Failing Desire

SUNY Press
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 Draws on theology and queer theory to argue for the power of humiliating pleasures in a culture oriented very strongly to denying any enjoyment that is not about success.
Luckily for human diversity, we are perfectly capable of desiring impossible things. Failing Desire explores a particular set of these impossibilities, those connected to humiliation. These include the failure of autonomy in submission, of inward privacy in confession, of visual modesty in exhibition, and of dignity in playing various roles. Historically, those who find pleasure in these failures range from ancient Cynics through early Christian monks to those now drawn by queer or perverse eroticism. As Judith Halberstam pointed out in The Queer Art of Failure, failure can actually be a mode of resistance to demands for what a culture defines as success. Karmen MacKendrick draws on this interest in queer refusals. To value, desire, or seek humiliation undercuts any striving for success, but it draws our attention particularly to the failures of knowledge as a form of power, whether that knowledge is of one body or of a population. How can we understand will that seeks not to govern itself, psychology that constructs inwardness by telling all, blushing shame that delights in exposure, or dignity that refuses its lofty position? Failing Desire suggests that the power of these desires and pleasures comes out of the very realization that this question can never quite be answered.

“In Failing Desire, Karmen MacKendrick offers her readers something akin to a sequel to Counterpleasures. Pursuing the negative affects of failure, humiliation, and shame across authors that inform much of her work—Bataille, Blanchot, Augustine, Foucault, Kristeva, and Laure—MacKendrick effortlessly and breathlessly provides us with provocative new insights about the limitations of language, the pleasures of submission and obedience, and the wily unruliness of the flesh. For her devotees, the evocative prose and suggestive analysis will seem familiar, without being stale or repetitious; for novices, her style and acumen will seem assured and electrifying. MacKendrick breathes new life into authors, texts, and topics that have been at the forefront of critical engagements with embodiment, desire, and affect for the past several decades.” — Kent L. Brintnall, author of Ecce Homo: The Male-Body-in-Pain as Redemptive Figure
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About the author

 Karmen MacKendrick is Professor of Philosophy at Le Moyne College. She is the author of several books, including Counterpleasures and Immemorial Silence, both also published by SUNY Press.

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Additional Information

SUNY Press
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Published on
Dec 4, 2017
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Philosophy / General
Religion / Sexuality & Gender Studies
Religion / Theology
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Eligible for Family Library

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Philosophers have long and skeptically viewed religion as a source of overeasy answers, with a singular, totalizing "God" and the comfort of an immortal soul being the greatest among them. But religious thought has always been more interesting--indeed, a rich source of endlessly unfolding questions.

With questions from the 1885 Baltimore Catechism of the Catholic Church as the starting point for each chapter, Karmen MacKendrick offers postmodern reflections on many of the central doctrines of the Church: the oneness of God, original sin, forgiveness, love and its connection to mortality, reverence for the relics of saints, and the doctrine of bodily resurrection. She maintains that we begin and end in questions and not in answers, in fragments and not in totalities--more precisely, in a fragmentation paradoxically integral
to wholeness.

Taking seriously Augustine's idea that we find the divine in memory, MacKendrick argues that memory does not lead us back in time to a tidy answer but opens onto a complicated and fragmented time in which we find that the one and the many, before and after and now, even sacred and profane are complexly entangled. Time becomes something lived, corporeal, and sacred, with fragments of eternity interspersed among the stretches of its duration. Our sense of ourselves is correspondingly complex, because theological considerations lead
us not to the security of an everlasting, indivisible soul dwelling comfortably in the presence of a paternal deity but to a more complicated, perpetually peculiar, and paradoxical life in the flesh.

Written out of MacKendrick's extensive background in both recent and late-ancient philosophy, this moving and poetic book can also be an inspiration to anyone, scholar or lay reader, seeking to find contemporary significance in these ancient theological doctrines.

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