Thursday, 16 October 2014

Wilhelm Stekel and perversion

Wilhelm Stekel (1868 –1940) was an Austrian physician and psychologist who became one of Sigmund Freud's earliest followers and was once described as "Freud's most distinguished pupil".

Our paths crossed, as it were, one Saturday afternoon in the Charing Cross Road when I picked up for a quid a pristine copy of Sexual Aberrations: Phenomena of Fetishism in Relation to Sex, the first English language edition, published by John Lane at the Bodley Head Ltd in 1930.

In those days the Charing Cross Road was still largely the domain of second hand book dealers (and the single most obnoxious change in London since I moved here thirty years ago has been the displacement of so many musty bookshops by nail parlours,  coffee franchises and nasty shops selling tacky shit to tourists). It was easy to pass an afternoon trawling the ramshackle premises and picking up bargains.

This particular book was a wonder - a groundbreaking study that was also, at times, hilarious. In his account of a bourgeoise Viennese matron with a velvet fetish (who succumbed to violent orgasms in department stores whenever she so much as sighted a swatch of the fabric), Stekel excelled himself. She came to his rooms for a course of analysis and on one occasion ("in an action I came later to regret") he suddenly produced from a drawer a scrap of velvet which he tossed onto his patient's lap, provoking a hair-trigger response. I picture the ensuing hullabaloo as a montage of apartment dwellers banging on walls with broomsticks and tousled night workers yelling from widows across the courtyard as, far off, a police siren can be heard approaching. 

The footnotes to this unfortunate episode were at first in English but, as things hot up, switched to Latin, and I was able to decipher a description of the poor women rubbing the material frenziedly between her breasts. But just at that point, so incendiary were the goings-on that the footnotes, alert to the unwelcome attentions of the prurient non-professional grazer, suddenly changed to Greek. Whatever happened next took place behind a linguistic pay wall.

This amuses me still. What if things had become too explicit even for Greek? Sanskrit? Runes? Braille?

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