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Receptive Bodies

Leo Bersani, known for his provocative interrogations of psychoanalysis, sexuality, and the human body, centers his latest book on a surprisingly simple image: a newborn baby simultaneously crying out and drawing its first breath. These twin ideas—absorption and expulsion, the intake of physical and emotional nourishment and the exhalation of breath—form the backbone of Receptive Bodies, a thoughtful new essay collection. These titular bodies range from fetuses in utero to fully eroticized adults, all the way to celestial giants floating in space. Bersani illustrates his exploration of the body’s capacities to receive and resist what is ostensibly alien using a typically eclectic set of sources, from literary icons like Marquis de Sade to cinematic provocateurs such as Bruno Dumont and Lars von Trier. This sharp and wide-ranging book will excite scholars of Freud, Foucault, and film studies, or anyone who has ever stopped to ponder the give and take of human corporeality.

144 pages | 2 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2018 

Film Studies

Gay and Lesbian Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature

Philosophy: American Philosophy



Receptive Bodies is a remarkable addition to Bersani’s extensive oeuvre, one that will be particularly important for recalibrating his reception in queer theory. Contemporary philosophy has in the last decade slowly caught up with the idiosyncratic approach that has characterized his thought since the 1970s. Still, these astonishing readings of literature, cinema, and philosophy demonstrate once again that there is nothing quite like Bersani’s work in the field.”

Mikko Tuhkanen, Texas A&M University

Receptive Bodies builds on previous books by Bersani with undiminished sophistication and cogency. Drawing on a lifetime of reading, thinking, and writing, he enriches our understanding of his earlier work. It is remarkable, though irrefutable, that Bersani still has new things to say here. His readers across many disciplinary fields will be thrilled by this book.”

Tim Dean, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Table of Contents


1: Merde Alors
2: Why Sex?
3: Sensual Sucking and Sociality
4: Force in Progress
5: Receptivity and Being‐In
6: Staring


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