Le Monde : Les Folamour de l’âme et du corps

par Elisabeth Roudinesco, le 5 mai 2006


DR. STRANGELOVE OF THE SOUL AND THE BODY


by Elizabeth Roudinesco

In “A Clockwork Orange,” a famous motion picture filmed in 1971, Stanley Kubrick provides insight into the disturbing lives of a gang of teenaged delinquents – robbers, muggers and rapists – who cause terror and chaos, with Beethoven’s Fifth as their soundtrack, as they roam the streets of England. When Alex, the head of the gang, is caught red-handed, he is coerced into a “therapy”, which involves “stuffing” patients with horrific images in order to purge them of their “unnatural” impulses. The result, however, is that Alex’s mental condition further deteriorates as he experiences unpleasant physical reactions – such as heaving at the slightest sound of his darling Beethoven’s music – all the while being manipulated by policemen, who are merely a mirror image of his deviant self.

In an attempt to rehabilitate patients, and purge them of their vices, the doctors’ philosophy is to replace the deviants’ present perversions with even stronger ones. Hence, patients are made a captive audience of violent, pornographic film screenings and forced into visualizing the rapes, penetrations, caresses, crimes and cruelty which stimulate them the most. For them, nothing is forbidden. In fact, the hospital staff bends over backwards to cater to their demands. Patients are also encouraged to masturbate and engage in sexual activity with “normal partners” who have been hired by the medical center – all this to instill them with behaviors deemed “customary.”

Lab Rats
On top of this, patients are tied to a device which records their physical reactions; in this case, the penile plethysmograph – a plastic tube filled with mercury, which is connected to a gauge and reveals the penal pressure of the patient sitting half-naked. Of course, Sylvere Lotringer’s book furnishes us clear proof that these treatments are ineffective. For instance, it is a known fact that, upon completion of these therapies, sexual deviants who relapse undergo mandatory surgical castration, which is covered by their insurance company (as it occurs in Quebec.) Does this mean that a patient’s fingers should be removed, if he relapses by way of fellatio, fondling, or a cunnilingus?

In other words, does one have the right, in this society, which was built on the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment, to surreptitiously reinstate unspeakable corporal punishments? Is one allowed to treat humans – even the worst of them – as laboratory rats, especially, at a point in time when animal activists are rising up against the suffering endured by rodents used in experimental science?

Everyone should read this book, particularly in modern day France. At a time, when scientists adhering to these practices, throughout the world, are claiming to cure, not only sexual deviancies, but a wide range of psychological pathologies (neuroses, psychoses, depressions, phobias, addictions and addiction,) Lotringer’s observations are particularly relevant. All the more so, since these scientists, claim to have the ability to detect delinquency in turbulent children younger than three.

By focusing on the extreme drifts of a therapy, which uses perversion as a means to cure it, Lotringer reveals the dangers of a “biocratic” ideal. Indeed, the latter has the ability to deeply pervert democratic societies that are obsessed with discipline and authority. But, above all, he shows, quite ironically, that the condemnation and critique of these drifts take place in the heart of American universities – which European behaviorists are constantly claiming to be part of, only so they can better denounce the alleged deterioration and tardiness of France, that they criticize for not being quite “American” enough.

Translation: Emily C. Belli