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Sex, or the Unbearable (Theory Q)by Lauren Berlant
Synopses & Reviews
Sex, or the Unbearable is a dialogue between Lauren Berlant and Lee Edelman, two of our leading theorists of sexuality, politics, and culture. In juxtaposing sex and the unbearable they don't propose that sex is unbearable, only that it unleashes unbearable contradictions that we nonetheless struggle to bear. In Berlant and Edelman's exchange, those terms invoke disturbances produced in encounters with others, ourselves, and the world, disturbances that tap into threats induced by fears of loss or rupture as well as by our hopes for repair.
Through virtuoso interpretations of works of cinema, photography, critical theory, and literature, including Lydia Davis's story "Break It Down" (reprinted in full here), Berlant and Edelman explore what it means to live with negativity, with those divisions that may be irreparable. Together, they consider how such negativity affects politics, theory, and intimately felt encounters. But where their critical approaches differ, neither hesitates to voice disagreement. Their very discussion—punctuated with moments of frustration, misconstruction, anxiety, aggression, recognition, exhilaration, and inspiration—enacts both the difficulty and the potential of encounter, the subject of this unusual exchange between two eminent critics and close friends.
"In this slim yet extraordinarily dense volume, Berlant (Cruel Optimism) and Edelman (L'impossible Homosexuel) present a series of dialogues regarding the dichotomy and contradictions of sex as a pleasurable act that is simultaneously fraught with many unbearable aspects and consequences. As they discuss how these factors relate on social, cultural and emotional levels, among others, they likewise touch upon relationality, sovereignty, negativity, and optimism. The authors, both professors of English, offer up their findings in turgid academic language that is so roundabout and obscure that it is often hard to engage. In the preface, the authors are at their most readable when they state that 'We approach sex here as a site, therefore, at which relationality is invested with hopes, expectations, and anxieties that are often experienced as unbearable. Sex, though subject to the pressures of legal sanction, social judgment, unconscious drives, and contradictory desires, holds out the prospect of discovering new ways of being and of being in the world. But it also raises the possibility of confronting our limit in ourselves or in another, of being inundated psychically or emotionally.' Casual readers be forewarned: this is the sort of book only academics could love. (Jan.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
In Sex, or the Unbearable two of our leading theorists of sexuality, politics, and culture engage in intense and animated dialogue about living with—and imagining alternatives to—what's overwhelming in sex, friendship, social inequality, and one's relation to oneself.
About the Author
Lauren Berlant is George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor of English at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Cruel Optimism, The Female Complaint, and The Queen of America Goes to Washington City, all also published by Duke University Press.
Lee Edelman is Fletcher Professor of English Literature at Tufts University. He is the author of L'impossible Homosexuel; No Future, also published by Duke University Press; and Homographesis.
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