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Flax, J. (2004). The Scandal of Desire: Psychoanalysis and Disruptions of Gender: A Meditation on Freud's Three Essays on The Theory of Sexuality. Contemp. Psychoanal., 40(1):47-68.

(2004). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 40(1):47-68

The Scandal of Desire: Psychoanalysis and Disruptions of Gender: A Meditation on Freud's Three Essays on The Theory of Sexuality

Jane Flax, Ph.D.

In The Three Essays, Sigmund Freud advances a radical account of gender, sexuality, and knowledge. The power and implications of his account remain underappreciated, even within contemporary psychoanalysis. Freud portrays masculinity and femininity as equally problematic and painfully acquired social constructs. Concepts such as the unconscious and desire further undermine conventional ideas about masculinity and femininity, sexuality and rationality. Despite objectionable statements about women, Freud's ideas subvert traditional justifications for male dominance. Freud makes the equally radical claim that there is no intrinsic relationship between anatomical difference and sexual desire. Heterosexuality is neither the “natural” expression of the drive for pleasure nor a consequence of anatomical difference. Conventional gender arrangements and sexual identities reflect socially conditioned channeling of desire. Despite the supposed pervasiveness of psychoanalytic thinking, such ideas contravene conventional Western thinking. Taken seriously they undermine dominant notions of gender relations, ideologies of the family, and theories of knowledge and the mind. Such still scandalous ideas partially account for the persistent disrepute of Freud's ideas.

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