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The Editors 59 The Editors Introduction The essays included in this special issue grapple with a paradox: sexual liberation is not necessarily socio-political freedom, for social policing of sex frequently occurs in the context of individual choice. The essays examine the ways in which our discourses about sexuality have served to police our sex, rather than to liberate it as promised. Examining the relations between so-called private acts and social evasions, these essays share the crucial themes of secrecy and publicity. Finally, they suggest that the politics of sexuality is also the sexuality of politics. In "The Political Economy of Desire," Helen Ligget shows how incest has been conceptualized in history and language for varying political purposes. Liggett's essay is timely; there is presently an exploding interest in incest, from TV talk shows and best-selling books to the new psycho-jargon of therapists and abstinence groups for "victims" and "victimizers" alike. Liggett's essay reacquaints us with past conceptions of incest while providing a clarifying distance on immediate and immanent ways of talking about incest. Current interest focuses either on the confessions of the incest victim, who must publicize private acts in order to purge their effects, or the professional scientist, whose role is to mediate between the facts confessed and the audience who hungrily consumes those facts—a stance both sard tizing and exploitative. By eschewing both stances, Liggett demonstrates how we manage to govern the discourse of incest, challenging the construction of it as simply an evil to be purged. Because the contemporary discourse on incest hinges on the relation between a child (usually female) whose innocence is "corrupted" and an adult (usually male) whose desire is ungoverned, it offers a perfect opportunity for finding out how social control mediates individual desire, and vice versa. Liggett's essay, itself feminist, is a call and challenge to rethink the ways in which feminists have conceptualized sexual desire. The contemporary conception of incest is based on a paradigm generated by feminist discourse: powerful father dominating innocent daughter; masculine desire distorting feminine desire and thus repressing its capacity. Yet paradoxically, this paradigm does not lead to forms of social control that are anti- patriarchal. In fact, in some ways it reinvigorates the cycle of masculine aggression (as masculine forms of governance displace the father's ungoverned aggressive desire) and feminine passivity (as propagandiste images of feminine rigidity or hysteria displace the dominated desire of the helpless daughter). Incest then becomes not only the simple fact of oppression and dominance, but also the secret needed for the perpetuation and distribution of certain forms of power. Our question for Liggett, a question provoked by the richness 60 the minnesota review and subtlety of her essay, is this: What kinds of social control would avoid these forms of displacement? Like Liggett's, Carol Strongin Tufts's essay, "Who's Lying? The Issue of Lesbianism in Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour ," is timely— though at first its timeliness may not be self-evident, since the essay offers a sophisticated reading of a single text written long before the 'sixties sexual "revolution." The implications of Tufts's essay, however, are as timely as today's headlines. When Mark Goodin, a staff member of the Republican National Committee (RNC) recently wrote a memo entitled "Tom Foley: Out of the Liberal Closet," he was exploiting a time-honored practice in European and American politics. Implying that Foley, the freshly elected Democratic Speaker of the House, was gay, the memo compared his voting record to that of openly gay Democratic representative Barney Frank, the Republicans hoped to damage Foley's political career and to discredit his party. The strategy backfired primarily because Frank threatened to name names, that is, to reveal the homosexuality of closeted, powerful Republicans. With President Bush reprimanding RNC chair Lee Atwater, and Goodin scapegoated into resignation, politics go on as usual. Indeed, all of this is politics as usual, for notably it was the fear of sexual difference that botched the RNCs agenda, not the validating of it. The system, which exploits homosexuality as the ultimate secret, remains unscathed, for what appears to be at issue is merely the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 59-62
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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