SEXUAL DESIRE AND ITS REPRESENTATION
Among the most revolutionary aspects of Freud’s conceptualization of sexual development was one that he himself did not fully appreciate nor effectively work into his theoretical constructions. This was his almost casual observation that the object of the sexual drives was not an extension of those drives, not their natural mode of expression, but that the object was “soldered” onto the drives. Freud’s formulation encourages us to treat the sexual object not as the expression of desire but as a representation of desire, a view that conceptualizes the sexual not as an ultimate reality but as metaphoric text (Davidson 1987). The current preoccupation with how the sexual is represented must give way to the more challenging question of what the sexual represents.
This formulation occasions the familiar but largely unemployed idea that sexual behavior is the expression of a wide variety of desires that are not intrinsically sexual and, by the same token, that to speak of “hidden” or “latent” sexual motives is not to speak of desire’s ultimate meaning, but to refer to a complex history of meanings (Merleau-Ponty 1962). Individuals acting in virtually identical ways may be doing so as a result of different configurations of desire and they may find themselves experiencing the act in different ways. Similarly, individuals experiencing what are virtually identical conf igurations of sexual desire, given the specif ic contingencies of their lives, may find themselves engaging in vastly different activities. To the continuing frustration of conventional behaviorists, individual behavior increasingly must be viewed not as the text of a fact but as a complex outcome for which no one defining label can have assured universal meaning. Clearly, there are more reasons for being sexual than ways of being sexual.
Contrary to the legacy of Freud, for the very reason that there may be no desire that cannot be sexualized, there may be no desire that is intrinsically sexual. The possibility of hidden agendas becomes the commonplace of human encounters in modern and postmodern worlds, agendas hidden from others, and often simultaneously hidden from the self. As never before, more than finding the origins of the sexuality of individuals in the history of their culture, we must seek these origins in the varied histories of individuals within their cultures.