Baroque Perversions and Counterpoints of Love and Hate: Review of Sergio Benvenuto’s What are Perversions?

  • Alireza Taheri


Sergio Benvenuto’s What are Perversions? Provides at once a psychoanalytic exploration of the dynamics and aetiology of perversion as well as an ethical treatise on the centrality of caritas in human life. These two aspects of this great work are, however, not separate. For Benvenuto, the ability to love and care for the actual people that populate our lives is the central building block of a healthy life. The subject who is incapable of love becomes, instead, hampered and persecuted by the terrifying vicissitudes of perversion marked by a desperate attempt to transform pain into voluptuous bliss. The narcissistic wound of exclusion throws this subject into the erotic flames of exhibitionism, fetishism, sadism, masochism and voyeurism. These are, at once and paradoxically, analgesics to pain and, ultimately, relics of its inevitable triumph. The ethical and metapsychological position Benvenuto develops in this work is arguably founded on two central Freudian precepts. The first has to do with the centrality of love so beautifully rendered in an untimely passage from On Narcissism:

“Here we may even venture to touch on the question of what makes it necessary at all for our mental life to pass beyond the limits of narcissism and to attach the libido to objects. The answer which would follow from our line of thought would once more be that this necessity arises when the cathexis of the ego with libido exceeds a certain amount. A strong egoism is a protection against falling ill, but in the last resort we must begin to love in order not to fall ill, and we are bound to fall ill if, in consequence of frustration, we are unable to love” (Freud, 1914/1957, pp. 84-85).