In the Margins: Sex and Psychopathy
Footnotes on Cleckley's Caricature of Love
I’ve been re-reading Hervey Cleckley’s The Caricature of Love: A Discussion of Social, Psychiatric, and Literary Manifestations of Pathologic Sexuality. Published in 1957, Cleckley apparently considered it his best work. And that’s something, considering his other work included The Mask of Sanity, the classic text on psychopathy. But it was never reprinted in his lifetime and practically no one remembers or reads it today. No wonder, as one of its main arguments is that homosexuality is a disorder and that homosexual relationships are doomed to failure: jealousy, disappointment, promiscuity, and disillusionment.
But the book’s posthumous obscurity is a shame, because whatever your disagreements may be with it, it’s still quite the book. Cleckley is a clear, ridiculously good writer (back when psychiatrists still knew how to write), fair (especially considering when it was published), understanding and compassionate (though he doesn’t mince words), and he has a dry wit that will leave you laughing out loud (if you aren’t too occupied with outrage). For example, when describing one gay patient whose partner had convinced him to engage in a sexual experiment with a lady, ménage à trois, Cleckley writes:
A woman, whose husband traveled and left her alone for long periods, and who must have been a person of uniquely obliging nature, lent herself to the project. If not in the literal name of fidelity in love, at least in some sadly perverse conception of it, the two men, in addition to their ordinary homosexual acts with each other, developed a new technique of mating. Both men went to bed with the woman, whose amiability apparently knew no bounds. (p. 146)
As you can see, he was a scholar and a gentleman.
But it’s not just about homosexuality. It’s about pathologic sex in general—disabilities in love—and its implications range far. Caricature has some of the best takedowns of Freudian nonsense out there. Castration fears, libido theory, unconscious incest aims: Cleckley tears them apart in erudite, crisp prose, carrying their internal logic to its absurd conclusions. He was also a voracious reader of fiction. Classic and popular works alike come under his penetrating gaze: Gide, Proust, Waugh, Wilde, Tolstoy, de Sade, Vidal, Capote, Mailer. Just reading him will make you feel more lettered and slightly more elevated in the brow.
I cited Caricature a couple times in the new edition of Political Ponerology.1 I probably would have cited it more often, but Lobaczewski only makes a few passing remarks to sexuality: e.g. a reference to sexual abuse of children (when describing the types of crimes committed by those among his sample of patients), or in reference to what he calls “asthenic psychopathy” (which by a roundabout course morphed into the current “avoidant” and “dependent” personality disorders). This was what he wrote on the latter:
The asthenic psychopath is relatively less vital sexually and is therefore amenable to accepting celibacy; that is why some Catholic monks and priests often represent lesser or minor cases of this anomaly. Such individuals may very likely have inspired the anti-psychological attitude traditional in Church thinking. (PP, p. 118)2
Talk about a landmine. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lobaczewski is just seeing the tip of the iceberg here. Cleckley might just provide a glimpse beneath the surface. His book (particularly chapters in the latter third) seems to me to provide a wealth of material supporting and expanding on Lobaczewski’s description, which also contains this:
This type of person finds it easier [than psychopaths] to adjust to social life. The lesser cases in particular adapt to the demands of the society of normal people, taking advantage of its understanding for the arts and other areas with similar traditions. Their literary or artistic creativity is often disturbing to the ponerologist or moralist; they insinuate to their readers that their world of concepts and experiences is self-evident, though it is apperceived without awareness of its biopsychological background. (PP, p. 117)
Now here’s a snippet from Cleckley regarding the Sadists (i.e. followers of the literary cult of de Sade) I think is apropos—one from among many:
Persistent gestures of veneration are accorded to nearly all qualities detestable to the sane. Through peculiar esthetic sensibilities, putrefaction, pain, disgrace, and torture are fondly welcomed and cordially treated. A positive relish seems to emanate from the contemplation and artistic portrayal of disfigurement, death, ennui, and profanation. All these negative, uninviting, or deplorable aspects of human experience are sometimes speciously identified as glory or love and greeted as precious inspirations. In these impressive literary works Praz illustrates the decadence through which woman is almost uniformly perceived as a foul murderess, an implacable and vampirish foe. Man is regularly presented as a sexually inadequate and frightened weakling whose only furtive hope is to escape her. A few of the group seem to have definite and positive inclinations toward necrophilia or coprophilia, sometimes in the more indirect or subliminated forms of these predilections. Delight seems to arise not merely in response to experiences and things naturally shameful and disgusting, but sometimes even for shame and disgust as abstract symbols of a perverse ideal. (Caricature, p. 211)
If you want a glimpse into the fetid gutter of the human subconscious, read these chapters. He provides examples of just the sort of “self-evident insinuation” Lobaczewski mentions (like Guyon, mentioned below). Don’t worry, though, Cleckley is there for support along the way.
But the bit I want to draw particular attention to has to do with psychopathy (the only reference to psychopathy in the book). First, here’s what Lobaczewski had to say about psychopathic sexuality:
[Psychopaths] are virtually unfamiliar with the enduring emotions of love for another person, particularly the marriage partner; it constitutes a fairytale from that “other” human world. For them, love is an ephemeral phenomenon aimed at sexual adventure. However, many psychopathic Don Juans are able to play the lover’s role well enough for their partners to accept it in good faith. After the wedding, feelings which really never existed are replaced by egoism, egotism, and hedonism. (PP, p. 115)
This is the view of love, incidentally, which has been subtly and not so subtly foisted on the book-reading for over 70 years. Cleckley describes how it was happening all the way back in the 1950s—though not necessarily (or primarily) from the literary creations of psychopaths. He argues that many of the writers espousing such a rejection of love probably did so not because they lacked the capacity on a basic level, but because their sexual aims inevitably led to a disillusionment and cynicism that followed directly from the futility of their attempts to achieve it. Either way, the result was the same: the mass production of works presenting a rejection and denial of love as self-evident.
Now here’s the bit of Cleckley which caught my eye. I’d forgotten about it in the 10+ years since I first read it. But it really gets across how fundamentally different psychopaths are from the rest of us. It’s in the context of homosexuals seeking the impossible: a relationship with a heterosexual man.
Often the homosexual may by bribes induce psychopaths to comply, sometimes even those who are quite free of any specifically inverted inclinations. The psychopath may be willing to play this role, in what to him is masturbation in a silly way, for small rewards, or sometimes just for the hell of it. Though he may be heterosexual in all his sensual inclinations, he lacks the normal personal responses to sexual love and adequate evaluation of this and of nearly all other serious matters. He may even find it a sort of joke to watch how the “queer” seems to get so worked up about it. …
One psychopath with whose many problems I tried to deal over a long period of time picked up considerable money now and then by prostituting himself to a wealthy and prominent homosexual. He did not like the job, and in fact seldom resorted to it unless pressed by financial problems; but it served as one of the many ways, most of them ingenious and illegal, in which he could get money promptly and without regular work. (Caricature, pp. 169-170)
Try to put yourself in that frame of mind. Pretty difficult, no? (Well, hopefully it is.) Then consider that it’s a similar dynamic for psychopaths who sexually abuse children, perhaps “just for the hell of it.” Pedophilia, serial rape … Combining psychopathy with sexual dysfunction results in a nasty mix. This is serial killer territory.
Cleckley quotes a case study of a (probably non-psychopathic) coprophiliac that, despite being quite disgusting, is also informative. This man could only achieve release under very specific conditions which I won’t describe here. His wife developed physical problems as a result, which made “love-making” with her husband extremely painful. Her husband showed his wife little concern in this regard, becoming more and more distressed and quarrelsome with her (and seeking his “love” elsewhere, by procuring certain objects from public toilets). Cleckley points out the obvious: “Note how this husband’s peculiar satisfaction from his contact with the products of defecation far exceeds any sexual interest in his wife, or in any woman” (p. 187).
Now, imagine if rather than certain fecal conditions, the man in question fantasized about torture and murder, and could only achieve sexual release as these conditions were met. Now imagine—because this is the way it works—that this man never quite manages to achieve the levels of pleasure he desires. His fantasy and his actions must then escalate. He is chasing a sexual high he never quite reaches, because reality never quite meets the perfection of his idealized fantasy. This is the condition of the sexual sadist. (If you’re interested in that line of investigation, check out Robert Kessler and Tom Shachtman’s Whoever Fights Monsters.)
I couldn’t help but notice a resonance with modern “queer theory” in the statements of René Guyon (of course he’s French!) in his Ethics of Sexual Acts. Published in 1948, Guyon’s book is a defense of every sort of sexual perversion imaginable. In his mechanistic view of sex, if it can get you off, it is therefore “normal” and “natural.” Incest, pedophilia, coprophilia, necrophilia, sadomasochism, bestiality—all are equally valid and natural, and society in the wrong with its unfair “prejudice” against these ordinary—because natural—methods of sexual release.
Guyon’s work evinces a detached, abstract, mechanistic, schizoid quality:
The psychiatrist who reads Guyon’s remarkable arguments may, like myself, recall one or more seriously ill patients who, as teen-age girls, were induced by their fathers into loveless and perverse sexual relations. If so, he may recall the harmful effects from such relations as worth bringing to the attention of the author in question. In his exposition, however, we do not deal with persons or with human feelings but with philosophical abstractions and a surprisingly mechanical account of physiology which is, one might say, not only subhuman, but submammalian. If it is a prejudice that makes psychiatrists share the common man’s revulsion for such relations as that of a father seducing his daughter, I for one confess it is a prejudice that I am not eager to relinquish. (Caricature, p. 184)
Oddly, though (or perhaps not so oddly), the only type of sexual relations that seems to disturb Guyon is normal sex between a devoted man and woman:
If one reads the entire chapter [the only in which he describes actual human relationships], he will find therein an accurate picture of what those who lack the capacity to find a real love-object so often project into a universal rule which they assume holds for normal mates. If this affords unfortunate personalities some measure of comfort in their frustration, it might be unkind to deny them such an anodyne. Such viewpoints, however, are scarcely those to offer to the immature in the name of science and enlightenment.
It is particularly interesting to note how the writer who so vehemently defends sodomy, incest, and coprophilia as natural and sexually inviting practices, concludes that in “individualized love” a man and woman will inevitably find the odor of the other distasteful. (Caricature, p. 191)
Remember, Guyon’s book was published back in 1948. Things haven’t changed much in that regard. In fact, if anything this type of sexual propaganda has only become more widespread. I’ll leave you with Cleckley’s prophetic warning:
Like Towne, I propose that the persistent influence of homosexual attitudes and reactions,3 aside from overt physical seduction or frank praise of abnormal acts, may cause perplexity and serious conflict in the immature over an area of experience far broader than that ordinarily regarded as sexual. The sexually disordered person usually feels and evaluates the basic aims and issues of human life differently from the normal person, and pathologically. Whatever the sincerity of his intentions or his technical brilliance in expressing himself, whether in teaching or otherwise, he often promotes pathologic concepts which, to the immature, may be disturbing and perhaps tragically harmful. (Caricature, p. 205)
You can imagine what Cleckley’s reaction would have been to “TQ+.”
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Re-reading the book, I probably should have added a note citing chapters 20 (“Art, Illness, and Propaganda”) and 21 (“Pied Pipers of Pathology”) to page 123 of Ponerology, where Lobaczewski writes about the supposed link between genius and abnormality and his own conviction that “the psychologically normal person is richest.” (Though Dabrowski’s work provides a necessary distinction to be made.)
Modern research seems only to have found a possible link between asexuality and schizoid personality and Asperger’s, but see my recent post on school shooters. Some researchers see avoidant personality as being one of two schizoid subtypes: schizotypal being “affect-restricted,” avoidant being “seclusive.” On monks: Cleckley references St. Bernard and Odo de Cluny (as well as St. Augustine), who held some quite bizarre anti-sexual beliefs, even for celibates.
He is specifically referring to the perverse cynicism about life and relationships typical in famous homosexual authors (like Proust, Genet, Gide, and others).