‘Why crosses instead of pollution?’: The diary of Leo Polak (1901-1941) and the discourse against masturbation

Leonieke Vermeer*

*Corresponding author for this work

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    Abstract

    The diary of the Dutch criminal law theorist, philosopher, and freethinker Leo
    Polak, which recently has become accessible, contains symbols such as ‘X’ and ‘#’. In this article, I interpret such symbols not as ‘silence’, but as disguising, narrative strategies. These symbols and the way Polak reflects on them, can be connected to the discourse on masturbation as a ‘total illness’, which developed from the beginning of the eightteenth century to the 1930s. The symbols in Polak’s early diaries indicate that diary writing functioned as a medium to register and control his solitary sexual activity. The diaries show the anti-masturbation discourse; the experience of it, the struggle with it and ways to resist it. Later in life, he used these experiences in his work on Sexual ethics (1936) in which he rejects the medical and religious views on masturbation and makes a plea for the autonomy of the human mind and body.
    Translated title of the contribution‘Why crosses instead of pollution?’: The diary of Leo Polak (1901-1941) and the discourse against masturbation
    Original languageDutch
    Pages (from-to)134-159
    Number of pages26
    JournalDe Moderne Tijd. De Lage Landen, 1780-1940
    Volume1
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 30-Jun-2017

    Keywords

    • DIARIES
    • cultural history of medicine
    • Life Writing

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