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Thinking Sex with the Early Moderns
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Thinking Sex with the Early Moderns

Valerie Traub

480 pages | 6 x 9 | 4 illus.
Paper 2016 | ISBN 9780812223897 | $34.95s | Outside the Americas £26.99
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the Haney Foundation Series
View table of contents and excerpt

Winner of the Best Book Award for 2015 by the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women

Short-listed for the 2016 Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Studies

"Remarkable . . . Queer-reading of antique, medieval or early-modern texts turned modern during the last decade. Valerie Traub combines modern interpretation techniques with a profound analysis of practically all sources and texts available in the English language since 1500. She uses and criticizes tools from psychoanalysis, feminism, historiography, sociology, and philosophy. Traub names all the problems that you get confronted with if you try to interpret early modern life through post-modern eyes."—Sexuality and Culture

"Valerie Traub's brilliant book 'thinks sex' at once with the early moderns and with the late postmoderns—ourselves. Taking on the field's toughest conundrums, from the challenges of queer temporality to the imperatives of lesbian visibility, Thinking Sex charts exciting new terrain at the critical intersection of theory and history. This is both vintage Traub and Traub at the height of her powers, a milestone in queer, feminist, and early modern studies alike."—Susan S. Lanser, author of The Sexuality of History

"In this intricately argued and pathbreaking study Valerie Traub moves deftly between sexual cultures in the past and present to pose new questions about the making of sexual knowledge. Each chapter of this book brims with a critical flair that will exhilarate and persuade."—Laura Doan, author of Disturbing Practices: History, Sexuality, and Women's Experience of Modern War

"Thinking Sex with the Early Moderns is a sophisticated and groundbreaking book about sexual knowledge and about the relation of that knowledge to early modern subjects and to us."—GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies

"A queer feminist meditation on what it might mean to know sex historically, Thinking Sex with the Early Moderns is also demandingly contemporary. Bending an impressive weight of interdisciplinary scholarship to sometimes counterintuitive ends, Traub demonstrates the difficult necessity of engaging conceptual impasses about sexual epistemologies and methodologies without presuming to work through them. As her readers have come to expect, she is both rigorous and subtle, her line of thought often working fiercely against the force of ingrained historical, literary critical and queer theoretical habits. One of this book's greatest accomplishments is its production of sexual knowledge as a less assured, more precarious thing than it is commonly thought."—Annamarie Jagose, author of Orgasmology

"Valerie Traub pointedly argues the ongoing urgency of gender as a relevant, even primal, category in the making of knowledge—sexual, historical, or otherwise. Traub is especially well-situated to make this case, given her extraordinary record of achievement unearthing the historical terms of sexual imagination and existence in the English Renaissance and beyond. A must read for scholars working on the history of sexuality, from early modern to more contemporary domains."—Laurie Shannon, Northwestern University

"Thinking Sex with the Early Moderns is a brilliant, original, and substantial take on queer studies that corrects misinterpretations within the field and integrates gender and lesbian issues into queer studies. Valerie Traub possesses an amazing command of the critical literature and historiography of the early modern period and queer studies, and brings a fresh and insightful perspective to widely known works such as Shakespeare's sonnets as well as more obscure sources."—Anna Clark, University of Minnesota

What do we know about early modern sex, and how do we know it? How, when, and why does sex become history? In Thinking Sex with the Early Moderns, Valerie Traub addresses these questions and, in doing so, reorients the ways in which historians and literary critics, feminists and queer theorists approach sexuality and its history. Her answers offer interdisciplinary strategies for confronting the difficulties of making sexual knowledge.

Based on the premise that producing sexual knowledge is difficult because sex itself is often inscrutable, Thinking Sex with the Early Moderns leverages the notions of opacity and impasse to explore barriers to knowledge about sex in the past. Traub argues that the obstacles in making sexual history can illuminate the difficulty of knowing sexuality. She also argues that these impediments themselves can be adopted as a guiding principle of historiography: sex may be good to think with, not because it permits us access but because it doesn't.

Valerie Traub is Adrienne Rich Distinguished University Professor of English and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan. She is author of The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England and Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama.

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