Normality and Perversion: Freud and Psychosexual Theory
As subversive as they were original, Sigmund Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality revolutionized the Western understanding of the psychology of sexual desire. Insisting on a sexual drive with a perverse core, Freud’s theory affirmed the existence of sexuality in children while rejecting its ostensible foundations in heteronormative love and biological reproduction. Freud’s three essays aimed to counter what was then “popular opinion” concerning the sexual drive, a “poetic fable,” first formulated by Plato, which envisioned a single being split in two, each part of which—man and woman—naturally strove to reunite through erotic union. For Freud, this naive view had an insidious grip not only on art and culture, but also on works of medicine, psychiatry, and sexology. What are we to make of a theory of sexuality in which perversions, neurotic suffering, and normality are no more than various shades of difference?
In this course, we will take the Three Essays as a starting point in attempting to isolate the historical uniqueness of Freud’s theory of sexuality alongside related disciplines while underscoring the tension between the theory’s normative and non-normative aspects. Then, following a careful reading of the essays, we will engage with contemporary theorists working in queer theory, feminism, and psychoanalysis, including Jean Laplanche, Lee Edelman, Leo Bersani, Robert Stoller, and Joyce McDougall, to interrogate the value of Freud’s sexual theory for understanding human subjectivity and cultural practices.
Course ScheduleSunday, 2:00-5:00pm EST
April 10 — May 08, 2022
Class will not meet Sunday, April 17th.