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 andquot;Break It Downandquot; (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 discussionandmdash;punctuated with moments of frustration, misconstruction, anxiety, aggression, recognition, exhilaration, and inspirationandmdash;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.
andquot;Sex, or the Unbearable will supersede the unenlivening debate that has, in recent years, opposed optimists and pessimists in the queer academic community. This important and original book, a dialogue between Lauren Berlant and Lee Edelman, reformulates the terms of the debate as a serious and profound reflection on negativity. Berlant and Edelmanand#39;s penetrating and courageous encounter significantly raises the level of debate in contemporary cultural studies.andquot;
andquot;In Sex, or the Unbearable, Lauren Berlant and Lee Edelman give a gripping and compelling seminar on reading, on the everyday dramas of unbecoming, undoing, opening up, and breaking down, and on love and sex. Relationality, they argue and demonstrate, is always a risk because in all encounters and conversations, and certainly in this one, the subject is misrecognized, unheard, and never in control. The risk, they show here, is always worth taking.andquot;
andquot;The good news is that theory is alive. In a dialogue characterized by precision and generosity, two key theorists of sex, affect, aesthetics, and politics imagine the possibilities for the critical transformation of the social world. The bad news is that, for these brilliant, searching antipastoralists, none of the old fixesandmdash;psychic reparation or political hopeandmdash;will do. Which is to say: there is no bad news. Sex, or the Unbearable testifies to the political significance of negativity and to the ongoing force of epistemology in queer studies.andquot;
andldquo;Whatandrsquo;s lovely about this exchange is that Berlant and Edelmanandrsquo;s mutually locked horns donandrsquo;t make us feel as though a cleverer person has already figured things out and weandrsquo;re simply not smart or qualified enough to piece together the unspoken counterarguments they would have to our doubts.andrdquo;
"Berlant and Edelman’s three-act dialogue is wonderfully intriguing, especially in regard to how the dialogue itself bears witness to the intellectual process of ‘thinking through’ in the dialogic form." Against the Hype
andquot;This collaboration between Berlant and Edelman has a feel for the ecology of thinking as it passes between two points. Like holding oneandrsquo;s breath under water or passing a balloon back and forth without its touching the floor, these conversations illuminate the sense of timing with which ideas respond to and are shaped by each other.andquot;and#160;
andquot;Berlant and Edelmanandrsquo;s three-act dialogue is wonderfully intriguing, especially in regard to how the dialogue itself bears witness to the intellectual process of andlsquo;thinking throughandrsquo; in the dialogic form.andquot;
andldquo;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.andrdquo;
In Sex, or the Unbearable two of our leading theorists of sexuality, politics, and culture engage in intense and animated dialogue about living withand#8212;and imagining alternatives toand#8212;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.
Table of Contents
1. Sex without Optimism 1
2. What Survives 35
3. Living with Negativity 63
Appendix. andquot;Break It Downandquot; / Lydia Davis 127