Sex, the erotic and fantasy

Anything can be eroticised and can form the basis of fantasy - the unique faculty of human beings - to bring the imaginal into the material and everyday world. Perhaps those who cannot fantasise are in the greatest trouble.

In 1972, the Jungian James Hillman wrote the daring An Essay on Pan in which he tackled the issues of masturbation and rape, appealing against a psychological ‘concretism’ - the tendency to view phenomena literally rather than metaphorically too. He was not questioning rape as a moral transgression, but was remarking on our job and the psychotherapeutic meaning we place on it:

‘We rape and are raped not only sexually.’ (Hillman: 1972: 46)

‘Concretism obscures the light and blocks the movement of fantasy. From this perspective, defloration means not penetration and transformation but a broken soul. (Hillman 1972: 6)

‘We become less psychopathological when we can restore the metaphorical appreciation of what is going on. Therapy speaks of “psychological insight”, which would mean the reconnection of fantasy with behaviour, and the dissolution of literalism through the power of insight.’ (Hillman: 1972: 41-42)

Which brings me to the controversy over the film Crash, which is popularly portrayed as the story of a couple getting off raunchily and obscenely on car crashes. David Cronenberg’s daring film, which was made about three years ago, tackles the complex relationship between sex, fantasy, danger, technology and disability. It involves a hetero couple who link up with a man and another woman whose hobby is the enactment and experience of car crashes. All sorts of sex goes on in the film (hetero, gay, non-able-bodied) against a backdrop of the eroticisation of scenarios involving cars

Much has been said and written about this film, particularly from a Lacanian perspective. For me, the axiomatic quote from the film, is spoken by the male crash-hobbyist.

‘It’s something we’re all intimately involved in - the reshaping of the human body by modern technology’.

Perhaps we limit ourselves if we consider erotic fantasy as only about ‘beauty’ - bringing the gods and goddesses into our literal, concrete world. More daring - and this is what Crash tackled - can we afford to eroticise danger, ugliness and horror without psychopathologising it? I think this is a difficult question which we should tackle seriously. If we do not, it is likely we will miss something very important about sex in the modern world.

Keith Silvester

May 2000


Hillman, J (1972) Pan and the Nightmare (Dallas: Spring Publications)