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Stein, R. (2007). Moments in Laplanche's Theory of Sexuality. Studies in Gender and Sexuality, 8(2):177-200.

(2007). Studies in Gender and Sexuality, 8(2):177-200

Moments in Laplanche's Theory of Sexuality

Ruth Stein, Ph.D.

This paper is a brief introduction to some of Laplanche's thinking, as well as a commentary on his essay that is published here. Some salient issues in Laplanche's theory are introduced, such as the decentering of the subject and the prioritizing of the other, the postulation of the “reality of the message,” in which gestures from the other both signify and excite/seduce, and an enlarged meaning of seduction. The child's translation of the enigmatic messages conveyed by the adult is a process of being seduced into building interiority and subjectivity. In effect, the present paper proposes not only that “otherness” constitutes the subject, but that an “asymmetrical intersubjectivity” is what enables the transition from instinct to drive and the creation of paradoxical human sexuality. In a meditation that illuminates significant issues in American feminist and psychoanalytic theory, Laplanche's essay analyzes and distinguishes three interrelated terms, gender, sex, and “the sexual” (“le sexual”), or so-called “infantile sexuality”, the latter documenting a Freudian and French emphasis on an additional, counter-realistic, counter-adaptational, and counter-social conception of sexuality. What stands out in this paper no less than “le sexual” is the use of the term “gender” by a French psychoanalyst, who is at once nodding in acknowledgment to contemporary American thinking, and enlisting

the concept of gender to reaffirm its “intimate enemy,” infantile sexuality,“le sexual.” Laplanche sees the American-conceived couple sex/gender as a “formidable tool against the Freudian discovery.” Formidableness is what is common to gender and to infantile sexuality, in that both concepts resist and destroy the clear-cut biological/anatomical “destiny” of sex. Both pertain to cultural/acquired/constructed aspects of sexuality; both are phantasmatic and both subvert sexual role divisions. But gender is organized by, hence possibly subordinate to, sex. Laplanche acknowledges gender yet at the same time he makes it dependent on sexuality and thereby “downgrades” it in favor of the inarticulate, perverse, subversive, untameable aspect of human sexuality—“le sexual”, infantile sexuality—which remains outside and in excess of gender.

The primal relationship is …established on a two-fold register: we have both a vital, open and reciprocal relationship, which can truly be said to be interactive, and a relationship which is implicitly sexual, where there is no interaction because the two partners are not equal …Here, we have seducer and seduced, perverter and perverted. Someone is moving away from the straight and narrow; we have here a “Traviata”, someone who has been led astray and seduced [Jean Laplanche, 1989, New Foundations for Psychoanalysis, p. 103].

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