UC Santa Cruz to present conference on 'Desire' in February

What exactly is the nature of desire? Is it the same in every culture? Has it changed over time?

The UC Santa Cruz Center for Cultural Studies will present "Desire: Past, Present, Future," a two-day conference, February 21-22, at the UCSC campus, to explore these questions and discuss scholarly work that utilizes the concept of desire as a springboard to examine a variety of cultural ideas. The event is free and open to the public.

The conference will kick off Friday evening with a keynote address by Northwestern professor of radio/TV/film, Laura Kipnis, followed by a screening of Pedro Almodovar's film, All About My Mother. The speakers on Saturday will include Leo Bersani, emeritus professor of French at UC Berkeley; David Roman, associate professor of English and American studies at USC; Anne Anlin Cheng, associate professor of English and American literature at UC Berkeley; and Chris Coffman, visiting assistant professor of literature at UC Santa Cruz.

Kipnis's talk will question the prevailing wisdom in this country that while sexual desire is usually acknowledged to be a relatively short-lived phenomenon, "mature love" takes its place when desire fades. In a recent article in the New York Times Magazine, she observed, "The issue that remains unaddressed is whether cutting off other possibilities of romance and sexual attraction for the more muted pleasures of mature love isn't similar to voluntarily amputating a healthy limb."

Kipnis argues that since love has such vast power over our thoughts and decisions, saying no to desire "is a tragedy.the failure to achieve what is most essentially human."

Carla Freccero, UCSC professor of literature and co-coordinator of the research group that organized the conference, noted that our notion of romantic love is a relatively recent historical idea.

"Certainly before the 20th century, people thought romantic love and marriage lived in two different places," she said. "Monogamy and romantic love are incompatible, but they're not supposed to be. It's only very recently that the two have been put together."

Freccero added that Kipnis is a prolific author who has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts for her work as a filmmaker and cultural critic.

"She's able to be incredibly humorous about devastating topics," Freccero said.

Freccero noted that the conference will also focus on how race, gender, and sexuality interact.

"Is there anything left to say about desire? Has it all been said? I think the conference will provide a lot of different answers," she said.

For more information, contact the UCSC Center for Cultural Studies at (831) 459-4899.