Similar traits appeared to occur at his workplace, where he was known for unexpected abusive treatment of women co-workers. During, and after, the trial, protesters used the discourse of rape, despite Ghomeshi’s very specific kinds of assault, and the fact that the sexual acts appeared to be consensual, and even took place after the alleged assaults of hitting and choking. In the outcry against his acquittal, a question surfaced: how did he get off?
While a diagnosis can never be made outside of analysis, we can detect the structure of perversion in this case from an analytic perspective. Ghomeshi himself seemed to get off on producing a moment of anxiety and division in the Other through the tactic of surprise. But he was tried for sexual assault, not ‘surprise,’ and what this trial illustrates is the fact that the discourse of the law has no way to deal with certain acts of perversion. Perversion disavows the law as the Name of the Father and sets its own scene. In perversion, the guarantee of the law does not account for the jouissance of the pervert, which is always produced on the side of the Other. As Jacques-Alain Miller highlights, “perversion is when you do not ask for permission.”3 There is no relation to the law and desire as such, there is only a will to jouissance in perversion.
Ghomeshi does appear to obey one imperative, however, the Sadean maxim of jouissance as it is laid out by Lacan in “Kant with Sade”: “‘I have a right to enjoy your body’ anyone can say to me, ‘and I will exercise this right without any limit to the capriciousness of the exactions I may wish to satiate with your body.’”4Accordingly, Ghomeshi appears to have been the one who again and again felt compelled to consent. Under Lacan’s formulation of the Sadean fantasy, Ghomeshi consented to be the object of anxiety. Unfortunately, his victims did not know that they also had a right to enjoy the capricious presence of Ghomeshi’s body in the exact moment when he switched from radio darling to assailant. With his proclivities, one might wonder why he was not involved with S&M subcultures where he could presumably play his scenario out without legal or social consequences; however, this would remove the element of surprise that divides the Other. Sadomasochistic communities appear perverse, but they are often codified and regulated with consensual rules and limits that do not follow the Sadean maxim, or function under the logic of perversion. Consent as defined by these communities and the laws of the court are antithetical to perversion. What confounded the legal system was that perversion not only operates outside the legal paradigm of consent, but it also does not always fall into clearly defined acts against the law. It does not always break the law per se; it disavows it and operates under another imperative.
Ironically, Ghomeshi’s lawyer, Marie Henein, speaking for the charismatic radio host during the entire proceeding, performed a similar perverse operation on the court of law. Her defence was effective on two levels. First, she showed the inconsistency of the allegations through the exposure of emails and letters, written to Ghomeshi, in which the complainants appeared to be pursuing Ghomeshi romantically after the alleged attacks–which they did not include in their initial police statements. They then appeared to be plotting his demise through numerous email exchanges with each other. On another level, and perhaps more notably, his lawyer actually divided the law by demonstrating its incapacity to address his acts as perverse jouissance. These acts had no meaning, no place within the law, even though there was clearly something disturbing about them that could not be defined. Thus she produced anxiety and divided the Other of the law. The judge, Justice William Horkin, took an entire month to deliberate before making the final decision of acquittal. He said his decision was based on the inconsistency of the testimonies, but it seems that Ghomeshi’s attacks did not fit within the discourse of the law as either sexual assault or common assault. He was not a rapist per se, even though protesters, claiming to be victims of rape, tried to identify with the complainants–holding placards stating that “rape is rape” and “Ghomeshi is not an isolated incidence.”5
So Ghomeshi got off legally, but one wonders if he will be able to continue to get off. His notoriety following the trial will always precede him; the element of catching the other off guard will be difficult to enact now. But does the pervert ever really get off? From the analytic vantage, perverse enjoyment is a neurotic fantasy, which seems to have appeared in the jouissance of the protestors and the media. So who actually gets off?
3 Miller, Jacques-Alain. 1996. “On Perversion” Reading Seminars I&II: Lacan’s Return to Freud.
4 Lacan, Jacques. 2006. “Kant With Sade”. Ecrit, Tr Bruce Fink., New York: Norton & Company, p 648.