Thinking Queer: Sexuality, Culture, and Education

By Susan Talburt; Shirley R. Steinberg | Go to book overview

Chapter 3

Precocious Education 1

Deborah P. Britzman

While it may be rather unpopular to begin with Sigmund Freud's views on sexuality—and here, I leave it up to the reader to supply the more commonplace remittances against Freud—there remains something quite radical in Freud's theories that should cause educators to rethink our resistance to the associations of sexuality, to the intractableness of Eros and its labile design, and to the startling and often off-putting questions made from this original urge. When Freud divided the human subject with his notion of the unconscious, and suggested that there is a part of each of us that cannot be tamed or known; that resists rationality, time, and negation; that tolerates without judgement the coexistence of contradiction; and that obeys the continuum of pleasure and unpleasure as opposed to the fragile laws of reality-testing, he also suggested a stunning breach in sexuality. We are not just alienated from knowing ourselves in terms of consciousness, rationality, and intention: Even our desires slip between the fault lines of recognition and misrecognition, our urges divide in the strange calculus of ignorance and knowledge, and our passions contradict in aim and satisfaction. The wanderings of sexuality signify excess, more than we may consciously ask for or even want. Freud named this otherness the instinct of Eros, where instinct suggests a “frontier concept, something between the wish and the need. 2

Freud conceptualized instinct as sheer urge, the push that comes before representation and in its search for satisfaction, the instinct's aim, object, drive, and source work against each other, may momentarily meet but only to divide again, and then, in the strange trajectory of desire, instinct loosens its bearings, falls away, only to begin again. The instinct searches before it knows its wants. As a demand to work, the workings of instinct are precocious, arriving before knowledge and understanding. It

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