Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality

Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality

Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality

Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality


Y2K! The world waits anxiously to see what millennial mischief crops up. But at Basic Books the year 2000 is cause for celebration. Fifty years ago Basic was founded as a home for works by outstanding scholars on topics of wide importance and broad general interest. Over the years our authors have inspired and informed, pleased and provoked generations of readers; indeed, many Basic titles have changed the very culture from which they emerged.

To commemorate our fiftieth year, we are proudly reissuing a selection of our most distinguished books from the last half-century. Here, in brand new packages, with new introductions and editorial comments by leading contemporary figures, are ten exemplars of the intellectual vigor that is the hallmark of Basic Books: classic titles by John Bowlby, Sigmund Freud, Josef Breuer, Claude Levi-Strauss, James Q. Wilson, Clifford Geertz, and Michael Walzer. That books like these remain in print is itself a testament to their enduring value. By calling attention to their sustained presence we hope to introduce new readers to landmark works that will continue to roil cultural waters for decades to come.

Freud's groundbreaking, trouble-making theory of sexuality -- infantile (developmental), adolescent (transformational), and deviant -- in the classic Strachey translation, with a new foreword by Nancy Chodorow, who re-animates it from the postmodern perspectives of feminist psychoanalysis and the sociology of gender.


Now that the flood-waters of war have subsided, it is satisfactory to be able to record the fact that interest in psycho-analytic research remains unimpaired in the world at large. But the different parts of the theory have not all had the same history. The purely psychological theses and findings of psycho-analysis on the unconscious, repression, conflict as a cause of illness, the advantage accruing from illness, the mechanisms of the formation of symptoms, etc., have come to enjoy increasing recognition and have won notice even from those who are in general opposed to our views. That part of the theory, however, which lies on the frontiers of biology and the foundations of which are contained in this little work is still faced with undiminished contradiction. It has even led some who for a time took a very active interest in psycho-analysis to abandon it and to adopt fresh views which were intended to restrict once more the part played by the factor of sexuality in normal and pathological mental life.

Nevertheless I cannot bring myself to accept the idea that this part of psycho-analytic theory can be very much more distant than the rest from the reality which it is its business to discover. My recollections, as well as a constant re-examination of the material, assure me that this part of the theory is based upon equally careful and impartial observation. There is, moreover, no difficulty in finding an explanation of this discrepancy in the general acceptance of my views. In the first place, the beginnings of human sexual life which are here described can only be confirmed by investigators who have enough patience and technical skill to trace back an analysis to the first years of a patient's childhood. And there is often no possibility of doing this, since medical treatment demands that an illness should, at least in appearance, be dealt with more rapidly. None, however, but physicians who practise psycho-analysis can have any access whatever to this sphere of knowledge or any possibility of forming a judgement that is uninfluenced by their own dislikes and prejudices. If mankind had been able to learn from a direct observation of children, these three essays could have remained unwritten.

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