Reading Freud For the First Time in Fifty Years


This afternoon, I sat in a classroom with Rice students and an engaging professor, listening to a discussion of Freud's 1905 take on 'Sexual Aberrations'. Reading the thirty assigned pages was a real slog. Took me back to a class at Cornell, circa 1961. Reading Freud was a slog then, too. I tried to take him at his word, but I doubted much of what I read because, the summer before, I'd consumed Simone de Beauvoir's 'The Second Sex'.
Reading Freud fifty years later is still difficult. I underlined often, wrote in the margins, felt irritable and irritated by both translation and content. This 1930 translation is truly awkward, both grammatically and stylistically. Sentences are so convoluted, I wish I still had the skill to diagram them, the better to ferret out Freud's meaning.
That proverbial use of the word 'man' instead of human begins in the first sentence: "The fact of sexual need in man and animal is expressed in biology by the assumption of a 'sexual instinct.' Freud then defines 'sexual object' and 'sexual aim', a binary of which he immediately states is loaded with deviation.
He describes the ideal: 'popular theory corresponds closely to the poetic fable of dividing the person into two halves - man and woman - who strive to become reunited through love.' Love? Reunited?
Freud tells us there are men for whom women are not sexual objects. Such men are labelled 'inverts' and their number is considerable. Imagine being called an inversion. And it is not ideal. All of this in the first five paragraphs. Aberrations and perversions span the next thirty pages.

Freud wrote within the social constructs of his time, assumed the conventions of the Edwardian Age. Happily, he does not pronounce aberrations as sinful, but is intent on cataloguing what he knows. In effect, Freud makes for us a cabinet of curiosities.
Here are a few sentences and ideas that I won't soon forget:
'For aesthetic reasons one would fain attribute...excessive aberrations of the sexual impulse to the insane, but this cannot be done.' Good, for not making moral judgments here.
'One definite kind of contiguity, consisting of mutual approximation of the mucous membranes of the lips n the form of a kiss, has received among the most civilized nations a sexual value, though the parts of the body concerned do not belong to the sexual apparatus but form the entrance to the digestive tract.' We really just have to rid ourselves of binaries when speaking of desire and sex.
'The employment of the mouth as a sexual organ is considered as a perversion if the lips of the one are brought into contact with the genitals of the other, but not when the mucous membrane of the lips of both touch each other.' Oh, dear, let's move on to Alfred Kinsey.

Footnote 20 "I have no doubt that the conception of the 'beautiful' is rooted in the soil of sexual stimulation and signified originally that which is sexually exciting. The more remarkable, therefore, is the fact that the genitals, the sight which provokes the great sexual excitement, can really never be considered 'beautiful.' So we've been told, until Judy Chicago.
'Among the Greeks, where the most manly men were found among inverts, it is quite obvious that it was not the masculine character of the boy which kindled the love of man, but it was his physical resemblance to woman as well as his feminine psychic qualities, such as shyness, demureness, and the need of instruction and help. As soon as the boy himself became a man, he ceased to be a sexual object for men and in turn became a lover of boys.' Freud never mentions power imbalances as  aphrodisiac. 
I am glad I grappled with Freud again, and I am very glad we are moving on.









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