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In The Chastity Plot (U Chicago Press, 2021), Lisabeth During tells the story of the rise, fall, and transformation of the ideal of chastity. From its role in the practice of asceticism to its associations with sovereignty, violence, and the purity of nature, it has been loved, honored, and despised. Obsession with chastity has played a powerful and disturbing role in our moral imagination. It has enforced patriarchy’s double standards, complicated sexual relations, and imbedded in Western culture a myth of gender that has been long contested by feminists. Still not yet fully understood, the chastity plot remains with us, and the metaphysics of purity continue to haunt literature, religion, and philosophy. Idealized and unattainable, sexual renunciation has shaped social institutions, political power, ethical norms, and clerical abuses. It has led to destruction and passion, to seductive fantasies that inspired saints and provoked libertines. As During shows, it should not be underestimated.
Examining literature, religion, psychoanalysis, and cultural history from antiquity through the middle ages and into modernity, During provides a sweeping history of chastity and insight into its subversive potential. Instead of simply asking what chastity is, During considers what chastity can do, why we should care, and how it might provide a productive disruption, generating new ways of thinking about sex, integrity, and freedom.
Keep your eyes out for Lisabeth's next book, She Did It In Her Sleep, which focuses on the horrifying phenomenon that is comatose rape.
Frances Sacks is a graduate of Wesleyan University where she studied in the Science and Society Program.
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