[SydPhil] Critical Antiquities Workshop - Giulia Sissa

Tristan Bradshaw tbradshaw at uow.edu.au
Mon May 2 10:32:58 AEST 2022

Dear all,

This week at the Critical Antiquities workshop, we are delighted to host Giulia Sissa (UCLA) for her paper, ‘Forget Sexuality! Sensuality in Ancient Erotic Cultures.’ The event will be held on Wednesday, May 4 10-11:30am (Sydney time). That translates to the following times elsewhere:

Singapore: Wednesday, April 20 8-9:30am
Tokyo: Wednesday, April 20 9-10:30am
Los Angeles: Tuesday, April 19 5-6:30pm
Mexico City: Tuesday, April 19 7-8:30pm
Chicago: Tuesday, April 19 7-8:30pm
New York City: Tuesday, April 19 8-9:30pm

Here is the abstract:
In all societies, a love life is complicated. It is shaped by ideas, norms, mores, emotions, sensations and manners of living the body. All this is a matter of concern, inquiry, regulations and representations across a variety of discourses (most of them normative, some of them performative), of domains of knowledge, of social practices and of inexhaustible aesthetic creativity.
Ancient societies are no less complex. The erotic is a matter of desire, pleasure, bodies, institutions. By focusing on these aspects of the erotic experience as, precisely, an experience, we resolutely go beyond a pragmatic of the sexual acts; beyond the controversial notion of “sexuality”; beyond sex as power and, above all, beyond the dogma of a premodern “before” – before an interpretive approach to what is felt, before the emergence of an erotic lifestyle, before the notion of erotic inclinations. This is not the quest for an “already”. Quite the opposite, we should bring to the fore what was truly relevant in the erotic cultures of the ancient world: sensuality.
In ancient societies, sensuality is far more important than sex. To be sensual, or sensuous, means to pursue the pleasure of the senses. Now, among the senses, there is touch, and touch is the essence of sex, as the congress of bodies. Think of Aristotle!  Sensuality includes contact of the skin and the flesh, of course, but also the pleasures of all the other sense organs. A capacious attitude that encompasses all kinds of perceptions, sensuality is the overarching erotic experience. While it may well include coition, which is merely a kind of haptic interaction among others, it cannot be reduced to the execution of one particular sexual act. Sensuality involves caresses, embraces, kisses, gazes and any other wishful, mnemonic or imaginary, aesthetic approach to another person. It is about actual sensations, and about their possibilities. It vastly exceeds, therefore, the mechanics of penetration, an act that, although over-interpreted and overrated in contemporary scholarship, is seldom mentioned in ancient literary sources, and for a very good reason. Except in medical contexts, in comedy and in otherwise chastising genres of discourse, genital or anal penetration was irrelevant. Sensuality, on the contrary, captures the actual concerns of ancient thinkers and writers about eros and amor. Far from opposing love and sex, Homeric characters, Sappho and her Greek and Roman successors, Plato and Ovid understand the erotic / amorous life inseparably from a quest for the pleasure of all the senses. They offer either a sorrowful, hyper-realistic phenomenology of its failure, or a confident art of taking pleasure, or multihued -- comic, ironic, brutal, nuanced -- manners of praise and blame.
We hope to see you there,
Tristan and Ben

Tristan Bradshaw
Lecturer, School of Liberal Arts | Co-director, Critical Antiquities Network
Faculty of the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities | Building 19 Room 1085
University of Wollongong NSW 2522 Australia
T +61 2 4221 3850
Honorary Associate
The University of Sydney
School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

University of Wollongong CRICOS: 00102E

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