Medical Humanities Colloquy 12.0

On the Genealogy of Perversion: from Psychiatry to Psychoanalysis

What is perversion, today? Cultural perversion is typically understood as an aberrant sexual practice engaging in physical torture to induce sexual pleasure. A lewd concept of perversion as such traces back to the early modern literary writings, including The 120 Days of Sodom (1785) and Philosophy in the Bedroom (1795) by de Sade, just to name a few, and the autobiographic novella Venus in Furs (1870) by Sacher-Masoch. Taking the last names of these two literary figures, a 19th century German physiatrist Krafft-Ebing coined the terms masochism and sadism—a moment that marks the first introduction of perversion into the field of psychiatry. How has perversion since been transformed? This talk will first examine the contemporary psychiatric perversion classified as “sexual perversions” or “paraphilia” and the implications of its medicalization. Beyond the medical discourse, the talk will then present an innovative concept of perversion linked to psychic cruelty and desexualization informed by Lacanian psychoanalytic theory.

Bio: Meera Lee is on the faculty of the Asian American Studies Program at Hunter College, CUNY and a psychoanalyst. She is the editor of Lacan’s Cruelty: Perversion beyond Philosophy, Culture and Clinic, as well as the author of Who’s Afraid of Hemingway Men: Reconstructing Masculinity in Freud and Lacan (in Korean). Her writings have appeared in positions: asia critique, Verge: Global Asias, Telos, Symposium: A Quarterly Journal in Modern Literatures, Tamkang Review, and 21st Century Literature, as well as the edited book Psychoanalyzing Cinema: A Productive Encounter with Lacan, Deleuze and Žižek. She is currently completing a monograph, tentatively titled, Of Cruelty: The Superego Today in Freud and Lacan.