“The psychoanalyst Susie Orbach tells me that there’s an “epidemic of celibacy” in the UK and the United States. So I wonder: is everyone beyond sex (not just the queer scholars who might have, you know, been there and done that, aged out, made art, bought property, endured AIDS, forged a couple, taken hormones, had events, reproduced, gotten tenure, had episodes, done new research, said what they had to say, heard what there was to hear, looked around the room, gotten bored)? Georg Simmel writes that modern boredom is a way to experience overstimulation from a mental distance: perhaps the pressures of reproducing professional sexual life are a lot like sex that goes on for too long, becoming irritating and requiring daydreaming, or analgesia.
Perhaps it’s political depression. Perhaps it’s that there is no emotional habitus for being queer and that building a world for it, being collaborative, is a lot harder than not bothering. Plus, sex complicates the ordinary, because, even when it isn’t collaborative, it forces the rational/critical subject to become disorganized for a bit, and that’s hard when the conditions of the reproduction of life are already both so overorganizing and fraying. Sex forces us to desire to become disorganized, on top of all that. Being overwhelmed is exciting, except when it’s exhausting.
Everything I write lately is from the position of depressive realism, in which the world’s hard scenes ride the wave of the optimism inscribed in ambivalence, but without taking on optimism’s conventional tones. I do not have the aim of moving beyond x but the aim of setting there awhile, dedramatizing the performance of critical and political judgment so as to slow down the encounter with the objects of knowledge that are really scenes we can barely get our eyes around. In other words, I do not want to move beyond a thing, as I am always still approaching it from within a scene of contact. As method, this perspective turns the object x into an impasse, a singular place that’s a cluster of noncoherent but proximate attachments that can only be approached awkwardly, described around, shifted. Sex is not a thing, it’s a relation; it’s a nonrelation in propinquity to some kind of a recognition; it’s a sock drawer for the anxious affects; it’s a gesture cluster that can be organized in an identity for the purpose of passing through normative sociality; it’s an event, an episode; it feels so good, or not; it’s an experience of becoming disorganized that, at the same time, can be lived through, assimilated, talked about, tracked (noticed, fetishized, historicized, genealogized), and forgotten, while also being a threat to well-being and to fantasies that in the good life people ought to be protected from being too chaotic, unstable, ambivalent, or enigmatic. Normativity is a vote for disavowing, drowning out, delegitimating, or distracting from all that’s ill-fitting in humans: it can never drown out, though, the threat posed by sex’s weird tastes and tonalities to the desire for the everyday to be simpler to live through.”
- excerpted from Lauren Berlant’s essay “Starved“ (South Atlantic Quarterly 106:3, Summer 2007).
in response to feminist boredom…
important. important. important. this also reminds me how the other day a friend described having sex with someone, early on in their relationship, as “professional,” and i knew exactly what she meant.