Sex Changes: Progress, Play, and the Ethics of Fetishism
If you're going to do some heavy reading this semester, it's best to do it on a topic you can get down with. Learn to talk about the culture of sex beyond its everyday limitations, exploring history and practice as it changes through time. Texts will approach the topic holistically, looking at sex in its intersections with culture, labor, identity, philosophy, and the imagination. An equal mix of heady, weird, and fun. Those enrolling should bring an open mind, sharp tongue, and a rucksack full of anxieties.
• Get warmed up
Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex by Katharine Gates, Juno, 1999. (Probably the porniest book in the syllabus, it's rigorous, comprehensive, fun, and silly.)
The History of Sexuality: Part One, the Will to Knowledge by Michel Foucault, Penguin, 1976. (Liberating Western sexuality from its historical perception as repressed, with "the truth of sex" pushing into thornier areas, like racism, eugenics, and power.)
• Prepare for the end (of the millennium)
The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, Vintage, 1949. (In the landmark of second-wave feminism, de Beauvoir dismantles male-propagated myths about women through literature and history; essential not just because the Catholic Church blacklisted it, but also to understand the difference between sex and gender.)
Sex Wars: Sexual Dissent and Political Culture by Lisa Duggan and Nan D. Hunter, Routledge, 1995. (The role of sex in the culture wars.)
The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy, Greenery Press, 1997. (The bible of non-monogamy.)
• Know your fetishes
I, Insect, or Bataille and the Crush Freaks by Jeremy Biles, Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory, 5(3), August 2004 (or janushead.org/7-1/biles.pdf. (An essay exploring the bizarre and unsettling phenomenon of "crush freaks" — the term for those who get turned on by the sight of bugs exploding under the weight of human feet.)
The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman by Angela Carter, Penguin, 1972.
The Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille, Penguin, 1928. (Surrealist, transgressive, and disturbing post-Freudian novels of desire fantasy in hallucinatory landscapes.)
The Plague of Fantasies by Slavoj Zizek, Verso, 1997. (A comprehensive and occasionally wacky investigation of the perversions of modern culture, covering the significance of pubic hair stylization, toilet design, and the neurological differences between viewing sex in person vs. on screen.)
• Prepare for modernity
Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What it Means for Modern Relationships by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, Harper Collins, 2010. (A popular, well-written, comprehensive tome covering mating from primitive times through the present; a scientific, easy-to-read companion to the Dan Savage era.)