhat disastrously known as the "libidinal stages."
8 It is not my purpose here to review Freud's various theories on the etiology of homosexuality; this has been accomplished admirably elsewhere, particularly in Lewes. Rather, it is my project to focus on Freud's theory of sexuality in general, highlighting how, in structure and much of its content, this general theory implodes a biologically reductionistic conception that views sexuality in the service of reproduction as guaranteed, the basis of a necessary equation between homosexuality and psychopathology.
9 Here I use the word "moment" not in the sense of a chronological developmental stage, but, rather, to indicate a mythologized "event" which marks the origins of something new (the distinctively sexual drive) that does not represent the unfolding of an immanent quality, but indicates rupture. In this sense, the "moment" is reflexive, determining what is presumed prior as well as what follows: psychoanalytic time as opposed to the linear time of developmental theory.
10 Freud was to change his mind on this point, perhaps responding to Melanie Klein's writings on infantile sexuality during the 1920s. In his New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis Freud writes, "Our attitude to the phases of the organization of the libido has in general shifted a little. Whereas earlier we chiefly emphasized the way in which each of them passed away before the next, our attention now is directed to the facts that show us how much of each earlier phase persists alongside of and behind the later configurations and obtains a permanent representation in the libidinal economy and character of the subject" (100). Similarly, in the Outline, he writes, "It would be a mistake to suppose that these three phases succeed one another in a clear-cut fashion. One may appear in addition to another; they may overlap one another, may be present alongside of one another" (155).
11 Again, it is notable that the developmental logic of the libidinal stages represents an anomaly for Freud. In "The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman," he, in effect, defines psychoanalysis as a retrospective explanatory system, ruling out the possibility of psychoanalytic prediction due to the plethora of contingent elements impossible to factor until the "final outcome" has been solidified (167). In fact, in the first part of the Three Essays, Freud works backward from inversion and perversion to establish his radical proposition of their continuity with "normal" sexuality. Conversely, working forwards from infantile sexuality to the presumed end of "normal" sexuality leads Freud to the ubiquitous problem of developmental logic: having to posit as given what one is trying to explain.
12 I am sure the Freudian foundations of Lacan's paternal metaphor are obvious here. As Lacan said to his followers, "It is up to you to be Lacanians. As far as I am concerned, I am a Freudian" (qtd. in Marini 249).
13 Although I have intentionally confined my interpretations to the writings of Freud, I would be remiss here not to point out that Lacan's understanding of need, demand, and desire provides a way of theorizing what provokes the change from the oral to the anal "phase" without resorting to "instinctual maturation," which appears as the default explanation for many psychoanalytic theorists. Lacan points out that the during the oral phase the infant is demanding: demanding the breast, demanding to be the object of the mother's desire, demanding her ever-presence. However, there follows a demand on the part of the mother with the advent of toilet training and weaning that bars the previous entitlements of "His Majesty, the Baby" to defecate at its own whim or receive the breast upon demand. Consequently, "the satisfaction of a need [becomes] subordinated to the demand of the Other, i.e. the subject (child) can only satisfy his need on the condition that he thereby complies with the Other's demand" (Zizek 37).
14 Given the complexities of dealing with Strachey's translation, as well as Freud's use of a multiplicity of terms to designate what is "inborn" as contrasted with "accidental" factors, I have provided Freud's German terminology for the specific instances I cite. (I would like to thank Matthew von Unwerth for locating these terms.) Though surveying Freud's lexicon on this topic and Strachey's various translations would be complementary to this project, such an investigation is beyond the scope of this essay. Nevertheless, I believe that the citations herein provide sufficient evidence for problematizing the equation between "constitutional" and "biological." I elaborate this argument in the rest of this section.
15 Laplanche and Pontalis describe the phylogenetic fantasies as a "prefiguration of the 'symbolic order' defined by Levi-Strauss and Lacan in the ethnological and psychoanalytic fields respectively" ("Fantasy" 17). (Also see note 8.)
16 For example, this is how Freud explains that while the Wolf Man's female nurse, Nanya, was actually responsible for threatening him with castration when he masturbated, in the Wolf Man's fantasies, these threats came from his father ("Infantile" 119-20).
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