Bypassing the Asexual Paradox: A Strategic Retelling of the History of Asexuality Open Access

Smith, Mark Alan (2017)

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Today, in Western popular culture, sexuality is commonly considered to be a universal human experience rooted internally in biological sex drive and a system of stable orientations and identities. However, in the past decade and a half, these ahistorical assumptions about the universality of sexuality have resulted in the production of a new paradoxical "sexual" orientation: asexuality. This "asexual paradox"--the notion that asexuality is a sexual identity despite lacking sexual attraction--points to the pervasiveness of sexuality in modern Western society and its capacity to constrain how asexuality is experienced, articulated, and conceived of today. Consequently, this dissertation seeks to destabilize modern conceptualizations of sexuality in order to open up new ways for asexuality to be experienced today. Likewise, this dissertation also seeks to better understand asexuality without merely reducing it to a function of sexuality. To do so, this project conducts a history or genealogy of asexuality and explores alternative historical forms of asexuality as well as different relationships between asexuality, sexuality, and subjectivity over time. This project "bypasses" the modern-day asexual paradox by historicizing asexuality within the radically different historical contexts of pre- and early modern Christianity in the Western tradition. By investigating early Christianity, my project uncovers a diverse economy of alternative forms of asexuality and different relationships between sexuality and subjectivity that are utterly foreign to our modern-day beliefs. Likewise, my project historicizes potential ways in which asexuality first became part of the modern framework of sexuality as we know it today. In doing so, this dissertation seeks to utilize the alterity of our early Christian past (with respect to asexuality, sexuality, and subjectivity) to destabilize and make us suspicious of our modern taken for granted assumptions about sexuality as a universal human experience. To this end, this dissertation hopes to open a space for asexual experience to be recognized in ways that are less contingent upon these modern assumptions about sexuality.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Introduction ...1

Chapter 1: Antisocial Asexuality: Politics of Christian Sexual Renunciation in Late Antiquity ... 43

Chapter 2: Asexuality, Medieval Apophatic Mysticism, and the Queer Art of Failure ... 77

Chapter 3: The Sexualization of Asexuality: Demonic Possession and Sexual Pathology ... 115

Chapter 4: Asexuality, Eroticism, and the Death of God... 174

Conclusion... 197 Bibliography... 203

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