Title

"The Language of Tenderness and of Passion" or The Place of Sex in Paradise: A Response to Gavin Miller

Publication Title

New Literary History

Publication Date

Fall 2007

Document Type

Article

DOI

10.1353/nlh.2008.0007

Keywords

taboo on tenderness in theory and culture, psychoanalysis and literature, sex in literature

Disciplines

Clinical Psychology | Psychology | Theory and Philosophy

Abstract

My response to Gavin Miller's excoriation of contemporary theory's "taboo on tenderness" applauds the critique he is offering of the stultifying effects of theory on the language of literary criticism, while at the same time demurring that a "taboo on sexuality" unfortunately exists in the relational psychoanalytic movement he celebrates in this paper. Drawing on recent reevaluations of Freud's "drive theory" in light of his own biographical conflicts around what he called the "oceanic feeling" of infantile merger, I review how the relational movement in contemporary clinical psychoanalysis came about through a charting of the mother/infant dyad largely avoided in Freud's theories. My concern expressed in this response is that relational psychoanalysis itself has turned away from a full encounter with the drives and with sexuality in its efforts to idealize and theorize "baby love." Noticing an ironic parallel in Miller's own paper as he tends to idealize Ian Suttie's view of love while perhaps avoiding the importance of sexual passion, I take up Sandor Ferenczi's ur-text, "Confusion of Tongues Between Adults and the Child: The Language of Tenderness and of Passion" to reflect upon the place of sex and love in psychoanalysis. I finally turn to poet John Milton's pre-lapsarian language of "Paradise Lost" to offer a modest resolution of this tension between the discourse of tenderness and desire.

Publisher

Johns Hopkins University Press

Publisher Location

Baltimore, MD


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