Peter Coviello, University of Illinois Chicago, "The Wild Not Less Than the Good: Thoreau, Sex, Biopower"

Department: Poetics, History, Theory at UCI

Date and Time: February 18, 2016 | 12:00 PM-2:00 PM

Event Location: HIB 135

Event Details

This talk is a sort of state-of-the-field meditation with respect to queer studies. It takes up Thoreau's vexed relation to the ascetic imperatives of nineteenth-century capitalism in the context of his determination, as he says in Walden, to "love the wild not less than the good." I want to track Thoreau’s interest in the wild as part of his career wide effort to imagine carnal life away from the forms of biopolitical coding and optimization that he understood to be captivating his body, or trying to, more and more completely. As against the imperatives of maximized bodily instrumentalization – a regime of optimized whiteness and reproductivity – Thoreau tests out the possibilities of a more errant carnality, a “wildness" that, I will suggest, both is and is not an expression of what, by the end of the 19th century, would be called “sexuality.” Doing so, he helps us bring into focus some of the knotty conceptual dilemmas of our own queer theoretical moment, in which the impulse to nurture traditions of sex radicalism sits sometimes uneasily alongside renderings of sex in the register of biopower.