Can Philosophers See Beyond Their Noses?

Duane Rousselle

November 9, 2022

There was a sudden upsurge in sex doll sales during the early moments of the COVID-19 pandemic. An initial presumption: this occurred because of a deprivation in sexual opportunity, since social isolation seems to imply a lack of sexual access. In other words, we are likely to presume that the pandemic ‘lockdown’ interrupted our sexual escapades, rendering sexual companionship increasingly unlikely.

Yet, is this necessarily true?

It is fascinating that newly married men were among the largest demographic of those who purchased the sex dolls. Perhaps it meant that sex dolls were not being purchased to overcome sexual deprivation, but rather to interrupt sexual intensity (since newly married couples suddenly had ‘too much’ access to one another). Hence, we might hazard the following speculation: sex gadgets (which include sex dolls, fleshlights, blowjob machines, and so on) are capable of introducing barriers to existing sexual relationships, even though that barrier occurs through the paradoxical form of a ‘substitute sexual gratification.’

It is difficult to imagine that sexual gadgets could achieve such a paradoxical function. They seem to allow the sexual relationship to persist through another channel, precisely when its intensity becomes too much to bear.

Sigmund Freud called these substitute sexual gratifications ‘symptoms.’ In an obscure essay titled “Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety,” he explored the substitute satisfactions of symptoms, their manner of overcoming repression and of avoiding the superego. These instinctual satisfactions thereafter become incorporated into the ego’s perceptual system, feeding themselves into the ‘repetition compulsion.’ In such circumstances, the ego finds it far easier to permit ‘sexual gratification’ than to institute fresh repressive measures.

However, Jacques Lacan went much further than Freud by claiming that these substitute satisfactions also occur via language. He warned that psychoanalytic interpretation runs the risk of ‘feeding the symptom with meaning.’ For Lacan, psychoanalytic interpretation must avoid the temptation to intervene through further productions of meaning. This has been a point frequently missed by critics of psychoanalysis, especially those philosophical critiques which claim the following: psychoanalysts are capable of forcing meaningful interpretations upon the patient, which the patient, within the session, is basically powerless to oppose.

It was why Freud reasoned that many philosophers seem to exhibit curious agoraphobic tendencies: they fear encountering the messiness of the world, and so refuse to see the world that exists beyond their own noses: