Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Perverted Politics: Deviance for Its Own Sake Is Reactionary, Not Rebellious, Argues Matthew Taunton

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Perverted Politics: Deviance for Its Own Sake Is Reactionary, Not Rebellious, Argues Matthew Taunton

Article excerpt

The ultimate critical virtue, agree many academics, is transgression-social, sexual and political. Theorists such as Judith Butler and Michel Foucault have contributed to a left-wing discourse in which the celebration of deviance has taken over from serious attempts to describe or improve the lot of the oppressed. Scholarly papers extolling the subversive energies cunningly hidden in literary texts or embodied in practices such as body modification, transvestism and every possible sexual perversion (as catalogued by the sainted Georges Bataille) are paying, albeit indirectly, for mortgages in the Home Counties and second homes in France. As often as not, the standard-issue tweed jacket conceals a vigorous champion of polymorphous perversity.

In many ways, this is one of the ambiguous legacies of 1968. Thinkers such as R D Laing and Herbert Marcuse supposed there was a close link between psychic, sexual and political liberation, and prescribed a heady combination of psychedelic drugs, free love and marching. Smashing fun, obviously, but that this recipe is still considered even vaguely plausible as a path to liberation must be because behind the hoopla there was a serious political message.

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Yet the Sixties failed to deliver the political and sexual utopia they promised. Social inequality has got worse, and the Aids virus cruelly capped a sexual revolution based on promiscuity and the dissolution of the nuclear family. The current trend retains the form but not the content of the rebellion of 1968, as if rule-breaking were progressive in itself. …

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