History of the Human Sciences 14 (4):1-29 (2001)

At the end of the 19th century, the vocabulary of sexuality - perversion - became one of the primary means by which people began to articulate and think about their individuality, their sense of self. Joining authors like Ian Hacking and Arnold Davidson, I suggest the importance of a ‘style of reasoning’ to the creation of sexual kinds at the end of the 19th century, a kind of reasoning that might be styled as historical. For the invert to become possible as a human kind, the conceptual space for an understanding of inverts as specific kinds needed to be cleared. In France, this was accomplished by conceiving individuals as elaborated historically, as the product of prior generations, and by differentiating them from other kinds of people via notions of heredity and degeneration. The invert was plotted within the meta-récit of French progress (and national degeneration). This logic of ‘historicization’ also entailed the scrutiny of the patient’s past in order to reveal his or her ‘nature’ as pathological. Understanding the conceptualization of inversion as including, in part, a ‘pursuit of memory’ provides a window onto the vexing question of how people come to take up their classifications; that is, how discourses interact with the subjects they purport to describe. Through the ‘pursuit of memory’, persons were encouraged to (re)describe their pasts in terms of the present diagnosis. An essential attribute of the literature on ‘inversion’ was precisely such an historically formed understanding of pathological individuals; an understanding that ushered in the transformation from acts to natures, from individuals to kinds, from sodomites to homosexuals
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DOI 10.1177/095269510101400401
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