What IS Sex?

From Short Circuits

What IS Sex?

By Alenka Zupančič

Why sexuality is at the point of a “short circuit” between ontology and epistemology.





Why sexuality is at the point of a “short circuit” between ontology and epistemology.

Consider sublimation—conventionally understood as a substitute satisfaction for missing sexual satisfaction. But what if, as Lacan claims, we can get exactly the same satisfaction that we get from sex from talking (or writing, painting, praying, or other activities)? The point is not to explain the satisfaction from talking by pointing to its sexual origin, but that the satisfaction from talking is itself sexual. The satisfaction from talking contains a key to sexual satisfaction (and not the other way around)—even a key to sexuality itself and its inherent contradictions. The Lacanian perspective would make the answer to the simple-seeming question, “What is sex?” rather more complex. In this volume in the Short Circuits series, Alenka Zupančič approaches the question from just this perspective, considering sexuality a properly philosophical problem for psychoanalysis; and by psychoanalysis, she means that of Freud and Lacan, not that of the kind of clinician practitioners called by Lacan “orthopedists of the unconscious.”

Zupančič argues that sexuality is at the point of a “short circuit” between ontology and epistemology. Sexuality and knowledge are structured around a fundamental negativity, which unites them at the point of the unconscious. The unconscious (as linked to sexuality) is the concept of an inherent link between being and knowledge in their very negativity.


$22.95 T ISBN: 9780262534130 168 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 6 b&w illus.


  • Zupančič's latest work takes your breath away. It is a pathbreaking discovery of the philosophical wager at the heart of the psychoanalytic project. Zupančič forces us to confront for the first time the ontological significance of sex.

    Todd McGowan

    Professor of English, University of Vermont; author of Capitalism and Desire

  • Zupančič performs here a remarkable feat: with the consummate clarity and precision for which she has become known, she restores to sex its florid obscurity and its enigmatic logic and gives to sexuality the ontological dignity it is due. This book is bound to be heralded as an event.

    Joan Copjec

    Professor, Brown University; author of Read My Desire and Imagine There's No Woman

  • Freud argued that there was something fundamentally unsatisfying at the very core of sexuality. What Is Sex? is surely one of the most satisfying accounts we've ever had of this 'something.'

    Eric L. Santner

    The Philip and Ida Romberg Distinguished Service Professor in Modern Germanic Studies, The University of Chicago