Is the Rectum a Grave?: and Other Essays
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Over the course of a distinguished career, critic Leo Bersani has tackled a range of issues in his writing, and this collection gathers together some of his finest work. Beginning with one of the foundations of queer theory—his famous meditation on how sex leads to a shattering of the self, “Is the Rectum a Grave?”—this volume charts the inspired connections Bersani has made between sexuality, psychoanalysis, and aesthetics.
Over the course of these essays, Bersani grapples with thinkers ranging from Plato to Descartes to Georg Simmel. Foucault and Freud recur as key figures, and although Foucault rejected psychoanalysis, Bersani contends that by considering his ideas alongside Freud’s, one gains a clearer understanding of human identity and how we relate to one another. For Bersani, art represents a crucial guide for conceiving new ways of connecting to the world, and so, in many of these essays, he stresses the importance of aesthetics, analyzing works by Genet, Caravaggio, Proust, Almodóvar, and Godard.
Documenting over two decades in the life of one of the best minds working in the humanities today, Is the Rectum a Grave? and Other Essays is a unique opportunity to explore the fruitful career of a formidable intellect.
Francisco and New York have chosen to call themselves Gay Shame. Reproaching the Gay Pride movement for an assimilationist mania that has led it to demand little more from a heterosexist and homophobic society than its recognition of gays as good husbands, good priests, and good soldiers, Gay Shame proudly chooses the counterslogan “Fuck Gay Pride.” Thus gays proudly accept the very insults meant to reduce them to silence and, ideally, invisibility. The situation is of course a delicate one. It’s
(Lacan’s relationally initiating mirror stage): in all these cases the subject is either in danger of being stolen or has already suffered a loss of self. Fantasmatic—and, if possible, real— mastery places the subject in the world on the subject’s own terms; no longer an agent of loss, the world is now the coerced repairer of loss. Desire is polarized between lack and possession; the activity of desire is what moves the subject from the one to the other. Relationality is grounded in antagonism
pleasure.17 17. Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, trans. Hurley, vol. 2 of The History of Sexuality (New York, 1985), p. 232. s o c i a l i t y a n d s e x ua l i t y | 118 We are, however, left with a difficult question: is this love for our lost half motivated by lack? This would certainly seem to be the case: a lover longs for what he or she no longer has, the missing half of his or her being. Love, Aristophanes concludes, is an attempt at repossession; it “is the name for our pursuit of
available to the male body, according to this fantasy, in “passive” anal sex. Thus Foucault’s claim, in interviews for Salmagundi Lecture given at the University of California—Berkeley at the symposium “Foucault at Berkeley / Twenty Years Later,” October 2004. f r - o u c a u lt a n d t h e e n d o f s e x | 134 and Mec, that what people find intolerable in gayness is not the sex act but the spectacle of postcoitum happy gays could strike me only as bizarrely simplistic. After all, the scene
that her entire, splendidly white body is inscribed with the dark welts inflicted by the lashes of her beloved’s whip. This discovery, or sadomasochistic fable, far from repelling him, inflames the young man’s passion even more. One day the narrator and Mado—a young woman with whom he is having a considerably more banal sexual relation—are taken on a tour of one of the less known prehistoric caves. Their guide is Jeanjean, whom the narrator recognizes as the man he had judged, by the way he and