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Can we ever trust our pleasures? Modern feminist and queer discourses have long interrogated pleasure to demystify the structures of power that undergird, circumscribe, and interpellate the subject. A suspicion toward pleasure surfaces, for example, in Anne Koedt’s rejection of the "myth of the vaginal orgasm," Laura Mulvey’s analysis of visual pleasure in cinema, Catherine MacKinnon’s critique of pornography, Gayle Rubin’s conceptualization of a charmed circle of sexuality, Foucault’s turn from paradigms of desire to "bodies and pleasure," and Linda William’s genre analysis of pleasure in the pornographic "frenzy of the visible". Pleasure threatens the psychic and political sovereignty of the subject, raising questions about the relationship between public and private forces in the construction and expression of subjectivity.
Pleasure’s constructedness, its violences, and its normativities have offered rich approaches to questions of race, class, affect, culture, representation, gender, and sexuality, especially in their points of intersection. But suspicion, too, has its pleasures, and it is to this complicated mise en abyme (the pleasure of suspicion, the suspicion of pleasure) that we turn our attention. In the last two decades, debates over critical reading practices have raised doubts about suspicious, or "paranoid," reading as a sufficient method of producing knowledge from texts. The suspicion of suspicion has, it would seem, generated new ways to find pleasure in the text through reparative reading, surface reading, data mining, and so on. To what extent are the erotics of reading bound to the pleasure/suspicion dyad? And what are the political implications of this critical configuration?
This conference is tied thematically to an upcoming issue of Polygraph, an international journal of culture and politics affiliated with the Literature Program at Duke University. It is edited and produced by a collective of humanities graduate students. In addition to Polygraph and Literature, the conference is co-sponsored by the Program in Women’s Studies and the FHI Humanities Futures initiative.