Limit consent; asymmetries of power, passibility, and the infantile sexual
Presenter: Avgi Saketopoulou, PhD
Discussant: David Dorenbaum, MD
Saturday, November 9, 2019: 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Open to all by registration. Preregistration is required.
The #MeToo movement has brought the issue of affirmative consent to the cultural forefront, calling attention to the multiple coercive impacts of power differentials. Implicit in its important heeding is the promise that tending to differences in power and offering/receiving explicit permission can both insulate against trauma and draft the parameters of a mutually satisfying sexual experience.
The notion of affirmative consent, however, makes little psychoanalytic sense. It does not account for the fact that desire does not come pre-formed, simply awaiting the conditions for its fulfillment. Desire, psychoanalysis teaches us, courts surprise, acquiring previously unanticipated forms. Neither does the discourse on affirmative consent consider the fact that our desires are oftentimes unconsciously conflicted, dispersing us in multiple, contradictory directions. Further, affirmative consent’s assumption that if desire is clearly articulated and limits are respectfully adhered to, trauma can be safely evaded, and pleasure will follow is by no means a guarantee. Most seductively, though, affirmative consent cultivates the fantasy that one can anticipate ahead of time the unknowns of an encounter yet to materialize.
This presentation considers consent through a different prism, to introduce the concept of limit consent as an alternative, psychoanalytic concept to help us think in more nuanced ways about intimate encounters that involve power asymmetries: sexual encounters as well as the psychoanalytic encounter. All intimate encounters involve power asymmetries of different sorts, and Laplanche’s work offers helpful tools that illuminate the inherent ties between power asymmetries and the rousing of the infantile sexual and normative sadomasochism (Freud). The rousing of the sexual becomes even more potent when power differentials are lent the weight of history and the force of structural and institutionally supported power (like race, gender, ability etc.) Limit consent will help us think about a different kind of consent negotiation that does not hinge on ‘agreement’ or ‘respect of limits,’ but which admits that in intimate encounters subjects make themselves passible (Lyotard) to each other, a condition outside activity or passivity. This condition rouses both subjects’ normative sadomasochism and institutes a scene that makes ‘clear communication’ largely insufficient. The Real breaks through and we court the unknown, a historically distended unknown which is not fully in our control and which involves our being passible to the other, requiring of both parties a mutual albeit asymmetrical surrender (Ghent). Clinical material will help flesh out the implications of considering passibility’s ties to the infantile sexual (Scarfone) and to the subject’s normative perversity (Freud, Laplanche).
At the end of the session participants will be able:
- To list four psychoanalytic impasses in the concept of affirmative consent.
- To discuss the concept of limit consent and its relation to the infantile sexual.
- To explain why limit consent is a clinical concept that is more responsive to thinking about (structural) power asymmetries and about the sexual.
ATPPP Scientific Committee
Marco Posadas, MSW, RSW Chair
Doron Almagor, MD, FRCP
Claire Lunney, MD, CCFP
Avgi Saketopoulou, PhD
Avgi Saketopoulou, PhD, completed her training at the New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. She is on the faculty at the NYU Postodoctoral Program, the William Allanson White Institute, the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, the Stephen Mitchell Relational Center and the National Institute for the Psychotherapies in NYC, where she teaches courses on gender and sexuality. She serves on the editorial boards of Psychoanalytic Dialogues, Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association (JAPA), The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, and Studies in Gender and Sexuality (SGS). She has received several prizes including the Ruth Stein prize, the Ralph Roughton award, the Symonds essay prize, and the annual JAPA essay prize. She writes about sexuality, normative and variant genders, the relationship between psychic representation and the social, and is interested in the enigmatics of consent.
David Dorenbaum, MD
David Dorenbaum, MD, is a psychoanalyst in private practice in Toronto, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, a member of the International Psychoanalytic Association and of the Lacan Clinical Forum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. His interest in the relationship between psychoanalysis and art has led him to collaborate with various artists. His most recent essays have appeared in Second Time Around (which is in fact the first) with Dora García, published and edited by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid (2018), Current Critical Debates in the Field of Transsexual Studies (In Transition), edited by Oren Gozlan for Routledge (2018), Synchrony and Diachrony with Robert Polidori, published by Steidl and the J.P. Getty Museum, Los Angeles CA (2018). He is a regular contributor to the Madrid based newspaper El País.
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