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Sex, or the Unbearable (Theory Q) Hardcover – December 9, 2013
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- Publisher : Duke University Press Books (December 9, 2013)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 168 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0822355809
- ISBN-13 : 978-0822355809
- Item Weight : 12.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.7 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #16,659,043 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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Among other things, this book’s portrayal of Berlant and Edelman’s live, embroiled disagreement has helped me to escape being rendered mute by my fear of mischaracterizing Edelman’s argument, which has proven so endlessly mischaracterizable by so many smarter people than me, if his multiple MLA rebuttals of them are any indication.* But those mutual rebuttals have unfolded in the slow time of monographic work and conference Q&As. By contrast, the structure of the dialogue between Berlant and Edelman, which opens with their joint avowal of the negativity/nonsovereignty inherent in all encounters, at least makes their ensuing disagreements feel like a proper engagement with each other rather than a consistently one-sided conversation with an oppositional strawman. Not that there aren’t strawmen in this book, since one of its pleasures is watching Edelman continually recast Berlant as a reparative/naïve theorist, and Berlant in turn calling him out for mischaracterizing her claims. However, having Berlant as an interlocutor forces Edelman to come the closest he has yet to stating his optimisms outright. He confesses that flourishing for him involves engaging in a realistic, continual struggle with negativity (see page 11), and that part of this engagement involves taking up the position of devil’s advocate against another’s position even if, for instance (and this is only implied), he is a lot more aligned with Berlant’s belief in helping others into a realist relation to negativity than he admits (see page 115).
What’s lovely about this exchange is that Berlant and Edelman’s mutually locked horns don’t make us feel as though a cleverer person has already figured things out and we’re simply not smart or qualified enough to piece together the unspoken counterarguments they would have to our doubts. But as Berlant and Edelman admit in the preface, their focus on continually clarifying their positions in the face of each other’s skepticisms and misrecognitions keeps the book on the lean, succinct track of explaining negativity’s relation to optimism, reparativity and living from two different perspectives, all in a highly abstract and general register. This means that the book can only remain a prelude to all the different directions in which its theory of negativity can be put to productive thought, including about sex itself. For example, the book never directly tackles the sex pastoralists that might be their obvious interlocutors, e.g. those sex-positive liberals who worship at the church of consent, a term denoting a sovereignty that cannot hold within the risky, negativity-ridden space of the intimate encounter. But perhaps to call such interlocutors “obvious” is unwise, if we are to absorb Berlant and Edelman’s point, which is that we should ever leave ourselves open to the surprise of how others (and even our selves) might be affected by what we have to present and take that in turn into new, surprising and often unbearable directions.
* For samplers of Edelman’s MLA parries against utopian theorists, see [...] and [...]
Top reviews from other countries
This book is probably not a great intro to either author's work, don't be fooled by the small page count. It took me weeks to work through the book. But for me, it was well worth it. I posted no fewer than 3 amazing quotations on my facebook from it (all Berlant, although she wasn't always my favourite throughout).