We touched on many of the Freudian aspects of Desire in relation to Dreams in Session 2. For Session 3 we discussed the nature of human desire as a way of bringing out easily overlooked aspects of the Surreal Things exhibition. If anyone wants to follow up the relationship between Freud and the Surrealists in relation to desire, the cataloge from the Tate exhibition Desire Unbound is a good place to start.
We began with a discussion of whether animals can be said to 'desire' anything. Opinions differed, but many of us felt that the concept of desire implied a sophisticated level of conscious (as well as unconscious) functioning and that language use led to a difference between a desire and a drive.
In the realm of sexual desire, the physiological and the cognitive aspects are both important. Sexual desire isn't simply an innate drive to procreate but involves cultural and autobiographical apsects. The philosopher Thomas Nagel gave an interesting account of what could be seen as a paradigm case of sexual desire in his article 'Sexual Perversion' (reprinted in his collection of essays Mortal Questions. For Nagel sexual desire involves an escalating reciprocity requiring a high level of self and other awareness. The individual becomes aroused not just by the sight of someone he or she desires, but by the knowledge that looking at that person is instrumental in that person becoming aroused him/herself (and vice versa). Nagel suggests that this account of sexual desire helps to explain what sexual perversion is (though he does not use the term 'perversion' as one of moral censure - on my reading, his point is that the reasons why some perversions are immoral is not simply that they are perversions): someone, who for example, is a necrophiliac, is engaging in perverted sexual desire because there is (unless that person is a medium, perhaps) no possibility of reciprocity of arousal of the kind he outlines.
Within the final room of the Surreal Things exhibition, we looked at some of the ways in which Surrealist artists explored Sexual Desire. It was difficult to find any examples of the kind of escalating reciprocity that Nagel described. We considered the question of whether for many the Surrealists 'Sexual Desire' meant male heterosexual desire for a young woman whose look did not meet his gaze. Desire was often represented as desire for part of the body, or by a symbol of a part of the body, and for mannequins who, while they exhibited the quality of the uncanny, also left no possibility for reciprocity. We discussed the question of whether this attitude to desire was a liberating depiction (or in cases symbolisation) of what lies within the unconscious, or perhaps evidence of a pessimistic view of human sexuality.
For Germaine Greer's view that the Surrealists may have used women simply to fulfill their erotic fantasies, see this article 'Surrealism: Double Vision'. There are a number of robust replies to it if you scroll down under the article here.