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  • The Crimes of Virtue and the Love of Aversion: Sade, Genet, and the Christian Right
  • Christopher Lane

Oh, there are plenty of people . . . who never misbehave save when passion spurs them to ill; later, the fire gone out of them, their now calm spirit peacefully returns to the path of virtue and, thus passing their life going from strife to error and from error to remorse, they end their days in such a way there is no telling just what roles they have enacted on earth. Such persons . . . must surely be miserable: forever drifting, continually undecided, their entire life is spent detesting in the morning what they did in the evening before. Certain to repent of the pleasures they taste, they take their delight in quaking, in such sort they become at once virtuous in crime and criminal in virtue.

(Sade 1966, 198)

Nothing must be as holy as pleasure.

(Sade 1965, 204)

It’s good to be charitable. But with whom? That’s the point.

(Lacan 1989, 66)

How can psychoanalysis engage with the controversy now surrounding gay and lesbian desire? Given the Christian Right’s hatred of this desire, it is time to advance a psychoanalytic account of aversion: The present “war” against gay and lesbian desire engages complex psychic issues, though it is not entirely reducible to them.

Considering its contemporary importance, aversion has not received the sustained theoretical attention it deserves. Like the concept of sublimation, aversion is generally noted as an after effect in ways that gloss its psychic importance and constituents. In different ways, Freud and Klein represented aversion as one aspect in a constellation of related affects—including anxiety and hatred—or such mechanisms as defense-formation and conversion-hysteria, to which I will claim it is [End Page 325] not synonymous (Freud 1926; Klein). In his Introduction to Laplanche and Pontalis’s Language of Psychoanalysis, Lagache also notes the prevalence of cultural “aversion to psychoanalysis” (“ aversion” is in fact his Introduction’s opening word), though the volume contains no entry for the term, and Laplanche and Pontalis ignore such related concepts as hatred, hostility, loathing, and disgust. That such terms usually fall within the purview of psychology may explain why Laplanche and Pontalis were reluctant to define them. Psychology generally defines aversion in substantive, not structural or sexual, terms—for instance, as “conditioned aversion,” “aversive procedures,” or “aversion learning.” Yet psychoanalysis also invokes aversion to describe elements of defense and resistance, factors this essay aims to clarify.

Joel Fineman (1988) once claimed that traditional psychology “can only understand desire . . . as an impulse or a pulsion toward the good” (82–83). Like Fineman, my interest lies in desires that challenge and oppose accepted definitions of “the good.” The death drive is perhaps the strongest factor (not organic principle) orienting subjects away from “the good,” if by this term we mean endurance and psychic harmony. For this reason, psychoanalysis asks us to contend with an argument to which psychology is traditionally averse: that the subject’s ultimate pleasure lies not in self-survival, but rather in self-extinction and death. Elaborating on this argument, my essay interprets the disgust that contemporary Christian fundamentalism voices about sexual pleasure and unpleasure. By reading this disgust alongside the thoughts of two writers renowned for their fascination with radical evil—Sade and Genet—I shall reflect on a compelling tension between different versions of “the good” (contra Airaksinen 168–69). 1

The first version of “goodness” derives from a psychic drive toward satisfaction (Sade, Genet); the second (Christian fundamentalism) endeavors to create moral value by frustrating this satisfaction. Instead of representing these positions as mutually exclusive, as common wisdom suggests, I shall advance a counterintuitive argument that they are related—perhaps identical—propositions. Following Lacan (1989), my essay emphasizes the proximity of these positions to spoil an [End Page 326] assumption that moral “goodness” emerges from a triumph of altruism and generosity. “The pursuit of the good,” Lacan claims, “would . . . be an impasse if it were not reborn as das Gute, the good which is the object of the moral law. It is indicated to us by our experience of listening within ourselves to commandments, whose imperative presents...

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