Telling Sexual Stories: Power, Change, and Social Worlds

By Ken Plummer | Go to book overview

Chapter 9

The shifting sexual stories of late modernity

Social change is woven into the very fabric of modern life. It is not something that intrudes to interfere with the operations of modern society; instead it represents modern society in action. Instead of decreasing or tapering off, every reasonable sign points to the certainty that in the developing future social change will increase…sharp breaks with what is cherished as part of traditional local cultures will probably be the most startling differences in the new mentality.

(Herbert Blumer) 1

The world is always different. Each morning we open our eyes upon a different universe. Our intelligence is occupied with continued adjustment to these differences. That is what makes the interest in life. We are advancing constantly into a new universe.

(George Herbert Mead) 2

Modernist stories of sexual suffering and sexual surviving have been strikingly well rehearsed over the last decades of the twentieth century. They are stories with driving, coherent and linear plots—of suffering, of coming out, of survival—which ultimately fit into major archetypal forms of story telling: journeys, homes, consummation. They fit into the narrative plots of both the great literature of the distant past and the trashy Hollywood tales of redemption that have swamped this century. And they have become almost commonplaces: in the recovery and therapeutic literatures, in lesbian and gay studies, in women’s studies. They are stories that have been well told and whose time has clearly come.

But we are now at century’s end. We may be entering a shifting historical period where some of the old stories are partially and slowly losing their obdurate grip upon the narrative world. If, as so many have been suggesting for the past decade, we are now moving into a different kind of social order, then we may expect different kinds of stories to be emerging alongside the older ones. As we enter the so-called ‘post-paradigmatic’ era—of post-modernity, post-Fordism, post-feminism, post-history, post-sexuality, post-everything!—then we could expect a post-narrative to be emerging. Indeed, some of the modern stories discussed so far throughout this book may well have become so tired and clichéd that their

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