Kaja Silverman’s Male Subjectivity at the Margins: Masculinity, Fantasy, and Libidinal Politics
How is masculinity constructed, and what would it mean, sexually, culturally, and politically, to construct it differently? For art historian and theorist Kaja Silverman, “There is nothing ‘natural’ or innocent about sexuality.” Our subjective experience of gender and sexuality is deeply entwined with prevailing ideology, and for conventional male subjects, identity and power are bound up particularly with the symbol of the phallus. In Male Subjectivity at the Margins, Silverman asks: what happens when the linkage between male identity and the phallus is broken—when we go, in her words, beyond the “phallic pale”? Drawing on psychoanalytic, feminist, Marxist, literary, and poststructuralist theory, as well as on classic works of cinema, Silverman explores the possibilities and implications of alternative, “non-phallic” forms of masculinity—not least of all for lived experiences of female subjects. What is the emancipatory potential, for all subjects, of a masculinity that “learns to live with the lack”?
In this course, we will read Male Subjectivity at the Margins, as we probe the relationship between fantasy, identity, gender, and ideology, and explore Silverman’s conception of what she calls “libidinal politics”—that is, the social and experiential consequences of “marginal” masculinities. Among the questions we will ask are: In what ways do fantasy and ideology co-create fictions of masculinity? How have cinematic representations of masculinity affected notions of gender and the family, as well as notions of femininity? What are the effects of the gaze—in literature and film—on the experience and constitution of the desiring subject? How are the libidinal politics of colonialism and race represented in film and other cultural texts? How can we account for the libidinal politics that animate masochism, racial identification, and queerness? Our study will be supplemented with work by Michel Foucault, Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, Jean Laplanche, Theodor Reik, Henry James, Marcel Proust, and optional films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
April 06 — April 27, 2021