"With Heinrich Kaan's book we have then what could be called the date of birth, or in any case the date of the emergence, of sexuality and sexual aberrations in the psychiatric field." Michel Foucault, Abnormal: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1974–1975.
Heinrich Kaan's fascinating work—part medical treatise, part sexual taxonomy, part activist statement, and part anti-onanist tract—takes us back to the origins of sexology. He links the sexual instinct to the imagination for the first time, creating what Foucault called "a unified field of sexual abnormality." Kaan's taxonomy consists of six sexual aberrations: masturbation, pederasty, lesbian love, necrophilia, bestiality, and the violation of statues. Kaan not only inaugurated the field of sexology, but played a significant role in the regimes of knowledge production and discipline about psychiatric and sexual subjects.
As Benjamin Kahan argues in his Introduction, Kaan's text crucially enables us to see how homosexuality replaced masturbation as the central concern of Euro-American sexual regulation. Kaan's work (translated into English for the first time here) opens a new window onto the history of sexuality and the history of sexology and reconfigures our understanding of Richard von Krafft-Ebing's book of the same name, published some forty years later.
"The liminal status of the first Psychopathia Sexualis—its position near the end of a centuries-old mode of scholarly discourse and at the inauguration of a new disciplinary organization of knowledge—render Kaan's project interesting now in ways that it couldn’t be for its contemporary audience. What’s striking here—especially given the text is written in a language with liturgical and theological associations—is that Kaan begins and remains on a strictly naturalistic level of description and explanation. Kaan’s work had some important implications. It treated human sexuality as entirely explicable within nature—with nonprocreative forms being, in effect, the accidental effect of a natural force being redirected via the brain."
Inside Higher Ed
"In the preface to his two-part treatise, Kaan states that his intentions are to call physicians' attention to the condition he terms "sexual madness," caused by a "diseased imagination," and to attempt to correct publicly held errors and misunderstandings.... This translated text has much to offer those who are interested in the history of sexology, the scientific method, and the social construction of gender. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above; researchers and faculty."
P. Lefler, Bluegrass Community & Technical College
"An important and revelatory addition to the historical literature of sexology, this translation of Heinrich Kaan's Psychopathia Sexualis takes us earlier in the nineteenth century than we are often accustomed to go in search of the origins of the strange fiction of a specific 'sexual instinct' and, perforce, of its lovely aberrations. Benjamin Kahan and Melissa Haynes have prepared a meticulous and elegant edition, for which we are in their debt."
Christopher Looby, University of California, Los Angeles, editor of "The Man Who Thought Himself a Woman" and Other Queer Nineteenth-Century Short Stories
"Anyone who has read Foucault's History of Sexuality will know that Heinrich Kaan's Psychopathia Sexualis is a crucial early work in the emergence of sexology, a work that was destined, as Benjamin Kahan makes clear in his sharp introduction, for a number of queer and vivid afterlives. What Kahan rightly calls the 'luminous strangeness' of Kaan's text will make it of vital interest to historians of psychology and of science, as well as to scholars working across many disciplines in the historiography of sexuality."
Peter Coviello, University of Illinois at Chicago, author of Tomorrow's Parties: Sex and the Untimely in Nineteenth-Century America
"In their expertly rendered translation of Psychopathia Sexualis, Benjamin Kahan and Melissa Haynes have produced a milestone edition of a milestone work. Heinrich Kaan's treatise provides a critical bridge between Enlightenment philosophy and the science of mind; it is a landmark contribution to the histories of sexuality, psychiatry, and modernity."
Susan S. Lanser, Brandeis University, author of The Sexuality of History: Modernity and the Sapphic 1565–1830