True love incorporates soul – so the philosophers say. Poets, mystics, madmen, writers, psychologists amongst others have for centuries explored the delicate terrain of this most potent of human experiences – “All we know is that where Eros stirs, Psyche is sure to be found; where Psyche performs her tasks, Eros draws near; when love nourishes soul, the soul is deepened through love. And that no-one touches the depths of the soul without love, the awakening God” (Cousineau: 1995: 66). Cousineau further suggests that soul realises itself not only in meditative solitude, or heart-rending isolation, but also in erotic embraces and deep pleasure and joy. The drawing power of love upon the soul is beautifully expressed in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being when Tomas first meets Tereza-
“Now we can better understand the meaning of Tereza’s secret-vice, her long looks and frequent glances in the mirror. It was a battle with her mother. It was a longing to be a body unlike other bodies, to find that the surface of her face reflected the crew of her soul charging up from below. It was not an easy task: her soul – her sad timid, self-effacing soul – lay concealed in the depths of her bowels and was ashamed to show itself… and so the man who called to her was simultaneously a stranger and a mentor of a secret brotherhood. He called to her in a kind of voice and Tereza felt her soul rushing up to the surface through the blood vessels and pores to show itself to him” (Kundera: 1984; 48).
The genesis of Tereza’s shame may be rooted in her mother’s own guilt and shame.
“Tereza’s mother demanded justice. She wanted to see the culprit penalised. That is why she insisted her daughter remain with her in the world of immodesty (working away daily serving beer to drunks), where youth and beauty mean nothing, where the world is a vast concentration camp of bodies, one like the rest with the souls invisible” (Kundera: 1984; 47).
The need to “be a body unlike other bodies“, to feel the soul rush, the moment when desire enters heart and soul, and the journeying into the landscape of sexuality and relationship deepens and enriches our lives. In my own journey I have often encountered my own soul – sad, ashamed, languishing in the recesses of my body, afraid to show itself. Most of my deeply intimate sexual relationships are with persons of the same sex. Accepting and understanding my sexual orientation involves embracing this most spiritual and personal dimension of who I am. It also means encountering a world that uses explanatory frameworks, which locates sexuality almost exclusively in the physical, genital, reproductive realm. The drive to homogenise is strong, and the language of normality, abnormality, pathology and perversion aids this process greatly. Take for example Arthur Janov’s observations on a client’s latent homosexuality –
“A pervert is someone who has been perverted, not sexually but in every way, particularly in his search for love. As a young child he was warped by his environment and became sexually perverted only when he became sexually mature. It is not possible that someone is just a little weird in sex but perfectly normal in every other respect. He may seem normal but like all other neurotics he has a secret inner life that is not so apparent”
(Janov: 1991; 296).
I wonder would Janov interpret Tereza’s secret vice as a form of neurosis? As a client, and as one interested in the field of humanistic psychotherapy, I find his language and conclusions deeply disturbing and personally offensive. Moreover his words illuminate quite clearly a social, cultural and linguistic tendency to locate sexuality within parameters of normality and pathology. Viewed his way sexuality becomes, in his external world of discourse, a category, for example pervert, homosexual, heterosexual, and subject often to moralising social scrutiny and judgement. Research indicates that our sexual definitions, conventions, beliefs, identities and behaviours have evolved particularly in the last two hundred years within specific power relationships. The most obvious is the male-female in which female sexuality has historically been defined in relationship to the male. Major institutions such as the church, state, medicine, education, psychology, the social sciences have, and continue to have, a continuous interest in how we think and behave, and in spelling out appropriate ways for us to regulate our bodily activities. Michel Fouccault suggests that the drive to control and regulate is a covert form of political violence which uses classifications of “normal” and “pathological” so as to produce the average an ideal socially acceptable expression of human sexuality. The process in short homogenizes; it produces, to use Tereza’s mother’s words, that world
”where that world is nothing but a vast concentration camp of bodies, one like the rest with the souls invisible”.
Loss of soul, the shaming of Eros and Psyche, and the rejection of love and pleasure are distinctions that transcend the boundaries of sexual classifications. As David Shimway states, for Fouccault;
”The figure of the adult pervert results from the psychiatrization of the deviant pleasures that [are] catalogued and evaluated on a scale of normality and pathology, and subjected to corrective technologies. Even the lawful sex of the conjugal couple [is] the subject of socialisation, fertility [becomes] a domain of incitements and restrictions and couples [are] made to feel responsible to their society.” (Shimway: 1992; 150).
In psychotherapy we explore the interactive relationship between inner and outer worlds through the medium of language. Roscat Hibson says that words have a life and a history of their own which may or may not be clearly defined but whose meanings lie in how they are used between people and by them. He says most words have outside meanings but there is an innermost life of a language which is often at variance with its external behaviour (Hibson: 1994; 61). A critical part of my own work as a client involves an exploration of the language constructs I use when describing my sexuality. Often these words are interspersed with meanings that are at variance with who I truly am, and how I truly need to be. In the beginning, being a body unlike other bodies, and having a sexual orientation that is different to others meant pervert, deviant, abnormal, shame. Now having explored it in safe respectful relationships, and having loved others, it means life, soul, and beauty. I am continuously ridding myself of my own homophobia, whilst encountering it daily in the most ordinary circumstances of life. Choosing sexual freedom in a social and cultural landscape that tends to reify and depersonalise sexuality in general is an on-going struggle. Significantly in researching this article, I explored psychodynamic, behaviourist, primal and humanistic theory. I found to my surprise many instances where discussions about sexuality slipped easily and uncritically into the language of deviancy, pathology and abnormality. As a client I find this tendency disturbing and wonder about the assumptions therapists make when meeting clients whose sexual orientation is different to their own. Tomas spoke to Tereza in a kind voice and she “felt her soul rushing up to the surface through the blood vessels and pores to show itself to him” (Kundera: 1984; 48). Her sadness and shame were transformed as the surface of her face reflected the crew of her soul charging up from below. Significantly she opened to his kindness. Exploring the innermost life of a language in therapy and discovering its meaning requires a personal relationship that allows that opening. Hibson says, ”the essential features of psychotherapy are those of any friendship. Psychopathological formulations, reconstructions or sophisticated interpretations may be helpful but they are peripheral. Without tenderness the noise of our talk does harm” (Hibson: 1994; 280). I suggest in conclusion that psychopathological formulations particularly in relation to sexual experience that is different destroys tenderness and entombs the soul further in the body of shame.
Cousineau, P., 1994, Soul – An Archaeology, London: Harper-Collins.
Hibson, R.F., 1994, Forms of Feeling – The Heart of Psychotherapy, New York: Routledge,
Janov A., 1991, The New Primal Scream, London: Abacus.
Kundera M., 1984, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, translated by Michael Henry Heim. New York: Harper-Row.
Shimway, D.R., 1992, Sexuality and the Will to Knowledge, in Michel Fouccult, University Press of Virginia.