The Queerness of the Drive

A seminar by semiotician Teresa de Lauretis exploring queer theory and the complex interplay between subjectivity and the social field


Fields of Knowledge
  • Philosophy / Theory

Organizing Institutions

Penn Cinema Studies, English, Film and Media Studies at Swarthmore College, Penn Humanities Forum, and Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at Penn

Contributing Institutions



Patricia White

Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

On the web



100% Formal - 0% Informal

Slought is pleased to announce "The Queerness of the Drive," a seminar by semiotician Teresa de Lauretis exploring queer theory and the complex interplay between subjectivity and the social field, on November 5, 2015, from 6-7:30pm. The event, which is presented in partnership with Penn Cinema Studies, Film and Media Studies at Swarthmore College, and Penn Humanities Forum, will be introduced and moderated by Patricia White, Professor of Film and Media Studies at Swarthmore College.

With their bravura readings of critical theory from the perspective of a semiotician and film scholar, Teresa de Lauretis's books Alice Doesn't and Technologies of Gender helped make feminist film theory one of the humanities' most dynamic fields in the 1980s. Next, her provocation in linking the terms "queer" and "theory" in 1991, was met with astonishing critical productivity by interdisciplinary scholars who set terms for cultural critique into the new millennium. Across this work, she understands the complex interplay between subjectivity and a changing social-symbolic field through a radical engagement with the work of Sigmund Freud and his critics, most notably the French psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche. In her most recent book, Freud's Drives, she shows in luminous critical prose how literary and cinematic texts including Djuna Barnes' Nightwood and David Cronenberg's M. Butterfly figure this interplay between inner and outer and help us understand the political stakes of Laplanche's work.

In "The Queerness of the Drive," she returns to one of Freud's original contributions to 20th century epistemology--the notion of "polymorphous perverse" infantile sexuality –which Laplanche reformulates as "le sexual," distinct from and even in conflict with love (attachment). He proposes that the sexual drive, unlike the sexual instinct, is not innate or endogenous but is constituted as an effect of seduction, repression and translation. Thus only the drive pertains to the domain of the sexual, which is constituted in the encounter with otherness, contingency, and change. In the context of Laplanche's metapsychology, she asks, in what sense can it be said that the drive is queer?

read more

Since retiring as Distinguished Professor Emerita of the History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Teresa de Lauretis has conducted seminars in Europe and Latin America, with an upcoming appointment at the Freie Universität in Berlin. She makes a rare US appearance in Philadelphia as part of a symposium on her work at Swarthmore College, presenting new work toward a theory of reading and spectatorship based on figurality and the psychoanalytic concepts of transference, seduction, and the drive.

Patricia White, Professor of Film and Media Studies at Swarthmore College, is editor of Teresa de Lauretis's book Figures of Resistance: Essays in Feminist Theory, and author of the recent Women's Cinema, World Cinema: Projecting Contemporary Feminisms.

November 4, 2015 at 4:15pm

Swarthmore College, Science Center 199

"Figures of Sound in Val Lewton's Cat People" followed by reception and screening of the film.

De Lauretis reads Laplanche with Val Lewton's 1942 low-budget horror classic, Cat People. The film's innovative use of sound figures the presence in human life of an otherness that is not an emanation of Evil or preternatural powers but comes from a place of darkness, an alterity, within the human.

November 6, 2015 at 3pm

Swarthmore College, Science Center 199

Panel: "Eccentric Subjects: The Work of Teresa de Lauretis"

Presentations by former students of de Lauretis: Patricia White, Film and Media Studies, Swarthmore College; Jerry Miller, Philosophy, Haverford College; Krista Lynes, Communication Studies, Concordia University.

"If perversion is understood with Freud outside the moralistic, religious, or medical frames of reference, as a deviation of the sexual drive from the path leading to the reproductive object...then Freud's theory contains or implies, if by negation and ambiguity, a notion of perverse desire, where perverse means not pathological but rather non-heterosexual or non-normatively heterosexual."

-- From Teresa de Lauretis, The Practice of Love: Lesbian Sexuality and Perverse Desire