The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud - Vol. 1

By Peter Gay | Go to book overview

FOUR

Learned Ignorance

I. An Age of Factitious Innocence

Human beings are ignorant more than once. While they make their debut in life with an impressive array of mental and physical endowments, all these are wholly unrealized, possibilities waiting for experience. Then, immediately, the world undertakes to inscribe on their minds knowledge of sorts. The infant's initial encounters are so many lessons in its extended, often trying, sexual education; its mother's breast, the warmth of her embrace, her soothing voice, her inexplicable and frightening absences, are all authoritative, sometimes very harsh preparations for the career of the adult lover.

They are authoritative but largely unconscious. As the child begins to sort out inner urges from outward impressions, establishes boundaries between self and world, and engages in his intensely solitary, not always happy affair with his parents, he amasses the raw material from which he will construct his erotic agenda. Then comes the oedipal phase, that poignant domestic triangle, the first far-reaching crisis in the child's history of loving, as decisive for the girl as it is for the boy. But these instructive early phases of development are, though forever retained, almost wholly forgotten; having traversed the Oedipus complex, the child comes to repress much of what he has learned. There are good reasons for these intense acts of forgetting: the little boy would just as soon not be reminded of open or fancied threats to his cherished penis; the little girl as soon deny her dismay at discovering that she has no penis to lose.

But out of sight is not out of mind. While the child's sexual investigations and his often outlandish sexual theories, to say nothing of his sexual

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The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud - Vol. 1
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Books by Peter Gay *
  • The Bourgeois Experience - Victoria to Freud *
  • Contents *
  • Abbreviations *
  • General Introduction *
  • Orientations 3
  • One - The Strain of Definition 17
  • Two - Architects and Martyrs of Change 45
  • Education of the Senses *
  • Bourgeois Experiences, I - An Erotic Record 71
  • One - Sweet Bourgeois Communions 109
  • Two - Offensive Women and Defensive Men 169
  • Three - Pressures of Reality 226
  • Four - Learned Ignorance 278
  • Five - Carnal Knowledge 328
  • Six - Fortifications for the Self 403
  • Appendix 461
  • Bibliographical Essay 463
  • Illustrations and Sources 509
  • Acknowledgments 513
  • Index 517
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