Sex and Philosophy Reading Group
Sex has never constituted one of Western philosophy’s great questions or themes. And yet, it is undoubtedly one of the strongest forces in many of our lives. Like philosophy, sex has the power radically to put into question the established certainties of existence. It puts us in touch with our vulnerability and our finitude. At the limit, as Georges Bataille said, sex puts us in touch with death. But this is also true of the practice of philosophy, which the ancients believed to be best preparation for death: the process whereby what we think we know—be it about ourselves, others, the world, right and wrong, truth and semblance—is ceaselessly re-examined.
In this workshop we will bring together sexual practices with the reading and discussion of philosophical texts. What might it mean to welcome philosophy into sex-positive spaces? What could one gain from examining the philosophical assumptions silently presumed in the concepts we most often use in the sex-positive world, such as consciousness, consent, authenticity, truth, connection, presence, etc?
People should be prepared both for reading and discussion as well as erotic play. In terms of erotic play, what we do will be dependent on the group, but will involve yoga, relaxation, trauma-release, touch, dance, BDSM, role play and so on.
1. Classical philosophical approaches that may be termed “sex negative” (Plato, Augustine, Kant): Such approaches argue that sex should be restricted to procreation and not pursued for its own sake or for that of pleasure. Through these approaches, we will consider the relation of sexuality to questions of self-mastery, moderation, freedom, authenticity, consciousness and happiness. How do these classical approaches inform thinking about the human in its relation to animality, as well as contemporary debates about prostitution and pornography.
2. Philosophical approaches that are not “sex negative” (Nietzsche, Freud, Bataille, Schlegel, de Sade): Beginning with Nietzsche’s transvaluation of values, we will look at the work of modern philosophers, including Freud, who have given more space to sexuality in their thought and what the consequences of this are both for their philosophical practice and their understanding of ethics.
3. Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Part 1: This is a landmark work, which denounces the so-called “repressive hypothesis”: the idea that western society suppressed sexuality from the 17th to the mid-20th century. During this period, Foucault argues, discourse on sexuality proliferated enormously and people's identities became increasingly tied to their sexuality. In this session, we will read and evaluate the central theses of Foucault’s text.
4. Debates about Sexuality and Gender in Feminist Theory: Since the 70’s feminist scholars have debated (sometimes acrimoniously) issues related to sexuality, gender, pornography, erotic representation, prostitution, sadomasochism, trans-women, and so on. In this session, we will explore these debates and how they relate to the history of philosophical responses to sexuality.
5. The Sex-Positive Movement in the Context of Neo-Liberalism: How does neoliberalism at once enable and limit the “radical” or “socially progressive” aspirations of the sex-positive movement? And how can we identify the tendencies within this movement which may effectively resist neoliberalism? If one believes in the value of erotic festivals and erotic education, one needs to take such questions into account.
Planned Learning outcomes
By the end of this week-end you should be able to:
1. Become aware of the philosophical presuppositions implied in the dominant rhetoric of the sex-positive movement and how these presuppositions may be enabling, but also limiting.
2. Evaluate claims made for the politically radical nature of certain sexual practices and the socially normative character of others;
3. Be better able to give hospitality to sex in thought and visa-versa.
Peter Kimberly Banki, Ph.D founded the School of Really Good Sex in 2015. Prior to that he curated Xplore - Festival of the Art of Lust in Sydney from 2011-2013. He says: “when you are intimate with someone, you see who they are. And that’s when it’s really exciting. Much more than their competence or whatever, it’s their being. Sex opens up and shows you a being at their most open and vulnerable, whatever their role.”
Peter has an extensive background in Iyengar yoga, dance and the martial arts (Capoeira Angola). His somatic and movement practice forms the basis of his work in the sex-positive field.
Peter has also been a scholar and teacher of European philosophy and literature for much of his adult life. Philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Georges Bataille, Anne Dufourmantelle and Jean-Luc Nancy have most inspired him in his thinking about sexuality and eroticism. He holds a Ph.D in German studies from New York University (September, 2009). His book The Forgiveness To Come: the Holocaust and the Hyper-Ethical came out recently with Fordham University Press. He is currently affiliated with the Philosophy Research Initiative at Western Sydney University. Articles about Peter's work on The Festival of Really Good Sex have been featured in many news outlets, including The Guardian, Archer Magazine, ABC Radio National and news.com. He has also been interviewed about the Festival of Death and Dying, which he also founded and directs, on ABC Radio and the Sydney Morning Herald. His work on apology and forgiveness has been featured on 2SER and on the philosophers’ zone on ABC Radio National.
A selection of Peter's academic publications can be found at www.peterbanki.com
Anne Dufourmantelle, Blind Date: Sex and Philosophy Catherine Porter (trans.) University of Illinois Press, 2007.
Michel Foucault The History of Sexuality, An Introduction, Volume 1 Robert Hurley (trans.) Pantheon Books, 1978
Georges Bataille “Madame Edwarda” in My Mother/Madame Edwarda/The Dead Man Marion Boyars, 2000.
Selections from: Plato The Symposium; Kant, I, Lectures on Ethics, Saint Augustine The Confessions, Nietzsche, F. Beyond Good and Evil
Elizabeth Grosz, Elspeth Probyn Sexy Bodies: The Strange Carnalities of Feminism Routledge 1995.
Judith Butler Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity New York: Routledge, 1990.
Luce Irigaray “The Fecundity of the Caress: A Reading of Levinas Totality and Infinity, ‘Phenomenology of Eros’” in An Ethics of Sexual Difference New York: Routledge, 1993.
Nancy, Jean-Luc Corpus II: Writings on Sexuality New York: Fordham University Press, 2014.