Perverse Desire and the Ambiguous Icon

By Allen S. Weiss

Subjects: Literary Theory
Paperback : 9780791421567, 158 pages, October 1994
Hardcover : 9780791421550, 158 pages, November 1994

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Table of contents


Introduction: On a Certain Melancholy of Theory

1. Iconology and Perversion: Post-Psychoanalytic Aesthetics

2. Compulsive Beauty: Against Surrealism

3. Innate Totems: Artaud's Drawings

4. Pressures of the Sun: Manifesto Against the Electric Drug

5. Between the Desire and the Spasm: A Libidinal Aesthetics

6. Formations of Subjectivity and Sexual Identity

7. Acting, Identity, and Scenarization

8. Lucid Intervals: Postmodernism and Photography

9. Broken Voices, Lost Bodies: Experimental Radiophony



Perverse Desire and the Ambiguous Icon analyzes the limits of the applicability of psychoanalytic theory to aesthetic discourse, and in doing so expands the range of non-normative paradigms of spectatorial identification and sexual identity. These considerations are based on the epistemological premises that the ideal seldom coincides with the empirical, and that identification is always partial, fragmented, heterogeneous, mixed, such that total identification would be tantamount to delirium. The imagination is but the ephemera of partial objects torn from culture and history, the transgression by fragmentation of a contemporary cosmos all too unified and all too controlled to admit the most singular, and idiosyncratic, phantasms of our desires. Thus we must posit an aesthetics where theory and interpretation are juxtaposed to, or traced above, the effects of the passions, where a muscular contraction or spasm is worth as much as a concept. It is here, at the fragile limit between iconophilia and iconoclasm, that the ironies and exigencies of poetic justice reside.

Allen S. Weiss is author of The Aesthetics of Excess and Shattered Forms: Art Brut, Phantasms, Modernism, both published by SUNY Press, and Miroirs de l'infini: Le jardin a francaise et la metaphysique au XVIIe siecle.


"Here is an extremely intelligent, well-informed, authoritative account of some of the most exciting and novel aspects of contemporary thought and contemporary aesthetics. This is really solid, exciting work. It will be a major text in the field of contemporary aesthetics and postmodernist debate.

"Weiss shows what is at stake in aesthetic production in a range of fields: film, literature, music, painting. He clearly articulates the projects and tasks of modernism, postmodernism, surrealism, Dadaism. All in view of Freudian approaches, Freudian (and Lacanian) limitations, and concerns of popular culture. The book is a real delight to read, philosophically well-informed (Derrida, Deleuze, Klossowski, Nietzsche, Merleau-Ponty, Lyotard, Heidegger), and contemporary. " — David B. Allison, State University of New York, Stony Brook