Page 54 - University of Pretoria RESEARCH REVIEW 2016
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HERITAGE and society
Sigmund Freud published Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality first in 1905, and then four further editions between 1905 and 1924; the revisions, which are included in the translation of the Standard Edition, obscure some of his original ideas.
In 2016, Professor Ulrike Kistner in the Department of Philosophy at UP completed the first English translation of the 1905 edition of Three Essays (published by Verso, January 2017). Kistner describes her philosophical inquiry as ‘archaeological explorations, re-finding lost thought and bringing it to bear on contemporary questions and debates’. This seems indeed to have been the case with the task of translating this seminal work of one of the great theorists of the 20th century.
The publishers note that the first edition of Three Essays shows ‘a radically different psychoanalysis, and in a form new to all but a few ardent students of his work’.1 The English translation now opens this text to a wide readership, and to closer scrutiny.
The 1905 version does not espouse the Oedipal complex that came to dominate Freud’s ideas and the subsequent editions of these Essays. The role of sexuality for psychic life outlined by Freud in 1905 has an emancipatory potential for the contemporary world that could revitalise Freudian thought, at a time when societies have begun the serious work of reconceptualising sexual identities. The conception of
self is no longer rooted in the assumption of a sexual identity; instead the imposition of sexual categories becomes a source of neurosis and itself a problem to overcome.
The foreword, written by Ulrike Kistner with Philippe Van Haute and Herman Westerink,2 outlines the context and theoretical implications of a non-Oedipal psychoanalysis. Three points are highlighted: First, the 1924 edition became decontextualised from Freud’s 1905 projects and thoughts. The same year (1905) also saw the publication of Fragment of an Analysis of Hysteria (‘Dora’), and Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious. These books illuminate each other and Freud’s thinking in that period; the psychoanalytic tradition consistently gives an Oedipal interpretation of the Dora case, yet there is not
one reference to the Oedipus complex in the 1905 edition, except a footnote mentioning the ‘Oedipus fable’. In the 1905 edition, the crucial problematic that lies at the basis of hysteria is not the Oedipus complex, but bisexuality. Reading Dora against the background of the 1905 edition reveals a picture different from the one emerging from reading the case against the background of the 1924 edition.
A second point: the 1905 edition contains a theory
of sexuality that in no way anticipates the later Oedipal theories, and allows for a critique of a
binary conception of sexuality and, more generally, of sexual identity politics. It resonates well with the work of philosophers who, writing on related subjects at a later date, attempt to overcome heteronormative logics (e.g. the writings of Foucault and Deleuze, and of queer theory).
And a final point: even as the first edition articulates a new revolutionary theory of sexuality, it also remains stuck, to an extent, in age-old prejudices about sex and sexuality. Yet, it is precisely because the 1905 text illuminates, rather than simply neglects, the uncertainties and ambiguities, that it shows possibilities for new ways of thinking about sexuality that transcend the ‘heterosexual matrix’ that in so many ways conditions our lives.
2 Text adapted from the Foreword; see:
52 | UP Research Review 2016
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