University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

What is Sexual Difference Now? Friday, November 13, 2009

Cosponsored by the CLA Scholarly Events Fund, the Department of Anthropologythe Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature, the Department of Englishthe Department of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studiesthe Department of Geographythe Institute for Global Studiesthe Minnesota Center for Philosophy of ScienceDepartment of German at Macalester College, and the Space and Place Research Collaborative

This event is organized in light of a growing debate in feminist theory which ultimately concerns the academic sector at large, as all disciplines have been profoundly affected by feminist theories of identity and difference. The debate concerns the philosophical approach to follow in order to theorize feminism’s main object – sexual difference. In particular, a an constitutive but seldom acknowledged tension has emerged between the legacies in feminist theory of two key French philosophers, Jacques Lacan and Gilles Deleuze. The tension is conceptual but far from arcane, revolving around questions crucial to the humanities and social sciences, such as whether the difference between men and women is something fundamental and whether it is even knowable; exactly how it is imagined through science, love, and art; what the relationship between (mostly male) theorists and feminism should be; and how to engage with various kinds of reduction – anatomical, linguistic, historical.

The organizers and invited speakers of this event have for a long time been following and contributing to debates on social and bodily difference in some form or other. They therefore have direct interest in staging this debate at the University of Minnesota, where many faculty and graduate students will benefit from two of the most influential theorists of sexual difference today, Australian feminist philosopher Elizabeth Grosz (Women’s Studies, Rutgers University) and the American film theorist Joan Copjec (English and Comparative Literature, SUNY Buffalo), to come center stage for a refreshing and open philosophical discussion to lead to a book. The papers of Copjec and Grosz will be discussed by two of our best-known cultural theorists, Cesare Casarino and Thomas Pepper (Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature).

Several readings are suggested in advance of the symposium. Please contact Arun Saldhana at for password information.


All events will be held in 140 Nolte Center

10.00 Coffee

10.30 General introduction (Arun Saldanha, Geography)

10.40 A. Kiarina Kordela (Dept of German, Macalaster College), “Deleuze, Lacan, and differences”

11.00 Introduction to Copjec (Hoon Song, Anthropology)

11.10 Joan Copjec (English and Comparative Literature, SUNY Buffalo), “Sex is…”

11.50 A. Kiarina Kordela, response to Copjec

12.10 Audience questions

12.30 – 1.30 Lunch on your own

1.30 Introduction to Grosz (Saldanha)

1.40 Elizabeth Grosz (Women’s Studies, Rutgers), “Sexual difference as sexual selection: Irigarayan reflections on Darwin”

2.20 Cesare Casarino (Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature), response to Grosz

2.40 Audience questions

3.00 Coffee break

3.20 Jani Scandura (English), “The smell of Woman: olfactory indifference and remains”

3.40 Hoon Song (Anthropology), “Triangulation of the gift”

4.00 Arun Saldanha (Geography), “Sexual difference and universality: Irigaray and race”

4.00-4.15 Audience questions: Scandura, Song, and Saldanha

4.15-4.45 General panel debate

4.45 – 5.00 Debate opens to audience

5.00 Closing remarks (Song)

Symposium Participants

Cesare Casarino (Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature) is well known as a cultural and film theorist working between Deleuze, Lacan, and other contemporary continental philosophers.

Joan Copjec (English and Comparative Literature, SUNY Buffalo) is an American film theorist. As director of the Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Culture and editor of many collections on film and psychoanalysis, Copjec is a leading psychoanalytical theorist in the United States. In a book of some years ago she provocatively asked to “imagine there is no woman”, arguing for an ethical interpretation of Lacan through case studies in cinema and art. Copjec has been central to Anglophone cultural and critical theory with psychoanalytic inflections such as October and umbr(a), touching on issues from urban planning to war and theology.

Elizabeth Grosz (Women’s Studies, Rutgers University) is an Australian feminist philosopher. From the early 1990s, Grosz pioneered the theorization of the body as explicit philosophical theme in feminist theory. In addition to gender and performance studies, her books have influenced anthropology, cultural studies, geography, and architecture. Interestingly for the symposium, Grosz gradually moved away from Lacan. She is now engaged in feminist re-readings of Deleuze, Bergson, Darwin, and Nietzsche, all of which are often placed at odds with Lacan’s Kantian and Hegelian background.

A. Kiarina Kordela (German Studies, Macalaster College) has recently published $urplus (Spinoza, Lacan) (2007) engaging many of the philosophical tensions between the most influential theorists in continental philosophy.

Stuart McLean (Anthropology) works on culture/nature interactions.

Thomas Pepper (Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature) has written extensively on continental philosophy, gender, and psychoanalysis

Arun Saldanha (Geography) is engaged in using feminist theory and Deleuze to rethink race.

Jani Scandura (English) will speak on how sexual difference relates to her work on urban materiality.

Hoon Song (Anthropology) has a long-standing interest in Lacan and cultural theory.

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