Oh Canada!

SPSL Session at the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association, April 17-20, 2019, Vancouver, British Columbia

Topic: Engaging with Kate Manne’s Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny

  • Ann J. Cahill (Elon University, North Carolina): The Impossibility and Necessity of Resistance Against Misogyny: Filling the Jails
  • Qrescent Mali Mason, (Haverford College, Pennsylvania): I Wanna be Down, Girl: Misogyny is an Intersectional Key
  • Angelique Szymanek, (Hobart & William Smith Colleges, New York): ’My Cunt is Wet with Fear’: Misogyny and Desire in the Art of Tracy Emin
  • Dianna Taylor, (John Carroll University, Ohio): Misogyny in the Era of #MeTooOh

Interview with Fanny Söderbäck

We are very happy to relaunch our Interview Series with an interview with Fanny Söderbäck! 

fanny-söderbäck.pngFanny Söderbäck is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at DePaul University. She holds a PhD in Philosophy from the New School for Social Research, and taught philosophy for several years at Siena College. Her book Revolutionary Time: On Time and Difference in Kristeva and Irigaray, which treats the role of time as it appears in the work of French feminist thinkers Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray, is forthcoming with SUNY Press. Fanny has edited Feminist Readings of Antigone (SUNY Press, 2010) and is a co-editor of the volume Undutiful Daughters: New Directions in Feminist Thought and Practice (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). She is also the editor of a special issue of philoSOPHIA: A Journal of Continental Feminism on the topic of birth. Her work has appeared in scholarly journals such as Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, Journal of French and Francophone PhilosophyJournal of Speculative Philosophy, and Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. Current research projects include a monograph on the Italian feminist thinker Adriana Cavarero, and a project that puts into conversation Julia Kristeva and Gloria Anzaldúa around issues of foreignness and strangeness. Fanny is the co-founder and co-director of the Kristeva Circle. 

ADWarmack: What role do you think the philosophy of sex and love play in your work on motherhood, Irigaray, and Kristeva?  How do you understand the operation of intimacy or the intimate in your work?  What do you understand the role of the erotic to be in your work and your interests? 

FS: You speak here of sex, love, intimacy, the intimate, and the erotic. For me, these all have registers of their own, and play different roles in my work. As a feminist, sex and sexuality have always been central fields of inquiry, although more so in my teaching than in what I write. Right now, I teach a course called “Issues in Sex and Gender,” and I told students on the first day of class that this would be a course on the relationship between sex and gender more so than a course on sexuality. But of course, this distinction collapses upon itself, and despite my initial remark, we have touched on issues having to do with sex and sexuality all along. How could we not? What would it mean to consider gender identity without reflecting on the myriad ways in which that’s always wrapped up in social norms and expectations having to do with desire, pleasure, sexual relations, and so on? How speak of masculinity without an analysis of heteronormativity and homophobia? How broach the current medical practice of “correctional surgeries” on intersex infants without naming the telos of hetero-penetration as that which, literally, shapes our views about what counts as a “normal” or “functional” penis or vagina (at the expense, for example, of clitoral pleasure)? 

Love, more broadly construed, plays a central role in my scholarly work, and as you put it, also has a role to play specifically in my work on motherhood, Irigaray, and Kristeva. I recently finished a piece on motherhood in Kristeva that reads her as attending very carefully to the paradoxes and ambiguities of so-called maternal love, such that it comes to include feelings of disgust and repulsion as integral to maternal passion. I have another article forthcoming that explores Irigaray’s attempts to develop a non-appropriating erotic model that moves beyond the all-too-common trope of a lover-subject who desires their beloved-object in a manner that reproduces all kinds of problematic and binary assumptions about activity and passivity, which in turn serve to reproduce binary gender roles and structures of subordination and submission. My reading of Irigaray takes place in conversation with Plato, and ultimately seeks to develop an intersubjective, non-appropriating ethics of irreducibility, grounded in love.  

As for intimacy, or the intimate, I think my work has always in some sense been concerned with our capacity – or incapacity – to establish proximity across difference, in non-reductive ways. This can manifest in the ways in which we make sense of pregnant embodiment as an experience that involves unique ways of navigating proximity and difference, in a way that fundamentally complicates and challenges commonly held views about identity, selfhood, relationality, and otherness. Or it can manifest in our attempts to build political coalitions across geographical distance and sexual, racial, and colonial difference. But I also think about this a lot from a pedagogical perspective, in terms of classroom dynamics. Intersubjectively as well as in relation to the texts we read, there is always a question of intimacy and trust – not of an erotic kind of course but in terms of making proximity across differences take place. How offer a close reading of a text that was written 2,000 years ago, in a culture different from our own? How create a space where students will have the trust (in me, in each other) to bring deeply personal experiences to bear on the texts that we are engaging? In my mind philosophical dialogue is best – as in most profound and most radical – when it comes from a place of intimacy. 

ADWarmack: What projects are you working on now?  How might time play a role in philosophies of sex and love (or the philosophy of sex and love)? 

FS: In my forthcoming book on revolutionary time – which examines the role of temporality in the works of Kristeva and Irigaray – I offer an analysis of the present that frames Irigaray’s critique of the metaphysics of presence through an appeal to love understood as co-presence. As much as concepts such as “Being” and “Presence” are fraught in a host of ways – and especially so for marginalized folks in cisheteropatriarchal culture – I am still interested in the question of what it means to be-with in a manner that allows for being-present-with. Especially erotic relations are so burdened with appropriative logics that end up objectifying the other. That’s why, for Irigaray, even a seemingly affirmative expression such as “I love you” in fact runs the risk of repeating sexist-capitalist-colonial tendencies to reduce the other to an object; and that’s also why desire so easily gets confused with ownership. To suggest, like Irigaray does, that we instead say “I love to you” is an attempt to seek out the possibility for erotic relations between subjects, whose co-presence or becoming-with are marked by indeterminacy, proximity in difference, and attention to the irreducible mystery of those we love (that they must remain strangers). In praxis, this is extremely hard, because we are so habituated to seek identification through appropriation, to eliminate the distance or difference between us and devouring what we desire. I struggle a lot with this in relation to the people I love. How to carve out an asymptotic path of approximation rather than a teleological project of identification? Those are questions that keep me up at night… 

Moving forward, I am articulating a project that seeks to read Kristeva and Anzaldúa together around issues of foreignness and strangeness. And I am just starting a new book project on Cavarero’s philosophy of singularity. Both the strange and the singular are, for me, conditions of possibility for intimacy. So, while neither of these projects are explicitly or primarily about love or sex, I guess in some sense they might be construed as such. 

ADWarmack: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers? 

FS: I have the word LOVE in Hebrew (AHAVA) tattooed on my shoulder. It’s been with me since I was fourteen. And I am currently engaging in a very peculiar form of loving relation, namely pregnancy. There is something intensely strange about feeling so much love towards and intimacy with someone who you have yet to actually meet. 

Biting the Big Apple

SPSL Session at the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association, January 9, 2019, New York, New York

  • Doug Ficek (University of New Haven): Laughing at the Toxic Male: Two Readings of How Philosophers Pick Up, a Thing that Exists
  • Shaun Miller (Marquette): A Three-Tiered View of Sexual Consent
  • Caleb Ward (SUNY Stonybrook): Responsibility and Responding to Sexual Consent
  • Andrea Dionne Warmack (Emory): Home: A Phenomenological Account of Homing as a Practice of Self-Love

Happy New Year!

…at least for those people filing birth certificates in New York City.

New York City’s new non-binary gender option—gender “X”—is officially in effect. New Yorkers can now change their birth certificates to reflect their gender preferences, and parents can choose “X” for their newborns.

The new law brings NYC in line with California, Oregon and Washington D.C.; a similar provision will be enacted in New Jersey in February.


Sex Machine

Turns out that Kinky Robots are positioned to have better–more nuanced, negotiating, and thoughtful–sexual ethics than sitting Supreme Court Justices.

The foundations of healthy, happy, satisfying, and pleasurable sexual experiences are trust, effective communication, and of course, consent between people. The role of consent for the human in any situation is physical and psychological safety. At the same time, human sexuality includes many behaviors that rely on someone’s interior life and what uniquely excites them, and for some people that includes role playing and other creative interactions that sometimes involve testing and teasing physical and emotional limits of the body with their trusted partner(s), or practicing things that society may consider taboo. However, in this case we are discussing scenarios between a (let’s say non-sentient) robot and human(s), so the idea of consent should be human-centered, as in the Laws.

Would a BDSM Sex Robot Violate Asimov’s First Law of Robotics?

Perhaps the first rule for human pleasure ethics should also be, that one should not “injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm”.**



**The underlying claim here is that ethically negotiated and practiced kinky relationships do not rise to “injury” or “harm”.



CFP: Psychoanalysis and Sexual Violence

Psychoanalysis and Sexual Violence
Penumbr(a): A Journal of Psychoanalysis and Modernity. No. 1
Call for Papers

Thanks to the collective reckoning of the #MeToo movement, together with revelations of the scope of child sexual abuse within the Catholic church, it is now a matter of public record that sexual violence is not and probably has never been an isolated occurrence but rather is a systematic feature of modern society, regardless of the ideals that orient social justice movements and the political institutions that lay claim to their legacy. This should not come as a surprise, of course. For decades, feminist scholars have argued that the social bond is founded on the open secret of sexual violence. And for well over one hundred years now, psychoanalysis has recalled that the social and psychic life of the subject ultimately pivots on a refractory kernel that often manifests itself in acts rather than words. Precisely because of its unrelenting attention to subjective history, however, psychoanalysis has often been accused of discounting the veracity of victim testimony, reducing reality to fantasy, and promoting private rather than public speech. Freud’s abandonment of the seduction theory, many have argued and continue to argue, doomed psychoanalysis to underestimate—if not actively cover up—the prevalence and importance of sexual violence in society. In the notorious letter to Wilhelm Fliess in which Freud informs his friend that “I no longer believe in my neurotica,” because “in all cases the father, not excluding my own, had to be accused of being perverse,” and that “such widespread perversions against children are not very probable.” It seems probable, especially today, that Freud didn’t adequately recognize the prevalence of sexual violence in society. And yet, is this the end of the story? Is this all there is to say about psychoanalysis? If psychoanalysis is not all about sexual violence, is it precluded from contributing anything to the still inchoate discussion of sexual violence in society and politics?

The most affirmative dimension of #MeToo is the refusal to keep silent any longer, the simple assertion that sexual violence, the act itself, will not have been the end of the story; that history is not written by the perpetrators. But the most affirmative dimension of psychoanalysis, too, is the refusal to believe that sexual violence is the end of the story—the end of the subject’s story and the end of the story for psychoanalysis itself; the refusal to allow the very reality sexual violence to become an alibi that makes it possible to avoid talking about other, perhaps more unspeakable things, and that blocks the freedom of speech and association. Is it possible to write the history of sexual violence or even to do justice to the experience of victims if the act of breaking the silence impedes speech on another level? Is it possible to understand or even condemn sexual violence without grasping all the histories that such violence prevents from being written? Is it possible to write the history of sexual violence, today, without the unwritten and untimely histories to which psychoanalytic speech gives access?

Papers might address such topics as: the clinic of sexual violence, sexual violence and femininity, democracy and patriarchy, forensic psychoanalysis, the ethics and politics of testimony, truth and reconciliation, public speech and analytic speech, shame, sexual violence and institutions (school, church, army, university), sexual violence and psychic structures (neurosis, perversion, psychosis), passages-à-l’acte, the logic of fantasy, repetition compulsions, the symbolic order and legacies of silence, sexual violence and war, sexual violence in queer communities, sexual violence and the brain, empirical and transcendental violences, archives of sexual violence, the aesthetics of #metoo, hashtags and politics.

Penumbr(a): A Journal of Psychoanalysis and Modernity is the new journal of the Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis & Culture at the University at Buffalo (SUNY). For our inaugural issue, we invite essays of 6000-8000 words that explore how the theory and practice of psychoanalysis contends with the experience of sexual violence on an individual or social and political level. We also welcome reviews of recent publications in psychoanalytic studies and related fields of up to 2000 words. Please send submissions as an email attachment to slm26@buffalo.edu no later than May 1, 2019.


The news cycle has been rough since, you know, the campaign.

If the recent news cycle has been particularly debilitating, LifeHacker offers some rather helpful advice** in the post How to Cope With the Current News Cycle as a Sexual Abuse Survivor.

Setting boundaries, learning to breathe, and recognizing that different selves need different kinds of care are all useful tools to make use of in times of great strain.

“‘Self care’ is about defining for yourself what nourishes you,” Bryant-Davis says. “For you that could mean going to yoga; for someone else it could mean going to a prayer meeting or going to a rally. Sometimes when we’re caught up in emotion we forget what’s worked for us in the past.”

The inverse of this is that you shouldn’t feel obligated to try a new strategy. If your friends are trying to get you to go to yoga class, but you’re feeling tender and aren’t sure you can deal with the yoga teacher’s talking about “feeling into your pelvis” or sit bones, maybe suggest another class. “People should not feel pressured to do things that will only activate them more,” Appio says. “There’s time and space to practice other strategies. Do what works. Do the lower risk thing first for sure.”



**Especially if you are a survivor of sexual assault.

Doing it, and doing it, and doing it well.

We are delighted to announce our upcoming SPSL events in January and April 2019!

SPSL Session at the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association, January 7-10, 2019, New York, New York

  • Doug Ficek (University of New Haven): Laughing at the Toxic Male: Two Readings of How Philosophers Pick Up, a Thing that Exists
  • Shaun Miller (Marquette): A Three-Tiered View of Sexual Consent
  • Caleb Ward (SUNY Stonybrook): Responsibility and Responding to Sexual Consent
  • Andrea Dionne Warmack (Emory): Home: A Phenomenological Account of Homing as a Practice of Self-Love

SPSL Session at the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association, April 17-20, 2019, Vancouver, British Columbia

Topic: Engaging with Kate Manne’s Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny

  • Ann J. Cahill (Elon University, North Carolina): The Impossibility and Necessity of Resistance Against Misogyny: Filling the Jails
  • Qrescent Mali Mason, (Haverford College, Pennsylvania): I Wanna be Down, Girl: Misogyny is an Intersectional Key
  • Angelique Szymanek, (Hobart & William Smith Colleges, New York): ’My Cunt is Wet with Fear’: Misogyny and Desire in the Art of Tracy Emin
  • Dianna Taylor, (John Carroll University, Ohio): Misogyny in the Era of #MeToo

Verdict Rendered

How do we develop an ethical framework for judging past actions?

One might say, we look at how those actions transact with the present and future that emerged with them. That is, if we think about time–even a single point in time–as past/present/future in constant and embodied communication, the question of whether or not one should be held accountable for past horrors and violence committed becomes a question about our present and future.

Padma Lakshmi closes her brave and touching personal essay about her own rape at 16 on a similar point.

Some say a man shouldn’t pay a price for an act he committed as a teenager. But the woman pays the price for the rest of her life, and so do the people who love her.

I think if I had at the time named what happened to me as rape — and told others — I might have suffered less. Looking back, I now think I let my rapist off the hook and I let my 16-year-old self down.

Let us not let ourselves down now (or in the future) when we think about holding abusers/predators accountable for sexual assault.  Our ethics in these cases should be wary of a temporal limit.

Pussy Control

Aurora Snow’s piece at the Daily Beast, “How Porn Made These Women Feel Empowered: ‘It Gave Me a New Sense of Confidence’” includes accounts from seven performers, including the Adult Video News (AVN) Female Performer of the Year, Angela White. Angela White has also recently published “The Porn Performer: The Radical Potential of Pleasure in Pornography” in The Routledge Companion to Media, Sex and Sexuality.

These performers offer their own experiences of their bodies prior to engaging in sex work. They cite insecurity and a lack of confidence. They describe the transformation of their relationship with their bodies during their work as arising from encounters with fans and other performers. Their work–their coworkers and their fans–emerges as a locus for the development of a greater appreciation for those areas they’d once tried to hide.

“One of the magazines I posed for called my stretch marks ‘beauty marks,’ and it was that magazine that helped me appreciate my curves in a way I couldn’t before,” recalls White.

There was a sense of validation in seeing herself this way: “Not only are men and women paying to see me, but there are companies paying me money for my curves. Seeing myself published in a magazine sold specifically for sexual arousal was confidence-boosting.”

Rather than feeling victimized and truncated by their experiences as performers, the women in this interview feel and describe a sense of flourishing.

“Whatever you’re insecure about, chances are it’s somebody’s biggest turn-on. Capitalizing on the things I used to hate about myself has given me so much respect and appreciation for my body and shown me power I didn’t know I had.”

There is the possibility of mounting a critique of this transformation particularly because it is explicitly bound to and within the view/approval/validation of others. One can point to the way that White highlights the role of the market in her self-esteem and confidence. Certainly, one can read this article solely as an account of being-for-others.

These critiques point to a limited account of the lived experience of these performers; and their role in knowledge production about their work, their place in their work, and about themselves. That is, these critiques run the risk of discounting the being-for-self that these women claim and embrace.  (Being-for-self  can involve admiration from others.) It is to deny that one (and particularly porn performers) can both engage with the world and transact with it without completely being reduced to it. It is to suggest that they are ontologically resilient enough to resist being completely truncated by the encounter. More to the point, a desire to rush to such a critique ignores the lived experience of these performers and commits epistemic violence.

As Angela White states in an earlier interview:

Most of the academic work on the field is about sex workers but never makes references to their voices. I believe when it comes to the production of knowledge about sex workers, specifically porn performers, in this case, I believe they are experts in their own lives and should be heard and represented—not just spoken about. I wanted to contribute to the academic knowledge on the subject albeit through the engagement of female performers themselves. Obviously, my work now is both academic and performative: every time I’m on set I use it as an opportunity to collect more data on the issue so it’s all tied to a larger study later.

…I don’t look at whether women are abused or empowered. I look at how the performers in porn experience their sexuality—how performing in porn has changed their sexuality—and I think more research on the topic needs to be done. It’s such fertile ground and there’s so much to look into when it comes to porn and it hasn’t been done because of those narratives.

Attending to the being-for-self of these performers strikes me as the far more thoughtful, supportive, and productive stance to take. If these women have found a way to more fully be for themselves–be themselves–and love themselves through their work in porn we should not doubt it; we should attend to it.