Presentation Title

Lack vs. Difference: Clearing a Space for Asexual Theory

Time

1:30 PM

Location

Williams Family Room

Abstract

I begin by discussing the nascent field of asexual theory. Even writings about asexuality’s potential as a critical lens, such as Karli Cerankowski’s “New Orientations,” focus largely on diagnostic criteria, historic significance, and contemporary political activism. The possibility of applications in literary theory and criticism is broadly discussed, but such applications are not undertaken.

Both gay/lesbian studies and queer are built on the idea of difference. Whether that difference is sharply delineated or nebulous, whether it involves the creation of new categories or the challenging established categories, whether orientation or identity is being examined, the concept of difference—of deviation from the norm toward something else—plays a key role.

The necessity of something elsein analyses through these lenses is so deeply set that it’s presence becomes an assumption in all discussions of the potentially nonnormative. Asexual theory is so difficult to conceptualize because it cannot exist under that assumption. Difference, as it is commonly understood, comes to subsume lack. But there is a very valid distinction to be made between difference and lack.

After laying out the ways in which lack doesn’t fit with the conventional analytical category of difference, I illustrate how the assumption of difference and the practice of “erotic chauvinism” can prevent asexual interpretation.

Eve Sedgwick’s “The Beast in the Closet” was a game-changer in its time, offering a homosexual reading of Henry James’s “The Beast in the Jungle.” I offer a close reading of parts of the Sedgwick text, particularly the sections in which she argues that secret’s must have distinct content and that—based on James’s historical context—a lack of passion was metonymic of a lack of heterosexual passion, implying homosexual passion.

I end by reiterating that lack is not a deficiency, that it is a distinct category, and that asexuality is as worthy of consideration as any other lens for analysis.

Primary Faculty Mentor Name

Valerie Rohy

Status

Graduate

Student College

College of Arts and Sciences

Program/Major

English

Primary Research Category

Arts & Humanities

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Lack vs. Difference: Clearing a Space for Asexual Theory

I begin by discussing the nascent field of asexual theory. Even writings about asexuality’s potential as a critical lens, such as Karli Cerankowski’s “New Orientations,” focus largely on diagnostic criteria, historic significance, and contemporary political activism. The possibility of applications in literary theory and criticism is broadly discussed, but such applications are not undertaken.

Both gay/lesbian studies and queer are built on the idea of difference. Whether that difference is sharply delineated or nebulous, whether it involves the creation of new categories or the challenging established categories, whether orientation or identity is being examined, the concept of difference—of deviation from the norm toward something else—plays a key role.

The necessity of something elsein analyses through these lenses is so deeply set that it’s presence becomes an assumption in all discussions of the potentially nonnormative. Asexual theory is so difficult to conceptualize because it cannot exist under that assumption. Difference, as it is commonly understood, comes to subsume lack. But there is a very valid distinction to be made between difference and lack.

After laying out the ways in which lack doesn’t fit with the conventional analytical category of difference, I illustrate how the assumption of difference and the practice of “erotic chauvinism” can prevent asexual interpretation.

Eve Sedgwick’s “The Beast in the Closet” was a game-changer in its time, offering a homosexual reading of Henry James’s “The Beast in the Jungle.” I offer a close reading of parts of the Sedgwick text, particularly the sections in which she argues that secret’s must have distinct content and that—based on James’s historical context—a lack of passion was metonymic of a lack of heterosexual passion, implying homosexual passion.

I end by reiterating that lack is not a deficiency, that it is a distinct category, and that asexuality is as worthy of consideration as any other lens for analysis.