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2017 Conference - Is the rectum a goldmine? Applied linguistics in unexpected places
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While witnessing the deaths and concomitant homophobic debates surrounding the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the American queer theorist Leo Bersani asked an important question: Is the rectum a grave? This question was the starting point of an insightful critique of discourses about gay men’s apparent promiscuous anal sexual practices and their pathologisation in the wake of the AIDS outbreak. Bersani provocatively concluded the essay saying that “if the rectum is a grave in which the masculine ideal […] of proud subjectivity is buried, then it should be celebrated for its very potential for death” (1987: 222). To judge from the burgeoning male sex toy industry one might begin to wonder whether the condition of the male rectum might be very different thirty years later.

The aim of this paper is precisely to investigate this potential shift in the representational regimes, and the attendant consumerist exploitation, of a male body part. In order to do so, the paper focuses on a set of media texts that seek to promote sex toys said to improve the health of men’s prostates, as well as produce sexual enjoyment. With the help of a queer approach to critical discourse analysis I will illustrate how the purchase of prostate massagers and the incitement to discourse about heterosexual men’s discovery of their rectum ultimately satisfy the pleasures of the capital. By focusing on prosthetics for the pleasure of the anus, the talk also contributes to pushing applied linguistics towards more “unexpected places” (Pennycook 2012) of inquiry.

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