A Cultural History of Causality: Science, Murder Novels, and Systems of Thought

By Stephen Kern | Go to book overview

4
Sexuality

SEXUAL DESIRE is the biological deep wiring of causal activation and a powerful force behind a range of behaviors from basic relatedness to complex love. Its immediate goal is release of sexual tension and a heightening of sexual pleasure, which may involve a sexual partner. Its long-term goal is the production of offspring, which requires a partner and usually involves relationships that begin long before offspring appear and continue after they are born. These protracted social relationships may lead to competition and thus aggression. In some people, mainly men, that mix of desire and aggression can become spiked by jealousy or emotional corruption and motivate murders involving rape, torture, mutilation, necrophilia, or cannibalism.

Since the Victorian period, novels described such murders with increasing detail and specificity, drawing on findings that emerged around the turn of the century from a number of new disciplines, such as sexology, sexual science, forensic psychiatry, and psychoanalysis.1 The new science of sex endocrinology identified specific sex hormones, which further clarified the causal action of sexual desire. As with the discovery of genes, the discovery of sex hormones and its elaboration into other new specialties such as psychopharmacology and neuroendocrinology sharpened understanding of the causal role of sexual desire while also expanding the realm of uncertainty about complex causal interactions between genes, peptides, hormones, neurotransmitters, and the brain.

Across the years of my study, descriptions of the bodily sources and causal circuitry of desire in love novels shifted from Victorian circumspection to modern directness. While Victorian novelists traced sexual desire from imprecise sources in the soul, spirit, or heart, moderns traced specific bodily sources in the mouth, nipples, genitals, anus, and the entire surface of the skin as well as in stimuli from impulses, fantasies, and vision. Earlier novelists’ discretion about sex, routine with George Eliot and Henry James, became unthinkable with D. H. Lawrence and James Joyce.

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A Cultural History of Causality: Science, Murder Novels, and Systems of Thought
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Ancestry 27
  • 2 - Childhood 64
  • 3 - Language 108
  • 4 - Sexuality 147
  • 5 - Emotion 189
  • 6 - Mind 226
  • 7 - Society 266
  • 8 - Ideas 304
  • Conclusion 359
  • Notes 377
  • Bibliography 419
  • Index 425
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