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Sex on the CouchReview - Sex on the Couch
What Freud Still Has To Teach Us About Sex and Gender
by Richard Boothby
Routledge, 2005
Review by Petar Jevremovic
Aug 21st 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 34)

In the frenzied atmosphere of the contemporary word dislocation, aimlessness, and alienation have replaced the suffocating rigidity and social propriety that formed the background of the most characteristic forms of psychological distress in turn-of-the-century Vienna. The hysteria and anxiety neuroses familiar to Freud have given way in our time to depression, personality disorders and anorexia.

Freud's world in not the world that we are living in. As I already said, many things are changed. But of course, there are things that are still unchanged. One among them is (I believe that this is rather plausabile statement) the question of sex and gender within the theory and practice of psychoanalysis. Freud's  classical ideas and concepts (I will just mention penis envy, Oedipus complex, castration, identification...) are no so convincing as they used to be. His basic presuppositions (mainly his mechanicism and his biologism) and his well known conclusions and intuitions (his masculinism) are more than just anachronic these days. It is common knowledge that we (if we really want to do something with psychoanalysis) need something fresh and new in our theory and in our (clinical) practice.

First of all, our basic ideas about the physiology (or neurology, genetics...) of human conscious and unconscious are much more reflexive, critical and advanced than Freud's. Also we know much more about social (semiotic, linguistic, discursive) constitution (some would say construction) of deeply human sense of his own gender, and of the gender of the Other. 

Having all this in mind, we could (first of all) point that Boothby's book is instructive in many different ways. It could be seen as a good example of the great many books that are dealing with the gender-sex problem. Many of them are (implicitly or  explicitly) inspired with the spiritual legacy of Jacques Lacan and his school of psychoanalysis. These books share common (lacanian or pseudolacanian) rhetoric and (more or less transparent) common conceptual framework their authors want to be much more understandable than Lacan himself. Their intention is (allmoust always) to produce potentially popular versions of highly speculative lacanian doctrines. The discursive Utilitarianism of their authors might be politically motivated, but not necessarily.

I believe that best work in this book (and because of this it is really worth of reading) lays in its first part. Here Richard Boothby introduces his readers to his own (popular, but not too simplistic) reading of lacanian and postlacanian ideas about gender. This part of his book could be of great help for students and all other possible beginners. Boothby's discourse is fluent, referent and relevant, understandable, and almost always well balanced.

I am sorry to say that Boothby is not so convincing and not successful in the two other parts of his book. First of all, his ideas about history are rather simplicistic and not so convincing as they should be.  Good example is how Boothby understands the relation between Greek and Judeo-Christian civilizations. His ideas about Greek world are too much idealized and uncritical. Question of the pleasure within the context of Greek family is far more complicated then it is expressed in statements like this: "There was nothing intrisically wrong with the pleasures of home, heart, and marriage bed.  Surely no man would have been faulted for arranging his domestic affairs with care.  The private sphere served the needs of the body and its appetites…"  As we know, Greek world has its own taboos and binary oppositions. Just think about Foucault and his History of Sexuality.  It was restrictive as world that we are living in (or even as the World of Judeo-Christian culture), but in different way.  It has its own repressions and rationalizations, victims and ideals.  It is far from being possible to say that the private sphere served the needs of the body and its appetites. If this was the case, brifelly speaking, there would be no place for developing (in public sphere) for Greeks rather important institution of the Heterai.  Not to mention old Greek understendings of Oedipus, Antigona and Medea…

Reading Boothby's text, I also had problems with his (I believe uncritical) assimilation of Murray Davis' ideas about gnosticism and about its possible relations with the tradition of De Sade. It is too naïve to suppose that there is something like Gnostic stand of modern sexuality, tradition of transgressive excess for which the Marquise de Sade was such a key representative. Historically speaking, there was too much conservativism within the historic Gnosticism, not to mention their deep dualism.

All these problems within Boothby's argumentation make his text less convincing than it should be.


© 2007 Petar Jevremovic

Petar Jevremovic: Clinical psychologist and practicing psychotherapist, author of two books (Psychoanalysis and Ontology, Lacan and Psychoanalysis), translator of Aristotle and Maximus the Confessor, editor of the Serbian editions of selected works of Heintz Kohut, Jacques Lacan and Melanie Klein, author of various texts that are concerned with psychoanalysis, philosophy, literature and theology. He lives in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.


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