- Against Queer Objects
In her preface, Annamarie Jagose positions Orgasmology as an illustration of “the value of sticking with an unlikely scholarly object,” namely, orgasm (2013, xvi). Orgasm, Jagose explains, is a particularly unlikely object for queer theory, which has largely presumed its service to a phallocentric and teleological model of heteronormative sex and summarily ignored it. Rather than claiming that orgasm is actually something queer, Orgasmology progressively fractures orgasm’s thingness altogether, demonstrating that it simultaneously inhabits multiple ontological registers, cannot be definitively known by any single method (or interdisciplinary combination of methods) of study, and cannot be assigned a stable political value. Rather than present a series of queer sites or objects, Orgasmology trains its focus, across five historicizing chapters, on the complexities unleashed by the series of unqueer figures around which the twentieth-century obsession with orgasm has cohered—from marital manuals on simultaneous orgasm, to the straight woman as a figure for the increasing personalization of sex as a mode of intimacy, to homophobic mid-century behaviorist sexual reconditioning therapies, to, perhaps most provocatively, the twentieth-century “invention” of the fake orgasm.1 These figures are often read alongside more canonically “queer” practices, such as fist-fucking and impersonal gay male public sex. In the process, Orgasmology presses us to ask what constitutes a queer object of inquiry; why are we under the impression that queer scholarship should have queer objects; and, what, if not its objects, can be taken to characterize queer inquiry? By implicitly asking us to rethink our received notions about the aims, objects, and methods of queer scholarship, Orgasmology participates in a moment of self-interrogation within Queer Studies. In what follows, I will outline what may be most generative, for future scholarship, about Orgasmology’s provocative refusal of a series of rhetorical and methodological reflexes that have, thus far, rendered queer theoretical work recognizable to itself. [End Page 101]
The Object Calculus of Queer Studies
Jagose articulates her uncommon approach to her object—orgasm—in her preface, declaring,
with this work, I am speaking to the value of sticking with an unlikely scholarly object, attending to the thick textures of its discursive formulations, for the new perspectives it affords on familiar questions and even received knowledges, without requiring it to harden off into a specifiable program or course of action.
Rather than resolve orgasm into a critical term, the usability of which will be evidenced by its portability and scalability to other critical contexts, my project here is to use its ambivalent profile to revisit issues of abiding interest for scholars of sexuality, to approach familiar questions aslant.(xvi; my emphasis)
Orgasm is not, Jagose emphasizes, a signature critical term; nor is it of portable utility for scholars working in other contexts; nor are its political consequences predictable and programmatic. Instead, she stakes the claim for orgasm’s critical value in its slantwise relation to familiar sexuality studies and queer theoretical questions about the relations between sex, selfhood, knowledge, agency, and politics. By first outlining what the project of Orgasmology is not, Jagose asks us to reflect on the ways in which becoming a successful Queer Studies practitioner often involves learning to abstract, from one’s object of study, a quotable and portable theoretical term with a clearly identifiable politics. The queer theory book is thought to be most marketable when it successfully converts scholarly objects into critical or analytical terms with a more-or-less fixed and calculable political value that can then be exported, cited, and cashed in on by other scholars working in different contexts. It is such tried and true, though largely unstated, equations that we rely upon to produce scholarly value within academic genres that Orgasmology refuses, and in refusing, reveals.
What Jagose most exactingly critiques is the way in which the political value of sexual acts in queer theory is persistently derived from marginalized social identities. Jagose analyzes the ways in which, despite the anti-identitarian cast of queer theoretical work that insists that queer cannot be reduced to its reference to minoritarian sexual identities, the field nonetheless remains animated by the conviction that it is the social and sexual practices of...