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Liggett 99 Helen Liggett The Political Economy of Desire: Incest and Modes of Governance A. Introduction to the Question of Incest1 But how outward alone was this order and how disorderly things were with the erring pair, the charming young folk, to whom I will so well, without being able to excuse them, and who truly through lust were fettered far closer still to each other than ever—out of all bounds they loved and that is why I cannot quite rid me of well-wishing for them, God help me! In Thomas Mann's The Holy Sinner, the twin adolescent children of Duke Grimald of Flanders form an incestuous bond because "they two considered only each other equal in fineness." This incest is followed by another later in the epic, when the surviving twin marries her son by her brother. "Because again he had been the only equal in birth" (222). Both relationships set in motion chains of events in the long narrative which eventually lead to salvation from these horrible sins and "triumphant humility" for the incestuous pair. Even though Mann (through Clemens the Irish monk who narrates the story) makes it clear from the beginning that "out of all bounds they loved," he also is ambivalent: "—Out of all bounds they loved and that is why I cannot quite rid me of well- wishing for them, God help me!" (27). What strikes the contemporary reader is how much Mann's clement representation of these incestuous relations differs from our own stereotypes of incest. Contemporary talk about incest is placed in the context of "child sexual abuse." For us the power of the offender (usually male) over his partner and the harm he does is presumed to be a central component of incestuous relations. So, for example, we don't say "incest partner," we say incest "victim," and personify that characterization in terms of violation of a pre-adolescent female.2 The most familiar visual representation of the contemporary incest victim reflects this bias. We see a young girl, for example, from the dated family photograph. Often the girl holds a doll, which may be broken. As would be expected from this figuration, much of the contemporary social science research on and discussions of "incest victims" deals with treatment and focuses on the personal pain and social difficulties these women (sic) experience in their adult lives as a result of their victimization. (See, for example, Finkelhor [1984], Burgesset, al. [1978], Maltz and Holmann [1987], GU [1983], and Stuart and Greer [1984].) 100 the minnesota review On the surface it appears as if we are far from Brother Clemens' concerns with sin and with adjudicating between disorder and order as represented by human pride and desire on the one hand, and peaceful obedience to God's law on the other. The purpose of this paper is to explore what "our incest" has to do with "his" incest. A guiding assumption of the project will be that a discursive analysis of incest can help explain how and why incest, power, and violence come together in our society. In order to analyze the performative force of networks within which incest is constituted, the most common assumptions about it have to be problematized. This means holding in abeyance the conventional meaning of the term "incest" and how we understand the incest victim, and so acting as if we didn't know what incestuous relations were and who incest partners are. Instead, these are treated here as notions to be interrogated . The initial assumption of the investigation is that incestuous relations , and the subjects and objects of those relations, are cultural productions whose meanings need to be linked to the social contexts which produce them. Whereas it is common to think of incest unproblematicalIy as a traumatic even, here the emphasis is placed on understanding how incest is an object effect of the systems of meaning which are taken for granted in the administration of incest. In addition to fitting under the general rubric of post-structuralism, this approach relies heavily on the work of Michel Foucault, especially his investigations of the prison system and of modern sexuality (1977, 1978). Foucault alerts us...


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