The World of Perversion

Psychoanalysis and the Impossible Absolute of Desire

By James Penney

Subjects: Literary Theory
Series: SUNY series in Psychoanalysis and Culture
Paperback : 9780791467701, 259 pages, June 2007
Hardcover : 9780791467695, 259 pages, July 2006

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents


1. Epistemologies of Perversion


Perversity and Perversion
Perversion as Power
Perversion as Structure
Fetishism, Sexual Difference, Homosexuality
Worlds of Perversion: A Reader’s Guide


2. Confessions of a Medieval Sodomite


Meet Gilles de Rais
The Spectacle of Perversion
The Tragedy of History
An Innocent Transference
Radically Evil?
The Perverse Sacrifice


3. Cleopatra’s Nose


Pascal's Modernity
The Tragic Absolute
From Sin to Infinity
Ideological State Automatons
A Distracted Dialectic
Grace, or the Act of Faith


4. This Whole World of Perversion


Dialogue and Dialectic
The Cynical Other
A Revolt against the Negative
Wealth and Power
Hysterical Pantomime
The Beyond of Perversion


5. The Guardian of Criminal Being


Lacan contra Hegel
Ethical Beauty
The Real of Destiny
Pleasure Unbound
Suffering for Beauty
Artfully Screwed


6. Concluding (Un)Queer-Theoretical Postscript


Perversion and Its Discontents
A Dynamic Perversion
The Minoritarian Temptation
Hysteria in the Shadow of the State
The Paradox of Desublimation
The Subject of Sex



An original critique of queer theory, from a psychoanalytic perspective.


In The World of Perversion, James Penney argues that antihomophobic criticism has nothing to lose—and indeed everything to gain—by reclaiming the psychoanalytic concept of perversion as psychic structure. Analyzing the antagonism between psychoanalytic approaches to perversion and those inspired by the work of Michel Foucault, Penney explores how different assumptions about sexuality have determined the development of contemporary queer theory, and how the universalizing approach to homosexuality in psychoanalysis actually leads to more useful political strategies for nonheterosexual subjects. Having established this theoretical context, Penney focuses on works by Georges Bataille, Blaise Pascal, Denis Diderot, and Jacques Lacan, tracing the implications of various sexual and moral understandings of the term perversion, and illustrating how a psychoanalytic approach to the question of perversion enables politicized readings that are foreclosed by a Foucauldian methodology.

James Penney is Assistant Professor in the Cultural Studies Program at Trent University.