Sex, or the Unbearable, is a dialogue written by Lauren Berlant and Lee Edelman in which they discuss sex, relationalty, the negative, failure, loss and what it means to live with negativity. As such, the authors do not state that sex is negative, but they focus on and discuss negativity. Perhaps mostly elaborated on in their own words and thoughts is chapter one. Edelman explains their overall approach to the first chapter; "We approach the issue of relationality through the rubric of "sex without optimism" because sex, for us, whatever else it may signify or be made to figure, denotes an encounter with otherness that attains the stability of knowable relations only by way of an optimism that erases its negativity" (p. 1). Berlant concudes that "Negativity, the "without" in our title, magnetizes many different things, and one of our aims throughout this volume is to elaborate on the richness and incoherence of the concept (if you add up all of the things each of us mean)" (p. 2).
Part of Sex, or the Unbearable started out as a contribution (as noted in chapter one) to the conference Rethinking Sex put together to honor the work of Gayle Rubin. Chapter one titled, Sex Without Optimism focuses on and elaborates on the notion of sex and negativity (as is true for the other chapters as well). When doing so, Berlant and Edelman use different means of conveying their thoughts. Berlant uses a scene from the movie Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005), whereas Edelman focuses on a colored photograph by Larry Johnson, Untitled (Ass). Chapter two was also conceived when the authors were asked to partake in a panel at the annual Modern Language Association conference honoring Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Chapter two therefore partly honors Eve (as the authors knew her), but in the chapter they also discuss and elaborate on Eve's work. The idea to put the dialogues together, forming a book seemed a natural step to the authors. Therefore, in chapter three, Living With Negativity, the authors conclude their thoughts by discussing Lydia Davis's story, Break it Down.
It is not very often that books are written as a dialogue between authors, discussing back and forth their views and beliefs on certain subject matters, especially not in the way that Berlant and Edelman note the other's view, answer to it, elaborate on it and with humor and wit inserts their standpoints. At the same time, since Sex, or the Unbearable came about through the thoughts contributed at various conferences, the text is rather intimate and may be difficult for readers who do not know much about the works of Gayle Rubin, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (and for that matter Lydia Davis). Therefore, the intended audience is probably those who have an interest in the above mentioned authors, or those who themselves have attended the conferences, or ones that are similar to the content of the book. In the authors defense, they have provided background on the movie Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005), as well as included Larry Johnson's photograph Untitled (Ass). In the appendix, the story Break it Down is also included, so that the reader is able to follow along with the claims of Berlant and Edelman. At the same time, as noted previously, the text is rather personal, even intimate, and difficult to follow at times, perhaps even leaving the reader feeling slightly left out.
© 2014 Hennie Weiss
Hennie Weiss has a Master's degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.