Monday, 4 April 2011

Of frogs and glue

I recently had cause to read the Wikipedia entry on sexual fetishism. As a definition, sexual fetishism is the condition of becoming aroused by particular physical objects or situations. I did note the article has warning labels all over it about being of disputed neutrality, and presumably there are judgements to be made there about what one might call the normal and conventional range of objects and situations that could cause arousal, and about the intensity of response and resultant behaviour. But I'll let that pass. Wikipedia notes that 'Many people embrace their fetish rather than attempting treatment to rid themselves of it' and on the whole I'd suggest that's probably a more positive outcome than anything a psychiatrist might attempt to 'treat' a fetish.

The terminology of fetish, of course, does throw one back to the older use of the term, which implies an object in which something sacred or supernatural resides, or perhaps which can be used to call up some sacred or supernatural part of oneself. But that's by the way.

There was one throwaway remark in the article that caught my attention:

The existential approach to mental disorders developed in the 1940s and influenced a view that fetishes had complex personal meanings beyond the general categories of psychoanalytical treatment. For instance, the Austrian neurologist and logotherapist Viktor Frankl once noted the case of a man with a sexual fetish involving, simultaneously, both frogs and glue.

Hmm... Well, real life can throw up situations wilder than any author might imagine, I guess. I'm not sure if I'd ever want to write a story that included such a fetish, though on past form even saying that is likely to mean some situation arises in which it becomes important that I do. I feel I want to know more, but also that I might not like what I find...

For the truly interested (or the truly perverse) the case is briefly mentioned in Frankl's book On the Theory and Therapy of Mental Disorders (2004) - in footnote 9 on page xxiii, which refers you another footnote and that in turn to an audiotape of one of his lectures. I guess I might not get to find out more details anytime soon... unless anyone out there would care to enlighten me?


  1. Have you read Jung? I cant recall him writing specifically about fetishes, but his ideas about universal archetypal figures, the anima especially, have always seemed to me relevant: an individual in latex ceased to be an "individual" and becomes universal. The stockings, the high heels are the specific accouterments of the anima, something from the deeper unconscious.

    I remember watching some hobbled goats on a hill outside Tangier. They walked, I suddenly thought, like a woman in a very tight skirt and very high heels. There is something animal--thus primitive--in fetishes too, which fits very well with Jung's archetypal unconscious.

    But frogs, now--and glue--I gotta really stretch my imagination to see that...

  2. Thanks for this. I have a lot of Jung on my bookshelves and like you I don't remember anything on fetishes in his work, but in general he takes a nuanced view that sexual symbolism is often not about sex per se, while some other symbols, depending on context, may be stand-ins or allegories for sexual desires. It's the context that's important. How far that gets one in understanding fetishism is a moot point. Desire attached for whatever reason to specific symbols, perhaps, which are then elevated to an importance that transcends context? I don't know.

    I think your comment on the universal archetypes, though, is a good line of thought and worth pursuing.