Tender Rhythms. Re-Thinking Sexuality, Selfhood and Sociality Through the Hysteric’s Desire for Tenderness Restricted; Files Only

Koziej, Stephanie (Summer 2020)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/9w032426t?locale=en


This interdisciplinary and multi-modal dissertation addresses the forgotten concept of tenderness in psychoanalytic, feminist and queer theory toward a post-phallic reframing and re-scripting of sexual desire as tender. I do this through the traditional mode of writing, in tandem with interactive Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) installation-art.

Chapter one starts with the hypothesis that hegemonic models of sexuality tend to base sexual desire on an orgasmic and genital-oriented economy of desire. My project unearths these deep-rooted ideologies in Freud’s early writing. Tender desire – like the desire to caress for the sake of caressing – can only be understood as maternal, infantile, hysteric or masochist. I conclude that Freud’s work is haunted by a ‘taboo on adult erotic tenderness’ and that adult sexual tenderness has remained an enigmatic concept. I propose that the subversive figure of the hysteric is able to subvert this taboo. From this I develop the method of hysteric tender reading, through which I both unearth the taboo on adult sexual tenderness, while simultaneously emancipating tenderness as a legitimate non-genital economy of desire.

In chapter two, I apply this method to contemporary psychoanalysts Kristeva, Stern and Benjamin and their work on the mother infant bond. In chapter three, I conduct a hysteric tender reading of the (proto-)queer theories of Rubin, Anzaldúa, Bersani and Berlant. In chapter four, I apply this method to the work of Deleuze and Guattari and the music videos of Björk. My conclusion presents a theory of adult sexual tenderness as a polymorphous, non-orgasm and non-genital-centered economy of desire, which requires a de-subjectification of sovereign subjecthood and results in an intersubjective rhythmic sociality which transcends binaries and subjects.

In a final line of flight my conclusion takes the shape of an interactive sound and visual Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) installation which “materializes” the ephemeral tender relationship between individuals by translating it into sound and visuals.

Table of Contents

Introduction In Search of Adult Sexual Tenderness

The Primary Scenes or How it All Started

Concept, Theories and Theoretical Perspectives or My Intellectual Journey

Structure of this Dissertation

Central Questions


A Preliminary Definition of Sexual Tenderness

Chapter 1 Freud’s Taboo on Adult Sexual Tenderness and the Hysteric’s Tender Resistance


Section 1. A hysteric tender re-reading of Freud’s early work.

Section 2. The Hysteric’s Search for Tenderness

Section 3. Tenderness in Freud’s First Edition of The Three Essays

Section 4. Dora’s Tender Resistance

Section 5. The ‘Universal’ Split Between Tenderness and Sensuality

Section 6. Hysteria, Masochism and Perversion

Section 7. Tenderness in Couples Therapy


Chapter 2 Through the Caregiver-Infant Dyad to the Hysteric’s Alternative Economy of Non-Phallic Desire


Section 1. Kristeva’s maternal erotics as an alternative economy of desire

Section 2. Stern’s Vitality affects and Affect Attunement

Section 3. Benjamin’s Relational theory of intersubjectivity and the Erotic Rhythmic Third


Chapter 3 The Hysteric as a Proto-Queer Figure and the Unrecognized Queer Potential of her Sexual Tenderness


Section 1. Rubin and the omission of the taboo on tender sexuality at the onset of queer theory

Section 2. Tenderness in Anzaldúa’s theory of queer mestiza consciousness

Section 3. Bersani’s radical queer rethinking of sex, love and subjectivity

Section 4. Some Thoughts on Berlant’s Attention for Tender Sexuality


Chapter 4 The Hysteric’s Intense Affected and Affecting Tender Body without Organs

The Hysteric’s Intense Affected and Affecting Tender Body without Organs


Section 1. The hysteric’s desire for tenderness, as a desire to become a rhythmic BwO

Section 2. How do you Make Yourself Tender?

Section 3. Tender Aftercare: the Hysteric-Masochist Connection

Section 4. Carving out a Sonorous Space for Erotic Tenderness. A Deleuzo-Guattarian Reading of Björk's Becoming-Tender as Queer.


Conclusion and Line of Flight

Becoming-Tender, Becoming-Music

So What is Adult Sexual Tenderness? A Synopsis of the Four Chapters.

Line of Flight

Appendix 1

Works Cited

Non-print media/Discography

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