Joanne Epstein on Dollimore, "Perverse Dynamic"

I must admit that upon first glancing at the article "Towards the Paradoxical Perverse and the Perverse Dynamic," that my interest was piqued simply because of the word "perverse." For me, that word is very connotative bringing to mind many images of sadomasochistic and aberrant acts; this was further so due to the fact that this article is found categorized with such others such as "Beast in the Closet," and "Speculations on the History of Sexual Intercourse." Needless to say, after reading this article, the concept of "perversity" no longer has the same connotations.

Jonathon Dollimore, the author of this article, affirms that perversion is a concept that involves the dialectic between domination and deviation; one that functions through "repression," "demonizing," "displacement," and "struggle." He also explicitly states that this is not a history of perversion as understood in the modern discourses of sexology and psychoanalysis ( hence my initial disappointment upon first reading this article). This author defines perversion as a concept involving: 1) an erring, straying, deviation, or being diverted from 2) a path, destiny, or objective which is 3) understood as a natural or rightP usually right. With these parameters in mind, Dollimore then proceeds to involucrate Freud and Foucault to further explain his concept of perversion. According to Freud, "perverse desire is not eliminated but transformed, via repression and sublimation, into other kinds of energy which civilization depends upon" (105). He also sees perversion as innocent. Foucault views perversion as out in the open, not sublimated and used as a vehicle of power, a "construction which enables it to gain a purchase within the realm of the psychosexual"(106). At any rate, both of these theorists see perversion as central and vital to culture.

The next few pages of this article are dedicated to a literary analysis of the concept of perversion in such literary works as Paradise Lost and The Tempest. It is in this type of literary analysis that language comes into play. We also learn that deviation and perversion are what the dominant defines itself against, yet "simultaneously deviation and perversion emerge from within, are produced by and displaced from, the dominant"(113). Finally we are able to see how one applies all this literary theory that we are reading to real texts, something which sometimes tends to get lost in our discussions. On the other hand, and this is my general criticism of this article, I am not left with a clear sense of what the author expects from us once we have noted this "perversion." Do we accept it as "normal," something that forms part of the system? How is this concept useful in evaluating the text as a whole? Where do we go from here? I do realize that he is focusing on the historical aspects of perversity (i.e the "wayward woman"and "religious heretic") but it would be useful to know how such an analysis can help us, as cultural workers, in the future.

To continue with a summary of the text's character: Dollimore underlines the effects of perversion; they reveal the coerciveness of the normal and the arbitrariness of nature. He is also concerned with the definitions of the "parodoxical perverse"P "the perverse threat is inextricably rooted in the true and authentic and because of this connection, is also the utter contradiction of the true and the authentic" and the "perverse dynamic" which "signifies the potential of those paradoxes to destabilize, to provoke discoherence" (121). Both the perverse dynamic and the paradoxical perverse are able to be related to rhetoric. In this, the author hints that one can question gender hierarchies and teological limitations of the social order, but he does not really demonstrate how one may do so, a criticism which I have already mentioned. After reading this article, I would certainly not define perversion as aberrant, rather I see it as a natural part of a process.

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