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Perversion I: Perverse Traits

The Letter, Issue 22, Summer 2001, Pages 59 - 74


Paul Verhaeghe

Introduction: the moral stance

Perversion is without any doubt one of the most difficult clinical categories, both as regards its study and the possibility of treatment. If we want to say something useful about it, we need to clear up a number of obstacles beforehand, in order to be able to study perversion as such. There are at least three difficulties: first of all the habitual moral reaction; secondly, the difficulty in differentiating typical human polymorphous sexuality with its perverse traits on the one hand from the perverse structure on the other hand, as one of the three possible structures of the subject; thirdly, we have to be aware of the omnipresence of the male gaze, which amounts to a phallic magnifying glass.

Let us start with the moral reaction. The so-called good neurotic does exist[1] and probably the good psychotic also. The good pervert, however, seems to be a contradictio in terminis. The sympathy that is felt for his victim implies a moral rejection of the perpetrator. This rejection has been endorsed by the connection between perversion, child abuse and incest. As a result, the possibility of sustaining both an objective gaze and an unbiased treatment is seriously impaired, and this goes for our dealings with both the perpetrator and the victim.

Concerning the perpetrator, this rejection makes it impossible to see that the pervert himself presents a moral model, because he - just like any other believer - denies the lack of the Other by presenting himself as the answer to this lack. Perversion and ethics are not opposites, as one might assume. On the contrary, the pervert is extremely moral, not a-moral or anti-moral. Moreover, our rejection of the pervert turns the treatment into an ill-concealed punishment, having only one goal, that is, to stop his bad behaviour.

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