The Trauma of Sex

What follows is the second of the three entries I mentioned at the beginning of yesterday’s posting–the three that I originally entered in response to my reading of Ann Cvetkovich’s An Archive of Feeling (Duke University Press, 2003).


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cvetkovich, pp. 44-45:  “The shared origins of trauma and sexual identity in discourses of psychoanalysis suggest the links between the two.”

Even well outside and before psychoanalysis:  Aristophanes’ story [in Plato’s Symposium] of the traumatic rupture that produces sexual desire/”the sexes” (where, at least in Aristophane’s myth,  there are more than two sexes; there are three–at least if being a “sex” gets defined in terms of sexual desire:  the two  parts of a male-female original split apart yields heterosexual desire, then there are two different modes of  sexual desire from the splitting of male-male originals and that of female-female originals).

Sex itself as rupture, as trauma. 

Hence the “shared origins” Cvetkovich speaks of.  Not really “shared,” however.  Rather, “sexual identity” itself as a production of, by, and as trauma.

Next p. (46) she goes on to attribute to queer theorist Leo Barsani just such a view of “sexuality as fundamentally traumatic,” but then adds that, for him, it is “hence anticommunal.” 

Well, perhaps Agamben’s work can add somthing at this point:  as”fundamentally traumatic,” sexuality may be “anticommunal” in the sense of banishing sexuality to the “private” sphere of the home, banning it, thereby, from any place in the “public” sphere of the state and society.  But insofar as it is precisely in so producing and then excluding–i.e., precisely [in and by] such banning of sexuality –that the “community” constitutes itself, [the trauma that is sexuation is archi-communal, rather than simply anti-communal].

So, in effect, producing sexuality as anticommunal is also the production of community itself, in its Western form at least, where it is inseparable from the state and sovereignty.


As Cvetkovich herself comes close to  saying, when she writes (p. 53), “In Freud’s model of perception as penetration [in Beyond the Pleasure Principle], all forms of sensation carry with them the trace of trauma” as a breech of the “protective shield” with which the organism, by numbing or literally deadening its outer layers, fends off stimulation–that whole conceptualization of trauma as such a breech already presupposes the earlier trauma which is sensation itself, producing the reactive numbing-deadening of the outer layers in the first place.  So he “explains” trauma by tracing it back to an earlier trauma/traumatization/traumatism!

Published in: on December 16, 2008 at 9:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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