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Guest Speaker: “‘Sexuality’: The End of (a) Narrative”, Anne Berger (Paris VIII Vincennes Saint-Denis)
Freud famously stated that literature was the royal road to psychoanalysis. Following course, Lacan noted, in “The Signification of the Phallus”, that if one wanted to understand human sexuality and desire, better read Sophocle’s Oedipus, or Longus’s Daphnis and Chloë, than rely on biological inquiry and data . Even Foucault described his project to devise a “history of sexuality” as a manner of “transcribing” Diderot’s fable, Les Bijoux Indiscrets, in the language of historical inquiry. In other words, fictional narration, for which dreams and phantasy could be said to provide a template, might be the best way to approach sexuality, such as it was, if not invented, at least “enlarged” (Freud’s expression) by psychoanalysis. Today, however, one witnesses an attempt to demote sexuality as a relevant epistemic and cultural paradigm, to question its centrality for any understanding of the psychic life of the subject, while contesting the heuristic relevance of certain modes of narrative fictionalization, hence also of literature, to account for it. While pondering over the stakes of this epistemological and cultural shift, I will focus on two such attempts to stop sexuality from telling tales in the name of various forms of contemporary materialisms : Catherine Malabou’s call to end the “reign” of sexuality in favor of “cerebrality” in The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage, and Geoffroy de Lagasnerie’s call, in the wake of Foucault, to depsychologize and “de-dramatize” human sexuality in favor of both a “physicalist” and strictly political appreciation of sex.
Professor Anne Berger is currently the Visiting Melodia E. Jones Chair in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at the University at Buffalo. She is the author of, among other works, Le Grand Théâtre du Genre. Identités, sexualités et féminisme en ‘Amérique’ (Belin), translated into English by Catherine Porter as The Queer Turn in Feminism: Identities, Sexualities and the Theater of Gender (Fordham), as well as Scènes d’aumône: Misère et Poésie au XIXe siècle (Champion). She received her doctorate in French Literature from Université de Paris VIII, and has held positions at Cornell University, Northwestern University, Rutgers University, and Université de Paris VIII.