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Economizing Desire: The Sibling (in) Law

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Modernity diagnosed itself with a malaise at its inception: fragmentation, both psychological and social. While one recommended treatment – the aesthetic education – was suggested as a way to suspend division, economic theorists from Adam Smith to Claude Lévi-Strauss instead entered desire into systems of exchange that exploited division. A principle mechanism for disciplining desire in the nineteenth century was the sibling relationship. Its erotics were policed, and yet also acknowledged through a praxis of sublimation that used the sibling relationship as practice for adult marriage roles, and encouraged de facto endogamy in the emerging bourgeois class. Siblings produced anxiety regarding individuation, as is apparent in literature as diverse as Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister and George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss. The form and theoretical potential of siblinghood, however, differ from that of a pre-oedipal maternal attachment. Sibling logic offers an alternative to the exclusionary dynamics of fusion or abjection, a potential we can begin to grasp as siblings reenter theory.

This talk is part of the German Graduate Research Seminar series.

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