In Sex Lives, Joseph Gamble draws from literature, art, and personal testimonies from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe to uncover how early moderns learned to have sex. In the early modern period, Gamble contends, everyone from pornographers to Shakespeare recognized that sex requires knowledge of both logistics (how to do it) and affect (how to feel about it). And knowledge, of course, takes practice.
Gamble turns to a wide range of early modern texts and images from England, France, and Italy, ranging from personal accounts to closet dramas to visual art in order to excavate and analyze a variety of sexual practices in early modernity. Using an intersectional, phenomenological approach to bring historical light to the quotidian sexual experiences of early modern subjects, the book develops the critical concept of the “sex life"—a colloquialism that opens up methodological avenues for understanding daily lived experience in granular detail, both in the distant past and today. Through this lens, Gamble explores how sex organized and permeated everyday life and experiences of gender and race in early modernity. He shows how affects around sex structure the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, revealing the role of sexual feeling and sexual racism in early modern English drama. Sex Lives reshapes how we understand Renaissance literature, the history of sexuality, and the meaning of sex in both early modern Europe and our own moment.
Joseph Gamble is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Toledo.
"With verve and exactitude, Sex Lives unpacks the epistemological and affective infrastructures that undergird a ‘sex life.’ Boldly moving beyond the discursive paradigm that has long governed the history of sexuality, it lingers on the process of learning how to have sex—exploring both sexual ‘know-how’ and sexual ‘feel-how’ through an impassioned commitment to queer thriving."
~Valerie Traub, author of Thinking Sex with the Early Moderns
"Original, wry, and winningly earnest, Sex Lives reveals a highly provocative truth often made invisible, that sex, like other quotidian acts that shape our experience and sense of self, is a learned practice."
~Patricia Akhimie, author of Shakespeare and the Cultivation of Difference