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The Explanation For Everything

Essays on Sexual Subjectivity

Paul Morrison

Publication Year: 2001

"The claim 'I'm straight' is the psychosexual analogue of 'The check is in the mail': if you need to say it, your credit or creditability is already in doubt." So begins Paul Morrison's dazzling polemic, which takes as its point of departure Foucault's famous remark that sex is "the explanation for everything."

Combining psychoanalytic, literary, and queer theory, The Explanation for Everything seeks to account for the explanatory power attributed to homosexuality, and its relationship to compulsory heterosexuality. In the process, Morrison presents a scathing indictment of psychoanalysis and its impact on the study of sexuality. In bold but graceful leaps, Morrison applies his critique to a diversity of examples: subjectivity in Oscar Wilde, the cultural construction and reception of AIDS, the work of Robert Mapplethorpe, the practice of bodybuilding, and the contemporary reception of the sexual politics of fascism.

Analytical, witty and astute, The Explanation for Everything will challenge and amuse, establishing Paul Morrison as one of our most exciting cultural critics.

Published by: NYU Press

Front Matter

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pp. vii

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pp. ix

Of the many hands involved in the writing of this book, it gives me particular pleasure to recall those of Stuart Blackley, John Burt, Mary Campbell, John Jay Crickett, Scott Derrick, Lee Edelman, William Flesch, Eugene Goodheart, David M. Halperin, Thomas A. King, Alan Levitan, Joseph Litvak, Richard Meyer, Helena Michie, Frank Nye, Ann Pellegrini, Henry Schaffer, and Susan Staves. ...

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1. The Explanation for Everything (Bad)

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pp. 1-16

The claim “I’m straight” is the psychosexual analogue of “The check is in the mail”: if you need to say it, your credit or credibility is already in doubt. But such was not always the case. Up until the end of the eighteenth century, Foucault argues, the regulation of sexuality focused primarily on legitimate alliances. The right to privacy (as we now call it) did not extend even to a law-abiding bedroom ...

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2. Motion Pictures

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pp. 17-53

Dorian enters the novel that bears his name only to tell Basil and Lord Henry that he will not grow to maturity, will not be a character in a Bildungsroman, will not suffer his face to become a somatic judgment on the state of his soul. Dorian would be a beautiful object. The novel will insist, however, that he become a morally intelligible—which is to say, a somatically legible—subject. We are all familiar ...

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3. End Pleasure

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pp. 54-81

Life magazine, September 1985: “AIDS was given a face everyone could recognize when it was announced that Rock Hudson, 59, was suffering from the disease.” Some twelve thousand of the already sick (by the official 1985 count) had to find representation in that face; for the six thousand already dead (and still counting), it was too late. And today, that face denotes only AIDS: ...

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4. Coffee Table Sex

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pp. 82-112

If nothing else, the furor occasioned by The Perfect Moment, the still notorious Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective, has served to delimit the scope of the conservative mania for deregulation. Good government may now mean virtually no government at all, but the museum, the ultimate arbiter of value in the modern art market, remains fully the object of anxious scrutiny and control. It is not surprising ...

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5. Muscles

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pp. 113-139

Beauty pageants betray women into subjectivity. Bodybuilding contests afford their participants—of either gender, of any amalgamation thereof—the respect due beautiful objects. A case in point: there is no Mr. Congeniality in the Mr. Olympia contest, no recourse to the alibi of talent (say, a deft rendition of a light classic on a baby grand) or personal opinion (an earnest hope for world peace; a ...

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6. Lavender Fascists

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pp. 140-174

Paglia’s response is loony—Forbes, Trump, and Helmsley as the last bulwark of a crumbling liberal orthodoxy?—but she is not entirely to blame: the question is badly formulated. Nothing distinguishes political correctness from the reaction against it; on the contrary, p.c. has always existed, at least for gay men and women, only in the reaction to it or in the reactionary use of it. The “very superstitious” ...


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pp. 175-196


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pp. 197-204


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pp. 205

E-ISBN-13: 9780814759752
E-ISBN-10: 0814759750
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814756737
Print-ISBN-10: 0814756735

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2001