Further comments on ‘perverse jouissance’: Seminar VII:18th November 1959

by Julia Evans on October 22, 2012

Related texts

Seminar VII: The ethics of psychoanalysis: 1959-1960: from 18th November 1959 : Jacques Lacan or here

Texts from the “Reading Seminar VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis”’ group : here 

The Interpretation of Dreams: 1st November 1899 (published as 1900): Sigmund Freud  or here


1) These comments follow from those in Notes from p1 – 7 of Seminar VII from the 21-09-12 Reading Group Meeting  or here    ‘perverse jouissance’ is found on the last line p4 of Dennis Porter’s translation.

2) There exists an exchange on the-letter@googlegroups.com , initiated by Bruno de Florence, on the following:

‘On Monday, October 8, 2012

Subject: Re: Terms and Terms

In relation to a discussion during the Seminar 7 Reading Group on 6 October 2012 (London, UK):

Some of Freud’s terms can be ambiguous, when their usage seems to coincide with an already existing usage in everyday context. In a Freudian psychoanalytical context, “perverse/perversion”, “psychotic”, “hysteric/hysterical” cover an entirely different semantic field than the one indicated by English language dictionaries.

Is there maybe somewhere an English dictionary of psychoanalytical terms which could be consulted?’

3)  I attempt in the following a different way of defining these terms…

I start with perverse/perversion, though I suspect similar comments can be made on the term psychotic.  I go against my usual practice by extracting sentences from within Freud (Bold added by JE):

i) p109 of pfl: Volume 7, On Sexuality: Three essays on the theory of sexuality: 1905: Essay II, Infantile Sexuality: Section 4, Masturbatory Sexual Manifestations: Paragraph heading,

Polymorphously Perverse Disposition

It is an instructive fact that under the influence of seduction children can become polymorphously perverse, and can be led into all possible kinds of sexual irregularities. This shows that an aptitude for them is innately present in their disposition. There is consequently little resistance towards carrying them out, since the mental dams against sexual excesses – shame, disgust and morality – have either not yet been constructed at all or are only in course of construction, according to the age of the child.

ii)  p155 of pfl: Volume 7, On Sexuality: Three essays on the theory of sexuality: 1905: Summary

The time has arrived for me to attempt to summarize what I have said. We started out from the aberrations of the sexual instinct in respect of its object and of its aim and we were faced by the question of whether these arise from an innate disposition or are acquired as a result of experiences in life. We arrived at an answer to this question from an understanding, derived from psycho-analytic investigation, of the workings of the sexual instinct in psychoneurotics, a numerous class of people and one not far removed from the healthy. We found that in them tendencies to every kind of perversion can be shown to exist as unconscious forces and betray their presence as factors leading to the formation of symptoms. It was thus possible to say that neurosis is, as it were, the negative of perversion. In view of what was now seen to be the wide dissemination of tendencies to perversion we were driven to the conclusion that a disposition to perversions is an original and universal disposition of the human sexual instinct and that normal sexual behaviour is developed out of it as a result of organic changes and psychical inhibitions occurring in the course of maturation; we hoped to be able to show the presence of this original disposition in childhood.

iii) P159 of pfl: Summary: op. cit.:

It was not possible to say what amount of sexual activity can occur in childhood without being described as abnormal or detrimental to further development.

iv)   P163-164 of pfl: Summary: op.cit.: Section name ‘Sublimation part 3’:

What we describe as a person’s ‘character’ is built up to a considerable extent from the material of sexual excitations and is composed of instincts that have been fixed since childhood, of constructions achieved by means of sublimation, and of other constructions, employed for effectively holding in check perverse impulses which have been recognized as being unutilizable. The multifariously perverse sexual disposition of childhood can accordingly be regarded as the source of a number of our virtues, in so far as through reaction-formation it stimulates their development.


My take on what both Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan do is they reverse the logic of the development of sexual orientation.  The two logics:

Sexual development suddenly appears at puberty (in both male and female bodies) in its ‘normal’ or ‘standard’ form.  Any deviation from this standard, a man and a woman together in a long term relationship, is defined as perverse.  In the UK, homosexuals are now emerging into this standard form.

The perverse sexual disposition of childhood gives rise, in each individual, to a sexual position (most of the time – emptiness has been commented on elsewhere – see, for example, The Empty Subject: Un-Triggered Psychoses in the New Forms of the Symptom: 1999: Massimo Recalcati )  Thus everyone’s position is based in perverse jouissance.

When child sexual abuse is used, by the tabloids, to boost their circulation figures perversion becomes deviant and evil.  I do not advocate the altering, in any way, of the law as regards child sexual abuse, rape, sexual molestation and so on.  These have been defined, in the UK, as criminal acts within the law.  It, however, remains the case that each individual’s sexuality, develops out of their polymorphous perverse sexual disposition.  So in this sense, we are all perverse.

Perverse or perversion is not a deviation from the standard, it is the base-line from which we all develop.

Related texts

Seminar VII: The ethics of psychoanalysis: 1959-1960: from 18th November 1959 : Jacques Lacan or here

Texts from the Reading Seminar VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis group : here  

The Interpretation of Dreams: 1st November 1899 (published as 1900): Sigmund Freud  or here


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Julia Evans

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst in Earl’s Court, London


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