olga neuwirth

It lies in the nature of sexual crime that violence and desire collide here in love’s most despairing form, unable to verbalize, condemned solely to motoric expression. Frank Wedekind and Alban Berg must have had an understanding of the relationship between cruelty and sexual desire and Olga Neuwirth endeavours to transform this knowledge into music, one that Sigmund Freud set into clinical and theoretical formulations more than hundred years ago. In view of today’s gutter press and current jurisdiction it remains doubtful whether Freud’s findings are being taken seriously enough, or indeed, whether this has ever been the case. It was Jean Laplanche, a French Psychoanalyst with the most intimate knowledge of Freud’s theories who, shortly before his death last year, published an article called The Sexual Crime. Laplanche’s and Sigmund Freud’s ideas and concepts on the relationship between sexuality and violence will be exemplified and illustrated by a series of quotations from their work in the following lines:

“The fact of the existence of sexual needs in human beings and animals is expressed in biology by the assumption of a ‘sexual instinct’, on the analogy of the instinct of nutrition, that is of hunger. Everyday language possesses no counterpart to the word ‘hunger’, but science makes use of the word ‘libido’ for that purpose.
Popular opinion has quite definite ideas about the nature and characteristics of this sexual instinct. It is generally understood to be absent in childhood, to set in at the time of puberty in connection with the process of coming to maturity and to be revealed in the manifestations of an irresistible attraction exercised by one sex upon the other; while its aim is presumed to be sexual union, or at all events actions leading in that direction. We have every reason to believe, however, that these views give a very false picture of the true situation” (Sigmund Freud 1905).

“In that moment where one, like me, follows the thesis that infantile sexuality is not something that is innate but rather something that appears like a fantasy within a dialogue, an exchange between adult and child, one has to completely revert one’s perception of sexual crime” (Jean Laplanche 2004).

“Further prospects are opened up when we take into consideration the fact that in man the sexual instinct does not originally serve the purposes of reproduction at all, but has as its aim the gaining of particular kinds of pleasure. It manifests itself in this way in human infancy, during which it attains its aim of gaining pleasure not only from the genitals but from other parts of the body (the erotogenic zones), and can therefore disregard any objects other than these convenient ones” (Sigmund Freud 1908).

“In our opinion, the actual sexual character of “the child’s sex-life” is impossible to define on a purely physiological level. It cannot be disconnected from the emergence of the sexual fantasy which, in turn, is connected to the intervention of the other, the sexual adult” (Jean Laplanche 2006).

“Even if one has to hold on to the idea that a child’s biological mechanisms are very frail and incapable of securing his survival, one cannot deny the pre-existence of certain psycho-physiological circuits, but it is a curiously human attribute that the other’s enigmatic messages immediately exert influence upon these circuits “(Jean Laplanche 1996).

“No healthy person, it appears, can fail to make some addition that might be called perverse to the normal sexual aim; and the universality of this finding is in itself enough to show how inappropriate it is to use the word perversion as a term of reproach” (Sigmund Freud 1905).

“It is perhaps in connection precisely with the most repulsive perversions that the mental factor must be regarded as playing its largest part in the transformation of the sexual instinct. It is impossible to deny that in their case a piece of mental work has been performed which, in spite of its horrifying result, is the equivalent of an idealization of the instinct. The omnipotence of love is perhaps never more strongly proved than in such of its aberrations as these. The highest and the lowest are always closest to each other in the sphere of sexuality: ‘Vom Himmel durch die Welt zur Hölle’” (Sigmund Freud 1905).

“In the beginning there was the fantasy” or the “primal fantasy” might hold true for some, a primal fantasy where it is apparently not even considered important to justify its origins. Freud is truly being steamrollered here even though and despite the audacity of his theories, he closes Totem and Tabu with a discussion in which he ponders whether that which he describes may have been nothing but a fantasy to “primitive” mankind. He adds: “There is no reason to consider this true.” And he closes with Goethe’s famous phrase: “In the beginning was the deed” and so sets the real sexual crime to its place at the beginning” (Jean Laplanche 2004).

“Seduction […] is based on a situation that no human being can escape: The anthropological basic situation as I call it. It consists of the relationship between adult and young child, between adult and infant. The adult who has an unconscious in the way that has been discovered by psychoanalysis – a sexual unconscious which consists mainly of infantile residuals, a perverse unconscious in the sense of Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality and the child which has no hormonal triggers for sexuality and initially no sexual fantasies” (Jean Laplanche 2004).

“The main effect produced by the sight of the child lies in the arousal of the mother’s own infantile sexuality. A portion of sexual envy is awoken, on the other hand the often enough hard-fought and stable sexual repression plays itself out again. And in this way the hostile impulses that are expressed through child-abuse may have a connection to the awakening of the own infantile sexuality. “ (Freud 1911)

“On the other hand he (Freud) continually resists the idea that a woman’s breast is a crucial (vital) erogenous zone. With the introduction of this notion he (Freud) would bring the whole seductory relationship into play in regards to the so called experience of satisfaction” (Jean Laplanche 2006).

“That kernel of truth that it ( the theory of seduction by the father) contains, lies in the fact that the father has really, by way of harmless affectations during the earliest stages of childhood, awoken the little girl’s sexuality (…) It it these same affectionate (tender) fathers who try to break the habit of masturbation whose guiltless cause they had been.” (Freud, 1912)

“The fundamental sex-crime is sexual abuse. Its model is the abusive relationship between adult and child but also rape and other variations. It is characterized not only by dissymmetry, which also exists in other relationships, but by the dominant position” (Jean Laplanche 2004).

“Rare are those incest-theoreticians or even theoreticians of sexual crime (even psychoanalysts!) who face the fact that (in the Freudian sense) these constitute sexual practices (Jean Laplanche 2004). In other words – how large is the sexual part in any crime, even the most mundane, banal, “realistic” one? No analyst can avoid pondering this question even if he/she does not have a “criminal” on his/her couch” (Jean Laplanche 2004).

“The sexual instinct—or, more correctly, the sexual instincts, for analytic investigation teaches us that the sexual instinct is made up of many separate constituents or component instincts—is probably more strongly developed in man than in most of the higher animals; it is certainly more constant, since it has almost entirely overcome the periodicity to which it is tied in animals” (Sigmund Freud 1906).

“The varying erosion of these systems in modern civilization lets sexual crime resurface in its brutal essence. It may be the task of future generations to develop new forms of relationships. But we have not yet come that far” (Jean Laplanche 2004).
Quotes compiled by Friedl Früh and translated from the German by Sam Simon