Adorno's 'Sexual Taboos and Law Today' – Sixty Years On
25 February 2023
Social Sciences Building, University of Warwick
‘It’s a nice bit of sexual utopia not to be yourself. […] What is merely identical with itself is without happiness.’
This one-day hybrid symposium is dedicated to Theodor W. Adorno's text 'Sexual Taboos and Law Today' on the occasion of its sixty-year anniversary.
First published in 1963, Theodor W. Adorno’s essay ‘Sexual Taboos and Law Today’ responded to changing attitudes to love and desire during a period of sexual liberation. Critiquing repressive bourgeois morality and progressive sexual values alike, ‘Sexual Taboos and Law Today’ suggests that the utopian potential of intimacy is inseparable from the challenges sexuality poses to self and society. The essay’s most famous line – ‘It is a nice bit of sexual utopia not to be yourself’ – already locates the promise of sexuality in the momentary dissolution of identity. It meets with Adorno’s claim that without its anarchical and transgressive aspects sexuality becomes neutralised and inert. Yet, these aspects evoke society's contempt: ‘What is specifically sexual is eo ipso forbidden,’ Adorno writes.
‘Sexual Taboos and Law Today’ sheds light on the dynamics of desire and disdain, freedom and punishment, losing oneself and finding oneself that characterise the ‘brittle integration’ of sexuality into modern society. Ultimately, these dynamics destabilise the sphere of law and morality, and problematise modern conceptions of subjectivity and identity.
Today, in times of #MeToo, identity politics, and heightened public concern for gender equality and transgender rights, ‘Sexual Taboos and Law Today’ invites renewed scrutiny. This one-day symposium explores the tensions that Adorno’s text brings to the fore in the sphere of legal theory, social critique, psychoanalysis, and philosophy. Making these tensions fruitful for the present moment is the overarching aim of this event.
This event has been organised with the generous support of the Department of Philosophy and the Humanities Research Centre at the University of Warwick, the Aristotelian Society, the British Society for the History of Philosophy, and the Society for Applied Philosophy.