Impotence: The Anatomy of a Passion, 1660-1800
MetadataShow full item record
Impotence: the Anatomy of a Passion, 1660-1800 discovers the generative potential of impotence within the eighteenth- century imagination: out of the looming threat of sterility and enervation, the eighteenth century reconstituted the parameters of marriage, aging, adoption, and pleasure, as well as biological theories of organic life. From the Earl of Rochester’s infamous depiction of mistimed climax to advertisements for James Graham’s electrified coital bed, impotence literature reveals how perceptions of social and biological life evolve as they are exchanged among genres of writing. My work closely analyzes anglophone literature—both canonical and marginal—alongside the disciplinary pursuits of philosophy, law, medicine, and science. For example, when I compare the conventions of theatrical performance to the anatomical investigations of the divorce trial, I reveal how the litigants’ inner sexual lives become scripted into a series of readable surfaces, thus flattening out distinctions between sexual fantasy and memory. I show how the epistolary form, read beside examples of mid-century sexual panic, reestablishes the erotic relationship between body and self. Finally, I explore how science fictions uniting botany and electricity threaten the parameters of proper reproductive life by demonstrating how pleasure and progeny might be redistributed across diffuse, polyamorous networks. By reading across genres and disciplines, my work sheds new light on the development of “potency” as a scientific and cultural phenomenon.