Lust Never Sleeps
An academic's sexual memoir puts the ire in desire
A Book on Desire, Most Difficult to Tell
by Katherine Angel
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
$26.00 List Price
Once in a while a book appears that’s so bad you want it to be a satire. If you set out to produce a parody of postfeminist mumbo jumbo, adolescent narcissism, excruciating erotic overshares, pseudopoetry, pretentious academic jargon, and shopworn and unshocking “dirty talk,” you could not do better than Unmastered: A Book on Desire, Most Difficult to Tell.
One wishes that Katherine Angel, a historian of female sexual dysfunction at Warwick University, had, in fact, found this tale a little more “difficult to tell.” But Angel can’t stop telling and writing about herself—or about herself writing: “I have written a lot today,” she tells her lover complacently hundreds of lines into the stream-of-consciousness diary jottings that constitute her desultory exploration of female desire and feminism. “He knows,” she explains to her readers, that “I am writing about sex.” He does not, however, seem to grasp until that moment (if then) that his own sexual exchanges with Angel provide the book’s only tenuous narrative thread.
“‘You know,’” he says with the innocence of Candide, “‘I have just now put these things together: you and I have sex, and you are writing about sex.’ He laughs.”
In the groves of academe that Angel inhabits, sex is anything but a laughing matter. The relation of Anglo-American academics to sexuality remains a troubled one—at once obsessive and puritanical, criminalizing and infantilizing—even in our day and even (or especially) in disciplines specifically devoted to gender studies. This is a culture where a graduate student can cry sexual harassment if