What is Sex?
Depending on the context, “sex” might name a set of acts (defined between institutions of medicine and the law); a genre of relationality; or an idea and ideology of the biological division of the species. Sex is bound up in imaginaries of biological and social reproduction; of personal identity and trauma; and it lies at the heart of fears and fantasies about racial difference and national belonging. Sex is also centrally at issue, overtly or implicitly, in many or even most genres of narrative media, from the marriage plot through to romantic comedy, horror, melodrama, and of course pornography. In this course, we will consider sex as a philosophical, social, political, and representational question and problem, drawing on work in psychoanalytic theory; radical feminism; queer theory; trans studies; and a French tradition of erotic philosophy influenced by Sade and Bataille. As part of this theoretical investigation, we will examine the ways sex shapes genres and systems of representations, sometimes pushing them to their limits, sometimes safely contained within them. To this end, we will consider French feminist films and literature that use explicit sexuality as a form of politicized aesthetics; contemporary iterations of confessionality as the production of a gendered and racialized sexuality; and examples of cinema in which sex—in both senses—comes into question, or names the very question that cannot be posed. Authors and film-makers may include: Freud; Lacan; Sade; Bataille; Alenca Zupancic; Avgi Saketopoulou; Andrea Dworkin; Paisley Currah; Leo Bersani; Andrea Long Chu; Paul Preciado; Judith Butler; Lauren Berlant; Brontez Purnell; Jean Genet; Hortense Spillers; Kadji Amin; Marquis Bey; Jean-Luc Nancy; Eugenie Brinkema; Catherine Breillat; Pier Paolo Pasolini; Céline Sciamma; and Catherine Millet. Includes occasional screenings on Wed nights.