A Therapeutic Orange

Francois Cusset

From les Inrockuptibles

Apparently, social order and virtue are not found where impulses are restrained, kept from being unleashed or silenced – as many thought during centuries of Christian, then Bourgeois oppression – but rather, when one’ most extreme fantasies have been fulfilled, which ultimately leads one to boredom. Sylvere Lotringer, the Franco-American editor and professor, came across this hypothesis (which in itself may be completely crazy, or literally, obscene) by luck, twenty years ago, at Columbia University, in a clinic that was breaking ground in the treatment of sexual deviants. He was looking to escape from the monotony of university colloquiums, or yet another seminar on Sigmund Freud, by finding his own original subject to reflect on. So that is how, for many years, Lotringer monitored treatments and experiments – that took place under the supervision of the fearsome psychiatrists Abel, Becker & Sachs, Drs. Strangelove of the new boredom therapy – devised to prevent rapists, pedophiles, zoophiles, and other sexual deviants with criminal behaviors, from relapsing. Instead of steering them away from their obsessions, the point of this therapy was to encourage them to talk, to make them verbalize their darkest desires, in as much detail as possible, and help them to imagine the realization of these desires in slow motion (wherefrom the incredible dialogs Lotringer was able to capture.) Part of the treatment was to show them videos and photographs of an extreme pornographic nature, forcing them then to masturbate many times in a row (their rooms were riddled with microphones and cameras) before checking the intensity of their erections thanks to the help of a “plethysmograph” – a little plastic tube filled with mercury and tied to a gauge, which records a patient’s “penal” pressure. The patient has no other choice than to comply with the orders and accept the torture being inflicted upon him, which is worthy of “A Clockwork Orange,” a film in which, similarly to this, delinquents are treated through methods aiming to “saturate” their impulses – or are forced into jail.

There are lessons to be learnt on many levels from this extraordinary book, which has just been updated and translated into French.

First off, it is the ability of a free spirit to go and spy on spies, interrogate interrogators, and that a reader of Antonin Artaud and Gilles Deleuze – who seemed to have good reasons not to do so – offered his services to the enemy, as a theorist, in order to obtain access to the patients, psychiatrists and their terrible cures. XXX [vous avez ecrit une phrase sur l’original que je n’arrive pas a lire]

It a book about authority, or control, seen in their most radical state and applied to all our behaviors, in order to make us fit a standard, to fit into the norms. It is also about a more relaxed form of control, now developing in France, with pretext that it produces more tangible results – From behaviorist theories (these treatments are related to them) at war with psychoanalysis, deemed inefficient, to official projects which claim to diagnose potential delinquency in children as young as three. The paradox that the treatment of sexual deviants XXX to test new forms of control, at a time when the good-hearted liberal find it troubling that rats are being used in labs. Above all, however, this is about social control achieved through the weakening of one’s desires (until there are none left), the transparence and trivialization of fantasies and a new way of governing human bodies, that caused Michel Foucault to claim that “society is perverted,” already thirty years ago.