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social sciences

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Freud, Sigmund (1856-1939)  
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Not controlled by reason and logic nor touched by ethical imperatives, these contents are made out of desires and wishes that the conscious mind refuses to acknowledge. Since they cannot be annihilated, the rejected contents are repressed and shifted into the unconscious, from whence they constantly try to find their way back to the conscious. The gap between the unconscious and the conscious, however, is not bridged by the repressed contents or representations themselves, but by the drives or energies formerly attached to them and now looking for new conscious representations that they can appropriate in order to manifest themselves.

For Freud, the psychic apparatus works like a dynamic and complex system of locations (or topology) that are constantly interacting with one another. Within this system, the conscious re-articulates the latent contents of the unconscious as manifest objects, while the unconscious itself remains beyond the grasp of conscious awareness

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Perversions and Normative Heterosexuality

While Freud assumes a perverse polymorphous disposition in every human being, he ultimately evaluates and assesses this disposition from the perspective of a sexual normativity that, in spite of its precariousness and instability, constitutes the aim of the individual's sexual development. In Three Essays, Freud characterizes neurosis as "the negative of perversion" (das Negativ der Perversion), and points out that, since perversions ignore the Oedipus complex, the incest prohibition, and the ensuing repression and sublimation, they are confabulated according to the patterns of raw, infantile sexuality.

Based on this assumption, Freud distinguishes between perversions with regard to their object and their aim. Object perversions imply a fixation on a single object and the neglect of all others, whereby the object can be either a human partner (incest, homosexuality, ) or a non-human entity (fetishism, zoophilia, transvestism). With regard to their aim, perversions relate either to visual pleasure or jouissance (voyeurism, exhibitionism), to the pleasure derived from causing pain or suffering it (sadism, masochism), or to the pleasure dependent on the exclusive concentration on a body region (fellatio, cunnilingus).

Around 1915, Freud left behind his descriptive approach to perversions and began to elaborate on perversion as an organizing principle of the ego in its relations to psychosis and neurosis. Although the neurotic repression of unconscious demands differs from the psychotic defense mechanism conducive to the disavowal of reality, both neurosis and psychosis are the result of an internal psychic conflict that presupposes a resolution--albeit in an unsatisfactory form--of the Oedipal situation.

Distinct from neuroses and psychoses, perversions imply the cessation of psychosexual development in a pre-Oedipal stage. Since they are not based on a resolution, but on a denial of the Oedipal situation and the castration complex, perversions are marked by the refusal to acknowledge the factuality of sexual difference.

Although Freud's understanding of perversions is to a large extent determined by his views on heterosexual normality, he insists that the exclusive sexual interest felt by men for women is "a problem that needs to be elucidated," since heterosexual object-choice is not a given of biology accompanying psychic development from the outset, but the culmination of this development that, in most cases, proves unsatisfactory and unstable.

These insights notwithstanding, Freud assumes that heterosexuality is the most appropriate object choice, for it warrants the propagation of the species. From this perspective, the survival of infantile in the psychic life of the adult is considered a deficiency that hinders the deployment of sexuality toward the aims of procreation.

Bisexuality, The Third Sex, and Homosexuality

Contrary to the embryological and anatomical idea of bisexuality as a natural occurrence, Freud began to develop in the years before the publication of the Three Essays a conception of bisexuality as a fundamental psychical structure common to all humans and independent of any biological substrate. According to Freud, bisexuality is the actual psychical basis of heterosexuality and homosexuality, for both constitute compromise formations based on the narrowing of sexual choice.

Since unconscious bisexuality is postulated as existing in a state of latency in all heterosexuals and as an explanatory principle of homosexual object choice, Freud rejects the hypothesis of a separate "third sex" as propounded, for example, by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, one of the forerunners of the homosexual emancipation movement in Germany.

In this connection, Freud clearly asserted that "psychoanalysis is not called to solve the problem of homosexuality." In Über die Psychogenese eines Falles von weiblicher Homosexualität (The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman, 1920), he emphasized that the elimination of the homosexual "form" (Variante) of genital organization is never an easy task and that the attempt to transform a fully developed homosexual person into a heterosexual would be as little promising as the other way around.

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