Academic journal article American Studies

Sex, or the Unbearable

Academic journal article American Studies

Sex, or the Unbearable

Article excerpt

SEX, OR THE UNBEARABLE. By Lauren Berlant and Lee Edelman. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 2013.

Berlant and Edelman take debates around the antisocial thesis as a point of departure to theorize the importance of relationality, loss and repair, sovereignty, and negativity in the politics and ethics of queer theory. Despite the overlapping topics of interest that have marked their respective works, their varying theoretical approaches make for a smart, enlivening, and productive conversation in Sex, or the Unbearable. The book is broken into a co-written preface, three chapters, and a couple of afterwords. The first chapter, "Sex without Optimism," focuses on how relationality is imagined as optimistic only through the loss of negativity. As Berlant explains, "We came to the question of sex without optimism focusing on the ways that sex undoes the subject" (4). For Edelman, this is very much related to his project in No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. In both places, he questions the "orientation toward a future," an optimism which leaves a "gloss we might think of as a finish, in more than one sense of that term" (3). From this position, Berlant creates a space for herself when she quips, "I am a utopian, Lee is not" (5). She continues, "I do not see optimism primarily as a glossing over, as a 'fantasy' in the negative sense of resistance to the Real. I am interested in optimism as a mode of attachment to life. I am committed to the political project of imagining how to detach from lives that don't work" (5). As such, the two authors outline their varying stakes for thinking through the issues of the book.

"What Survives," the next chapter, was originally written shortly after Eve Sedgwick's death, and fittingly ruminates on failure, loss, and reparation in the engagement of Sedgwick's scholarship. In this chapter, the two authors consider the notion of repair as both pernicious (Edelman) and as transferential (Berlant). Edelman takes up Sedgwick's work in "Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading," arguing that her take on reparativity is deeply connected, rather than opposed, to paranoia. According to Edelman, Sedgwick leads "reparativity and its project of survival back into the paranoid. …

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