Stefa Govaart

We Have Never Had Sex

_We Have Never Had Sex is an ASCA Seminar Series (University of Amsterdam) organized by Marija Cetinić, Tessel Veneboer and Stefa Govaart_


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Collective debates on sex among feminists in the late 1960s and 1970s elicited two polarizing views: sex positivists and those deemed “anti-sex". This dyad unleashed a prolific energy of discussion, argument, and analysis––driven as it was by the hope that either bookend would one day complete the daunting task of articulating the essence of “woman” in its unabating subordination to “man”, that is, of pinpointing the essence of woman on the terms of sexual difference. Yet, as Andrea Long Chu remarks à propos this history, “the stronger feminist theories of sex got, the less effective they became” (“The Impossibility of Feminism,” 63). Ushering in a third wave of feminist thinking, the focus of critical inquiry shifted with the emergence of queer theory in the North American academic context in the 80s and early 90s. Rather than foregrounding sexual difference as the very grounds from which sprang a well-reasoned landscape of social identities, “queer” halted that considerable faith in identitarian intelligibility. Historically analyzing the usage of the word by field-defining figures such as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and David M. Halperin, theorist and linguist Mel Y. Chen concludes that “[queer theory] departs from dominant feminisms in the United States…in its refusal…to advocate or politically favor any particular category other than the (sexually) nonnormative” (Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect, 69). However, if sedimentation best describes the social temporality in which bodies materialize, antinormativity is itself regulated and constrained by that which it denounces. In line with Robyn Wiegman and Elizabeth A. Wilson’s “invitation to think queer theory without assuming a position of antinormativity from the outset” (in the introduction to the special issue of differences, Antinormativity’s Queer Conventions) we ask, How to approach normativity on something other than dyadic terms? We Have Never Had Sex is an attempt to think a more contradictory site than the norm/anti-norm topology still present in queer theory today.

Asserting that sex is (the) non-relation, Jacques Lacan’s “There is no sexual relation” is an essential precursor. Importantly, Lacan’s statement in the negative never aimed to ontologize this constitutive non-relation that sex is into intelligible (non)relationships. However, this didn’t prevent it from being canalized in precisely that way: from “relationships are impossible” to “true love doesn't exist”. Such truisms vis-à-vis relationality misconstrue sex’s confrontation with (the) non-relation as “the cause of the oddities and difficulties within all concrete relationships” (Zupančič, What is Sex?, 23). To falsely decode the non-relation as an obstacle is to think it can be overcome. But for Lacan it wasn’t an obstacle to but the (il)logical condition of relational possibility. So sex names a structural antagonism without the optimism of ontological completeness: “We have never had sex,” declares philosopher Oxana Timofeeva.

Prone to installing a logic that exploits difference for the sake of unimaginative sameness, negativity cannot be rendered politically coherent. Negativity is relentless, unnatural, contrived. However, the seminar We Have Never Had Sex does not seek to reduce sex to––nor celebrate sex as––negativity as if it were a bad thing, or, “antisocial”. Sex will have meant work, work in and on the social to which we stay committed and with which we enjoy, too. Heeding the circumlocutionary mode that speaking of sex demands, this seminar series will think sex ​​in its ontological relevance (Lacan, Butler, Zupančič); its relation to negativity and nonsovereignty (Berlant & Edelman 2014, Bersani 2018, Chu 2019); the relatedness of transness and Blackness (Bey 2017); its figuration in cultural objects (Troyan 2014, 2020; Elagoz 2021). An experiment in forms of speculation, the seminar gathers poets, philosophers, artists, performers, and scholars to grapple with questions of foundation, logic, and limit, asking how sex is a site of or an encounter with negativity that troubles totality, a "relentless force that unsettles the fantasy of sovereignty" (Berlant & Edelman, Sex, or the Unberable, viii).

Session 1, Sex, or Negativity
Introductory session, March 9, 2022

Session 2, We have never had Sex
Public lecture and masterclass by Dr. Oxana Timofeeva, April 21, 2022

Session 3, Dissociation
Public lecture Maxi Wallenhorst, May 24, 2022

Session 4, Hatred of Women
Public lecture by Cassandra Troyan, June 2, 2022