Psychoanalysis
Resources

 email page    print page

All Topic Reviews
A Basic Theory of NeuropsychoanalysisA Cursing Brain?A Dream of Undying FameA Map of the MindAfter LacanAgainst AdaptationAgainst FreudAn Anatomy of AddictionAnalytic FreudAndré Green at the Squiggle FoundationAnger, Madness, and the DaimonicAnna FreudAnna Freud: A BiographyApproaching PsychoanalysisAttachment and PsychoanalysisBadiouBecoming a SubjectBefore ForgivingBerlin PsychoanalyticBetween Emotion and CognitionBeyond GenderBeyond SexualityBeyond the Pleasure PrincipleBiology of FreedomBoundaries and Boundary Violations in PsychoanalysisBuilding on BionCare of the PsycheCarl JungCassandra's DaughterCherishmentConfusion of TonguesContemporary Psychoanalysis and the Legacy of the Third ReichCrucial Choices, Crucial ChangesCulture and Conflict in Child and Adolescent Mental HealthDarwin's WormsDesert Islands and Other Texts (1953-1974)Dispatches from the Freud WarsDoes the Woman Exist?Doing Psychoanalysis in TehranDreaming and Other Involuntary MentationDreaming by the BookEnergy Psychology InteractiveEqualsErrant SelvesEthics and the Discovery of the UnconsciousEthics Case Book of the American Psychoanalytic AssociationFairbairn's Object Relations Theory in the Clinical SettingFed with Tears -- Poisoned with MilkFeminism and Its DiscontentsForms of Intersubjectivity in Infant Reasearch and Adult TreatmentFour Lessons of PsychoanalysisFratricide in the Holy LandFreudFreudFreudFreudFreudFreudFreud and the Question of PseudoscienceFreud As PhilosopherFreud at 150Freud's AnswerFreud's WizardFreud, the Reluctant PhilosopherFrom Classical to Contemporary PsychoanalysisFundamentals of Psychoanalytic TechniqueGenes on the CouchGoing SaneHans BellmerHappiness, Death, and the Remainder of LifeHate and Love in Psychoanalytical InstitutionsHatred and ForgivenessHealing the Soul in the Age of the BrainHeinz KohutHeinz KohutHidden MindsHistory of ShitHope and Dread in PsychoanalysisImagination and Its PathologiesImagine There's No WomanIn Freud's TracksIn SessionIn the Floyd ArchivesIntimaciesIntimate RevoltIrrationalityIs Oedipus Online?Jacques LacanJacques Lacan and the Freudian Practice of PsychoanalysisJung and the Making of Modern PsychologyJung Stripped BareKilling FreudLacanLacanLacanLacan and Contemporary FilmLacan at the SceneLacan For BeginnersLacan in AmericaLacan TodayLacan's Seminar on AnxietyLawLearning from Our MistakesLove's ExecutionerMad Men and MedusasMale Female EmailMelanie KleinMemoirs of My Nervous IllnessMental SlaveryMind to MindMixing MindsMoral StealthMourning and ModernityMovies and the MindMurder in ByzantiumNew Studies of Old VillainsNocturnesNoir AnxietyOn Being Normal and Other DisordersOn BeliefOn IncestOn Not Being Able to SleepOn the Freud WatchOn the Way HomeOpen MindedOpera's Second DeathOvercoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and BehaviorsPhenomology & Lacan on Schizophrenia, After the Decade of the BrainPhilosophical Counselling and the UnconsciousPractical Psychoanalysis for Therapists and PatientsPsychiatry, Psychoanalysis, And The New Biology Of MindPsychoanalysisPsychoanalysis and Narrative MedicinePsychoanalysis and NeurosciencePsychoanalysis and the Philosophy of SciencePsychoanalysis as Biological SciencePsychoanalysis at the MarginsPsychoanalysis at the MarginsPsychoanalysis in a New LightPsychoanalysis in FocusPsychology, Psychotherapy, Psychoanalysis, and the Politics of Human RelationshipsPsychotherapy As PraxisPutnam CampQuestions for FreudRe-Inventing the SymptomReading Seminar XXReinventing the SoulRelational Theory and the Practice of PsychotherapyRelationalityRepressed SpacesRevolt, She SaidSecrets of the SoulSerious ShoppingSex on the CouchSexuationSigmund FreudSoul Murder RevisitedSpectral EvidenceSpirit, Mind, and BrainStrangers to OurselvesSubjective Experience and the Logic of the OtherSubjectivity and OthernessSubstance Abuse As SymptomSurrealist Painters and PoetsTaboo SubjectsTalk is Not EnoughThe Art of the SubjectThe Brain and the Inner WorldThe Brain, the Mind and the SelfThe Cambridge Companion to LacanThe Challenge for Psychoanalysis and PsychotherapyThe Clinical LacanThe Colonization Of Psychic SpaceThe Condition of MadnessThe Couch and the TreeThe Cruelty of DepressionThe Dissociative Mind in PsychoanalysisThe Dreams of InterpretationThe Examined LifeThe Fall Of An IconThe Freud EncyclopediaThe Freud FilesThe Freud WarsThe Fright of Real TearsThe Future of PsychoanalysisThe Gift of TherapyThe Heart & Soul of ChangeThe Knotted SubjectThe Last Good FreudianThe Letters of Sigmund Freud and Otto RankThe Mind According to ShakespeareThe Mystery of PersonalityThe Mythological UnconsciousThe Neuropsychology of the UnconsciousThe New PsychoanalysisThe Power of FeelingsThe Psychoanalytic MovementThe Psychoanalytic MysticThe Psychoanalytic Study of the ChildThe Psychoanalytic Study of the ChildThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Puppet and the DwarfThe Real World Guide to Psychotherapy PracticeThe Revolt of the PrimitiveThe Seminar of Moustafa SafouanThe Sense and Non-Sense of RevoltThe Shortest ShadowThe Social History of the UnconsciousThe Surface EffectThe Symmetry of GodThe Tragedy of the SelfThe Trainings of the PsychoanalystThe UnsayableThe World of PerversionTherapeutic ActionTherapy's DelusionsThis Incredible Need to BelieveThoughts Without A ThinkerTo Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the WorldTrauma and Human ExistenceTraumatizing TheoryUmbr(a)Unconscious knowing and other essays in psycho-philosophical analysisUnderstanding Dissidence and Controversy in the History of PsychoanalysisUnderstanding PsychoanalysisUnfree AssociationsWalking HeadsWay Beyond FreudWhat Does a Woman Want?What Freud Really MeantWhen the Body SpeaksWhere Do We Fall When We Fall in Love?Whose Freud?Why Psychoanalysis?Wilhelm ReichWinnicottWinnicott On the ChildWisdom Won from IllnessWittgenstein on Freud and FrazerWittgenstein Reads FreudWorld, Affectivity, TraumaZizek

Related Topics
The World of PerversionReview - The World of Perversion
Psychoanalysis and the Impossible Absolute of Desire
by James Penney
State University of New York Press, 2006
Review by Edward Willatt
Mar 18th 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 12)

James Penney's The World of Perversion is a book centered on contemporary concerns with accounting for political agency and action. The book is structured by dense and complex engagements with different thinkers and writers. It is aimed at an academic audience who are familiar with psychoanalytic terminology. There emerges a hero in the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and a villain in the philosopher Michel Foucault. Lacan is said to have provided an adequate account of political action and intervention. Foucault is repeatedly charged with having failed to provide an account of how subjects rise above their situation so as to become political subjects. Perversion is understood here as a psychic structure. This means that it accounts for subjectivity as such rather than being attributed to a particular type of subject or subjective experience. Penney is concerned with an account of subjectivity that does not limit or prescribe what a subject can be and do. For him this is the value of perversion. He is concerned to account for the subject without specifying its nature or determining its possibilities. He seeks to show how perversion, by its very nature, is able to maintain this model of the subject. Perversity emerges as the way in which subjectivity always exceeds how we might define it or find it defined in historical and social contexts. It provides the potential for political engagement because it exceeds the ways in which subjects are known and represented. This refers to a 'lack' in knowledge and representation's grasp of the subject. This lack is not irrelevant or negative but is productive and always at work. For Penney this is what enables thought and action to be political in the first place.

Penney champions 'Pascal's decision to place the contradictory or undecidable quality of the human condition at the level of thought and action rather than at the level of being [which] serves to indicate how the former bear a relation to a function of freedom – to our capacity, that is, to base our actions not on any quantifiable Good, but rather on the judgment of an indeterminate absolute: the will of the hidden God' (p. 98-99). This is a good example of how Penney makes use of thinkers and writers in this book. He describes here a psychic structure where political action  relies upon a notion of 'lack'. There is the lack of a quantifiable or knowable Good that would provide subjectivity with norms for its thought and action. The absolute or God is the embodiment of this lack. It is the Other that exceeds knowledge. It exceeds all knowledge of the subject in order to keep open what the subject can be and what it can do. Penney writes that it is not placed as the level of 'being' because this precedes every subject. Instead it is directly involved in every subject's constitution and life. The subject's freedom is therefore equated with its relation to the undecidable and hidden Other rather than to a knowable standard of goodness. This 'lack' opens up a gap where political action is possible. For Penney this is where subjectivity becomes political or where a political subject emerges. The political subject is therefore not a particular subject but any subject insofar as they are engaged in an action made possible by this lack.

The critique of Foucault that Penney outlines in the first chapter is extended into a critique of historicism that runs throughout the book. Thus in chapter two Michel Bataille is criticized for the alleged historicism of his account of the trial of the medieval aristocrat Gilles de Rais. He is said to have failed to see how perversity rises above its historical and social context so as to constitute a psychic structure. Penney argues that Gilles de Rais should be viewed in terms of his relation to God as a knowable Other. In chapter three he then moves to Pascal's formulation of God as an un-knowable Other. This removes the Other entirely from any place in the structures of knowledge and representation. This is a convincing argument insofar as it maintains that we cannot account for subjectivity on the basis of what is already known about the subject. We would in this case be assuming what we need to account for. We would leave no space for action that exceeds given states of affairs. For Penney this space is precisely where the political subject emerges as a liberated form of subjectivity. Foucault is said to have collapsed the very possibility of freedom into his account of the completeness of historical and social representations of the subject. There is a danger at times that Foucault's irrelevance to an account of politics is taken for granted by Penney when this is a major claim that needs further justification. No deepened understanding of Foucault's work emerges in this book.

The major lesson of The World of Perversion seems to be that politics is something that can 'happen' only as the result of what exceeds what is known or is historically and socially conditioned. In the final chapter Penney relates this to Queer Theory and how we define sexuality. He argues for a distinction between psychic and biological sexuality (p. 217). This corresponds to the contradiction between the knowable and unknowable. This contradiction is what Penney at one point refers to as a 'call to arms' (p. 172). He argues that knowledge of biology does not completely constitute the subject's sexuality. Homosexuality shows that psychic sexuality is able to contradict someone's biological sexuality. What is at stake in the book is how a subject can act without taking its bearings from how it is known and represented. Penney argues convincingly that these conditions must be exceeded because '...the revolution of our time must be fought in the name of a generic subject whose sexuality may not be predicted in advance, a sexuality which is finally indeterminate and unknowable' (p. 218-219).  

© 2008 Edward Willatt

Edward Willatt is currently undertaking PhD research in the philosophy department at the University of Greenwich, London. He works on the relations between Immanuel Kant and Gilles Deleuze. He also helps to organise research events at Greenwich focusing on the work of Deleuze. For details of forthcoming events see www.deleuzeatgreenwich.blogspot.com

Comment on this review


Share

Welcome to MHN's unique book review site Metapsychology. We feature over 7900 in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and perspectives. We update our front page weekly and add more than thirty new reviews each month. Our editor is Christian Perring, PhD. To contact him, use one of the forms available here.

Can't remember our URL? Access our reviews directly via 'metapsychology.net'


Metapsychology Online reviewers normally receive gratis review copies of the items they review.
Metapsychology Online receives a commission from Amazon.com for purchases through this site, which helps us send review copies to reviewers. Please support us by making your Amazon.com purchases through our Amazon links. We thank you for your support!


Join our e-mail list!: Metapsychology New Review Announcements: Sent out monthly, these announcements list our recent reviews. To subscribe, click here.

Interested in becoming a book reviewer for Metapsychology? Currently, we especially need thoughtful reviewers for books in fiction, self-help and popular psychology. To apply, write to our editor.

Metapsychology Online Reviews

Promote your Page too

Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716