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Eshel, O. (2005). Pentheus rather than Oedipus: On perversion, survival and analytic ‘presencing’. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 86(4):1071-1097.

(2005). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 86(4):1071-1097

Pentheus rather than Oedipus: On perversion, survival and analytic ‘presencing’

Ofra Eshel

Following an introductory review of the main developments in the psychoanalytic thinking on perversion, the author focuses on her own understanding of perversion and its treatment, based on the psychoanalytic treatment of patients with severe sexual perversions. This paper uses the term ‘autotomy’ (borrowed from the field of biology) to describe perversion formation as an ‘autotomous’ defence solution involving massive dissociative splitting in the service of psychic survival within a violent, traumatic early childhood situation; thus, a compulsively enacted ‘desire for ritualised trauma’ ensues. The specific nature of the perverse scenario embodies the specific experiential core quality of the traumatic situation. It is an actual repetition in the present of the imprint of a past destructive experience which is pre-arranged and stage-managed; it thus encounters haunting scenes of dread or psychic annihilation while, at the same time, controlling, sanitising and disavowing them. Hence, the world of severe perversion is no longer oedipal, but rather the world of Pentheus, Euripides's most tragic hero—a world dominated by a mixture of a mother's madness, devourment, destruction and rituals of desire. According to this view, the (difficult) psychoanalytic treatment of perversion focuses on patient-analyst interconnectedness—brought about by the analyst's ‘givenness to being present’ or ‘presencing’—at a deep, primary level of contact and impact (the emphasis being on the ontological dimension of experience). This evolving therapeutic entity creates and actualises a new, alternative experiential- emotional reality within the pervert's alienated world, eventually generating a change in the perverse essence. The author illustrate this approach with three clinical vignettes.

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