Collective debates on sex among feminists in the late 1960s and 1970s elicited two polarizing views: sex positivists and those deemed “anti-sex”. This dyad unleashed a prolific energy of discussion, argument, and analysis––driven as it was by the hope that either bookend would one day complete the daunting task of articulating the essence of “woman” in its unabating subordination to “man”, that is, of pinpointing the essence of woman on the terms of sexual difference. Yet, as Andrea Long Chu remarks à propos this history, “the stronger feminist theories of sex got, the less effective they became” (“The Impossibility of Feminism,” 63). Ushering in a third wave of feminist thinking, the focus of critical inquiry shifted with the emergence of queer theory in the North American academic context in the 80s and early 90s. Rather than foregrounding sexual difference as the very grounds from which sprang a well-reasoned landscape of social identities, “queer” halted that considerable faith in identitarian intelligibility. Historically analyzing the usage of the word by field-defining figures such as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and David M. Halperin, theorist and linguist Mel Y. Chen concludes that “[queer theory] departs from dominant feminisms in the United States…in its refusal…to advocate or politically favor any particular category other than the (sexually) nonnormative” (Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect, 69). However, if sedimentation best describes the social temporality in which bodies materialize, antinormativity is itself regulated and constrained by that which it denounces. In line with Robyn Wiegman and Elizabeth A. Wilson’s “invitation to think queer theory without assuming a position of antinormativity from the outset” (in the introduction to the special issue of differences, Antinormativity’s Queer Conventions) we ask, How to approach normativity on something other than dyadic terms? We Have Never Had Sex is an attempt to think a more contradictory site than the norm/anti-norm topology still present in queer theory today.
Asserting that sex is (the) non-relation, Jacques Lacan’s “There is no sexual relation” is an essential precursor. Importantly, Lacan’s statement in the negative never aimed to ontologize this constitutive non-relation that sex is into intelligible (non)relationships. However, this didn’t prevent it from being canalized in precisely that way: from “relationships are impossible” to “true love doesn't exist”. Such truisms vis-à-vis relationality misconstrue sex’s confrontation with (the) non-relation as “the cause of the oddities and difficulties within all concrete relationships” (Zupančič, What is Sex?, 23). To falsely decode the non-relation as an obstacle is to think it can be overcome. But for Lacan it wasn’t an obstacle to but the (il)logical condition of relational possibility. So sex names a structural antagonism without the optimism of ontological completeness: “We have never had sex,” declares philosopher Oxana Timofeeva.
Prone to installing a logic that exploits difference for the sake of unimaginative sameness, negativity cannot be rendered politically coherent. Negativity is relentless, unnatural, contrived. However, the seminar We Have Never Had Sex does not seek to reduce sex to––nor celebrate sex as––negativity as if it were a bad thing, or, “antisocial”. Sex will have meant work, work in and on the social to which we stay committed and with which we enjoy, too. Heeding the circumlocutionary mode that speaking of sex demands, this seminar series will think sex in its ontological relevance (Lacan, Butler, Zupančič); its relation to negativity and nonsovereignty (Berlant & Edelman 2014, Bersani 2018, Chu 2019); the relatedness of transness and Blackness (Bey 2017); its figuration in cultural objects (Troyan 2014, 2020; Elagoz 2021). An experiment in forms of speculation, the seminar gathers poets, philosophers, artists, performers, and scholars to grapple with questions of foundation, logic, and limit, asking how sex is a site of or an encounter with negativity that troubles totality, a "relentless force that unsettles the fantasy of sovereignty" (Berlant & Edelman, Sex, or the Unberable, viii).
SEMINAR SCHEDULE Spring 2022
Session 1, Sex, or Negativity
Thursday March 10 2022, 16-19h, PCH 5.60
Lauren Berlant and Lee Edelman, "Sex without Optimism" in Sex, or the Unbearable, 1-34.
Alenka Zupančič, "Introduction" and "It's Getting Strange in Here" in What is Sex?, 1-19.
Session 2, We have never had Sex
Public Lecture and seminar by Dr. Oxana Timofeeva (she/her), April 21, 2022
Public Lecture, 17-18:30h
Oxana Timofeeva is Sc.D., Professor at “Stasis” Center for Philosophy at the European University at St. Petersburg, leading researcher at Tyumen State University, member of the artistic collective "Chto Delat?" ("What is to be done?"), deputy editor of the journal "Stasis", and the author of books Solar Politics (Polity 2022), How to Love a Homeland (Kayfa ta, 2020), History of Animals (Bloomsbury, 2018; Jan van Eyck, 2012), Introduction to the Erotic Philosophy of Georges Bataille (2009), and other writings.
Session 3, Lecture and Seminar with Maxi Wallenhorst
Tuesday May 24, 15-18h
ZONING OUT DURING SEX, TOGETHER:
DISSOCIATIVE STYLE, TRANS POETICS, SEX NEGATIVITY
The seminar takes as its starting point recent moves (in critical theory, pop discourse and aesthetic practice) towards racialized and gendered modes of “unfeeling from below” (Xine Yao) under capitalism. Specifically dissociation: the problematic experience of not feeling it, among other things. Dissociation can be described (after Lauren Berlant), from pathologization to the ordinary, as a way to name an anaesthetic mediation – a veiling, shattering, blurring – of the genres of normative personhood. In the session, we look at queer and trans writers who have explicitly tied the work of dissociation to the everyday negativity of sex and gender, and who have come up with specific styles to write through such incoherency, e.g. Torrey Peters and Jackie Ess. Close-reading scenes where the gendered and sexual dimensions of not feeling it become literal, like in zoning out during sex, we work towards the following question: What can we do with a poetics of dissociation ... in the context of a materialist sexual politics?
Maxi Wallenhorst is a writer living in Berlin. Recent texts have appeared in Texte zur Kunst and The Interjection Calendar from Montez Press.
Intro Mode: Xine Yao – Disaffected. The Cultural Politics of Unfeeling in 19th-Century America (Introduction) (2021)
Vibes Mode: Maxi Wallenhorst – "Like a Real Veil, Like a Bad Analogy: Dissociative Style and Trans Aesthetics" (2021) ... https://www.e-flux.com/journal/117/385637/like-a-real-veil-like-a-bad-analogy-dissociative-style-and-trans-aesthetics/
[Supplementary-ish: pick one to three]
Dense Mode: Lauren Berlant – "On Being in Life Without Wanting the World. No World Poetics, or Elliptical Life" (2022) (Unpublished, Do Not Circulate)
Related / Unrelated Mode: Jordy Rosenberg – "One Utopia, One Dystopia" (Afterword to Transgender Marxism) (2021)
Beach Read Mode: Jackie Ess – Darryl (2021) ... until chapter "LGBTC"
Session 4, Performance Lecture and Seminar with Cassandra Troyan
Thursday June 2, 13-16h
HATRED OF WOMEN
In this performance lecture and seminar, Cassandra Troyan will discuss the politics of sexual pleasure, indifference, and negativity as they relate to the core thematics of sex work, BDSM, and gendered violence in their writing. Focusing mainly on their most recent books, KILL MANUAL (2014) and Freedom & Prostitution (2020), they will address the radical possibilities in redefining liberation through a position of sex work against work and other practices of refusal.
Cassandra Troyan is a writer, artist, and researcher whose work explores the intersections of gendered violence, radical histories of resistance, sex work, and speculative futures beyond capital. They are the author of several books of multi-genre work, including, Freedom & Prostitution (2020), A Theory in Tears (2016), KILL MANUAL (2014), and THRONE OF BLOOD (2013). Recent publications include an exhibition text written in collaboration with artist Reba Maybury for her exhibition "Faster Than an Erection" at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome, Italy (MACRO), and with Helen V. Pritchard, "The Anti Menagerie: Methods for Interrogating the Supremacy of World-Shaping Violence," in Multispecies Storytelling in Intermedial Practice from punctum books. They live in Kalmar, Sweden and teach theory, practice, and creative-critical writing as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Design at Linnaeus University.
Foucault, Michel. “Sex, Power and the Politics of Identity” in Ethics, Subjectivity and Truth. Edited by Paul Rabinow, New Press, 1997. Page cited: p.163-175
Introduction to Other Weapon’s “Sex Work Against Work,” for The Prostitutes of Lyon Speak Out (1976), a two-part retrospective of the videos of Carole Roussopoulos and Delphine Seyrig. Another Screen, July 2021 https://www.another-screen.com/the-practice-of-disobedience