Okay, let’s get to the bulk of what this project is about. What is shattering, or shattering sex, and what or why does it matter? In my attempt to answer this I am turning to Lauren Berlant’s “Starved” and Leo Bersani’s “Is the Rectum a Grave?” to first look at how we perceive sex.
Berlant states that she is writing from a position of depressive realism. What is this? She defines it as the position in which “…the world’s hard scenes ride the wave of optimism inscribed in ambivalence, but without taking on optimism’s conventional tones” (Starved 434). Let’s break this down by first defining two key terms in the statement. “Optimism” can mean a couple different things, although closely related. First, it is “The doctrine propounded by Leibniz (1710) that the actual world is the best of all possible worlds” (OED 1.a). Also, it is “Hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something; a tendency to take a favourable or hopeful view” (OED 3). So, optimism takes on a philosophical meaning in which the “actual” world, the one we live in, is the best. For me, this is little too “life is great,” “no complaints” kind of positioning. It does not take into account the oppressions that are felt by a large number of individuals or groups of people in society. Umm, life isn’t all that great considering the economic, social, and political inequalities people face everyday. The second definition does not help this case at all. I’m supposed to be “hopeful” and “confident” that these inequalities will be repaired in the future, when our history tells us these conditions have only worsened? Okay, enough of optimism for now. The next word we have to look at is “ambivalence,” meaning “The coexistence in one person of contradictory emotions or attitudes (as love and hatred) towards a person or thing” (OED n.). So when Berlant says she comes from a place of “riding the wave of optimism inscribed in ambivalence” she is saying that depressive realism is the position that regards the notions of whether the world we live in is the best or being hopeful or confident in the future as irrelevant, and is a positioning of being “in” rather than being “beyond” something. “Ambivalence,” it seems, is an emotion of feeling that is inherent to us, a part of our psyche. We are constantly questioning our attitudes toward someone or something, and often are conflicted. This “ambivalence” then turns into concepts of “right” and “wrong,” which the optimist views the world as “right.” By “right” I mean to say normal. This idea of normativity plays a role in how we perceive sex, and Berlant taking a depressive realist position is her way of talking about sex outside of the typical heteronormative rhetoric.
Berlant continues saying, “I do not want to move beyond a thing, as I am always still approaching it from within a scene of contact…” (Starved 434). From her positioning of depressive realism, she is looking at the relation, sex, and not around it. She is not concerned with the solutions so-to-speak, but she is instead embracing and living in the problems. At this point I need to say that there is a distinct difference between embracing the “thing” to the point of tending towards a sort of paranoid positioning and embracing the “thing” as a kind of reparative positioning. This idea comes from Eve Sedgwick in “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You’re so Paranoid, You Probably Think this Essay is about You.” Fucking love this title. She uses Melanie Klein’s research to kind of define depressive realism, which she uses the term “reparative” instead of “depressive.” She says
The greatest interest of Klein’s concept lies, it seems to me, in her seeing the paranoid position always in the oscillatory context of a very different possible one: the depressive position. For Klein’s infant or adult, the paranoid position—understandably marked by hatred, envy, and anxiety—is a position of terrible alertness to the dangers posed by the hateful and envious part-objects that one defensively projects into, carves out of, and ingests from the world around one. By contrast, the depressive position is an anxiety-mitigating achievement that the infant or adult only sometimes, and often only briefly, succeeds in inhabiting: this is the position from which it is possible in turn to use one’s own resources to assemble or “repair” the murderous part-objects into something like a whole—though, I would emphasize, not necessarily like any preexisting whole. Once assembled to one’s own specifications, the more satisfying object is available both to be identified with and to offer one nourishment and comfort in turn. (Reparative Reading 128).
Okay, sorry about the long text, but it really emphasizes the distinction Sedgwick makes between paranoid reading and reparative reading (depressive). And even though she refers to these aesthetic positionings in the context of reading, it is the same concept as positioning yourself to see the world through a kind of depressive realist lens. It is important to note that the paranoid position is marked by anxiety, while the depressive position is anxiety-mitigating, what Sedgwick calls reparative. The depressive realist does not have anxiety over the “thing,” or in this case the relation (sex), but looks at the world with a more melancholic view.
I think Bersani in “Is the Rectum a Grave?” also takes a depressive realist position, although he does not say so. He says that when it comes to sex and sexual desire, people become divided into two groups. He says, “There are, you intimate, those who can’t face their sexual desires (or, correlatively, the relation between those desires and their views of sex), and those who know that such a relation exists and who are presumably unafraid of their own sexual impulses” (Bersani 199). Okay, so maybe this doesn’t point to him taking a depressive realist position (although I still believe he does), but it does acknowledge that such a position exists because doesn’t being “unafraid of their own sexual impulses” mean that the anxiety surrounding sex and sexual impulses have been mitigated. To face ones sexual desires would be to face the “thing” rather than maneuver around it, right? If there are people who cannot face their sexual desires, is it not because it quite possibly produces some sort of anxiety? But wait, can’t anxiety be good? Remember when Berlant says “Sex forces us to desire to become disorganized…” (434). Disorganization definitely can produce anxiety, but is that necessarily bad? According to Berlant, no.
What does any of this have to do with shattering sex? Stay tuned…