Differences: a journal of feminist cultural studies

On 31 May 2023, a special issue of the journal differences, will be published, that I co-edited with Jacques Khalip, titled: “Syntax of Thought: Reading Leo Bersani.”

The volume brings together 35 scholars from a wide-range of disciplines and fields, each of whom has written a short essay based upon a sentence or two that they have selected from Bersani’s work. The volume covers the span of Bersani’s career, from his early work on Proust, Balzac, Baudelaire and other authors in the French modern canon; to his many collaborations with Ulysse Dutoit; to his work on sex and sexuality; and his late work on aesthetic subjectivity.

My own essay, “Incongruity,” considers the central role that this concept plays in Bersani’s radical rethinking of sociality in terms of sameness. I find inspiration and a jumping off point, in this sentence from Bersani’s essay, “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” originally published in Critical Inquiry and later in his book, Thoughts and Things:

“Incongruity institutes virtualities that have no intrinsic reason to be actualized. This retreat from the actual creates a freedom that might be defined as a kind of being to which no predicate can be attached.” (Bersani, Thoughts and Things 66)

Postmodern Culture (journal)

Austin Svedjan (PhD student, University of Pennsylvania) and I are co-editing a special issue of the journal Postmodern Culture, titled, “Afterlives of the Anti-Social.” It will feature essays by Grace Lavery, Mikko Tuhkanen, Tom Roach, Bobby Benedicto, Robyn Weigman, and me, plus an interview with Lee Edelman. Expected date of publication: 2024.

My essay, “Unlovable Oneness,” is structured by the “incongruous coupling” of Eimear McBride’s masterpiece debut novel, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, and Ellsworth Kelly’s painted aluminum panels for the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, in St. Louis, Blue Black. In the essay, and my reading of Leo Bersani and Ulysses Dutoit’s work (from their early writing on Pasolini’s film, Salò, to their later work on Kelly), I consider the ethical virtue of going along with the unlovable and how literature and art provide us with an aesthetic training as to how to do so, and in ways that avoid reproducing the world’s violence in which we are all implicated.

Through Kelly’s monochromes, the essay also thinks about Bersani’s notion of “oneness,” in terms of chromatics, and how such incongruous oneness as Blue Black enables us to move out of a racial/racist chromatics and toward a different sense of being together. Something that artist Glenn Ligon explored in his curating of “Blue Black,” an exhibition in 2017 at the Pulitzer, that took Kelly’s work as inspiration and jumping off point.

New Formations (journal)

For a special issue of the journal New Formations, edited by Jessica Cotton on the topic of “Loneliness,” I have written an essay titled, “Solitude and the Time that Remains in Adania Shibli’s Minor Detail.” The essay is an extended close reading of Shibli’s remarkable novel. It considers the ways in which the book works with solitude and minor details as two key modalities in which the time that remains—as a non-enclosed temporality, not entirely circumscribed by the historical past, present, or future—opens for the anonymous Palestinian female narrator in the second part of the novel, as she travels through the contemporary Israeli apartheid state, in search of information about a young anonymous Bedouin girl who was brutally raped and murdered by Israeli soldiers decades earlier in the Negev desert. Expected date of publication: 2024.

Sex and the Pandemic

“Sex and Exclusion” is my essay for this collection of essays edited by Ricky Varghese, to be published by University of Regina Press. In it, I theorize the relation between sex and exclusion, partly in dialogue with recent work by Adam Phillips and also Maurice Blanchot, and in relation to artist Dean Sameshima’s photographic series, being alone, which he shot in sex clubs and bathhouses in Berlin during the pandemic. This essays continues writing that I have done on Dean’s work, that has recently been published in the journals, A/R and The Large Glass, both in 2021 (see related posts on this web site).

My early work as a writer and curator in the mid-1990s, is taken up by Olivier Vallerand as part of his historical study of the emergence of queer theory and the work that was undertaken nearly 30 years ago, by various authors, artists, curators, and writers to bring this nascent theoretical discourse into conversation with architecture, and questions of sex and space (public, domestic, clandestine, etc.).

Unplanned Visitors: Queering Ethics and Aesthetics of Domestic Space (McGill University Press, 2020).

The book works its way right up to the present, in Vallerand’s discussion of recent projects by J Mayer H., Elmgreen & Dragset, and other architects and artists who have re-conceptualized domestic space from various queer ethical and aesthetic points of view and practices. The book is richly illustrated, and includes a comprehensive bibliography.

Vallerand is part of a new, younger generation of scholars who have revived the field in exciting new ways. It has been especially wonderful to see him and others coming out of the academy today, turn their attention to the genealogy of queer sex space theory.


Photo Credit: Thomas Roma, In the Vale of Cashmere, Powerhouse Books, 2015.

  1. Leo Bersani, “Sociability and Cruising” in Bersani, Is the Rectum a Grave? and other essays. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010: 45-62.
  2. Tim Dean, “Cruising as a Way of Life,” in Dean, Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009: 176-212.
  3. Samuel R. Delany, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. New York: New York University Press, 1999.
  4. Garth Greenwell, “How I Fell In Love with The Beautiful Art of Cruising,” BuzzFeed, April 4, 2016.
  5. William Haver, The Body of this Death: Historicity and Sociality in the Time of AIDS. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997.
  6. William Haver, “Really Bad Infinities: Queer’s Honour and the Pornographic Life,” Parallax, vol. 5, no. 4, 1999: 9-21.
  7. Timothy Morten, “Queer Ecology,” PLMA, vol. 125, no. 2, March 2010: 273-282.
  8. John Paul Ricco, The Logic of the Lure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
  9. John Paul Ricco, “The Art of the Consummate Cruise and the Essential Risk of the Common,” Feedback, February 2016. In two parts:
  10. John Paul Ricco, “Jacking-off a Minor Architecture” (with new extended preface, 2016), Keep It Dirty
  11. John Paul Ricco, “The Commerce of Anonymity,” Qui Parle, forthcoming, 2016.
  12. Thomas Roma, In the Vale of Cashmere, Powerhouse Books, 2015.

STEAM cover

“Jacking-off a Minor Architecture,” an essay that I published in 1993, has just been re-published in the online journal Keep It Dirtyin an issue on “Filth.” Editor Christian Hite approached me this past spring, believing that the essay deserved to be read—and perhaps more widely—23 years after its original publication. Having written a doctoral dissertation on masturbation and other technologies of arousal, this essay caught Hite’s attention, along with a second of mine on semen and the fluidity of body boundaries, that I had published around the same time in Gay and Lesbian Studies in Art History (edited by Whitney Davis).

To accompany the republication, I have written a preface in which I discuss the genesis of the text and its relation to emergent queer theory. While the political ethics of sex and architecture that I was experiencing, theorizing and writing about back then, have been pretty much eclipsed over the past 23 years by the very forms of bio-political governance and forces of domestication and assimilation to which queer anonymous sex stood opposite and refused, still there might be lessons to learn from a moment when, in the face of death and at the risk of life, masturbation was promiscuously communalized.







On March 19th, I presented a talk titled, “Edging the Common” at the conference “Aisthesis and the Common: Reconfiguring the Public Sphere,” that was organized by the research group Media@McGill, and held at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, March 18th and 19th. Other speakers included: Jean-Luc Nancy, Santiago Zabala, Pierre Dardot, amongst others. Videos of all of the presentations are available at:



I am so pleased that my essay, “The Art of the Consummate Cruise and the Essential Risk of the Common” has now been published (in two parts) by Feedback, a truly excellent online, open-access critical theory weblog/journal. Part I: The Ethics of the Pleasure. Part II: Cruising as Aesthetic Intuition of the Common.

Gay Cruising Pair Bathroom Stall

The essay originated as a paper that I presented at last year’s American Studies Association conference (Toronto, October 2015) on a panel organized by Ricky Varghese titled, “Sex, Misère, and the Redemptive: Barebacking and Historicity.” I want to thank Ricky for the invitation to participate in what was a very thoughtful, insightful and provocative discussion.

In the essay, I argue that we need to shift from a language of self and other towards one of co-exposed singularities, in order to think further about an ethics of pleasure that is not predicated upon sacrifice—either of the other or of the self. In addition, I call for the need to think sexual and other forms of risk and pleasure in terms of the common. Based upon recent work by Bill Haver, the common here is understood as always a sense of the common—including the aesthetic intuition of, and erotic inclination towards, the impossibility of the common.

I also want to thank “Joe,” the photographer of the image that I have reproduced here and that accompanies both parts of the essay, for kindly granting me the permission to reproduce his strikingly beautiful, evocative and downright sexy photograph.




  1. “The Inoperative Praxis of the Already-Unmade,” in Labour, Work, Action, edited by Michael Corris, Jaspar Joseph-Lester, and Sharon Kivland, Artwords Press, 2013. 
  2. John Paul Ricco, The Decision Between Us: art and ethics in the time of scenes, University of Chicago Press, 2014. 
  3. “Pornographic Faith: Two Sources of Naked Sense at the Limits of Belief and Humiliation,” in Porn Archives, edited by Tim Dean, Steven Ruszczycky, and David Squires, Duke University Press, 2014. 
  4. “The Existence of the World is Always Unexpected: Jean-Luc Nancy in conversation with John Paul Ricco,” in Art and the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies, edited by Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin, Open Humanities Press, 2015.
  5. “The Separated Gesture: Partaking in the Inoperative Praxis of the Already-Unmade,” in Nancy and the Political, edited by Sanja Dejanovic, Edinburgh University Press, 2015.
  6. “Parasol, Setas, Parasite, Peasant,” in J. Mayer H.: Could Should Would, Hatje Cantz, 2015. 
  7. PLUS: “Drool: liquid fore-speech of the fore-scene,” in World Picture, issue on “Abandon,” summer 2015 ( available online). 

Book Cover

I am so pleased to be included in this big, new beautiful book on the work of the Berlin-based architecture firm J. Mayer H. und partners.

My essay focuses on Metropol Parasol, the redevelopment of the Plaza de la Encarnación in Seville, Spain, as a public space of political contestation, occupation, and social gathering, including its articulations between city and countryside, urban and rural. Here is the concluding paragraph:

While claiming the status of being one of the largest wooden structures in the world, Metropol Parasol is not a built structure—an architecture—with the aspiration to unify, totalize, and wholly encompass some image of the world, as in Noah’s Ark. Which is also to say that it might be understood less in terms of mega-structures [which since the inception of this aspiring word in the early-1960s has been primarily about size], and more as something gigantic [which is about scale]. And as Susan Stewart illustrated years ago in her beautiful meditation, the gigantic is our scaled measure to landscape. By making gigantic mushrooms [parasols, setas, parásitos] grow in the middle of the city, and thereby creating a place irreducible to any notion of context, and uncontainable by any single structure [mega or otherwise] Metropol Parasol offers a sense of what it means to occupy the world. The political-ethical task is nothing less than that gigantic.

On March 7 & 8, 2013 I will give a lecture and lead a seminar based upon my current book project: Non-consensual futures: pornographic faith and the economy of the eve. I am honored by the invitation extended by Professor Deborah Harter and her graduate students in the Mellon Seminar:

Frames of the Beautiful, the Criminal, and the Mad: The Art and the Science of Excess

Faculty leader: Deborah Harter, associate professor of French studies

Student participants: Sarah Seewoester Cain (linguistics), Linda Ceriello (religious studies), Kristen Ray (English), Nathaniel Vlachos (anthropology), and Rachel Schneider Vlachos (religious studies).

Seminar Description
Reflecting on representations of the “excessive” in science and in art of the modern period – madness, genius, criminal, eccentric, beautiful, and pathological – this seminar welcomes students from all fields in the humanities and social sciences. We will consider the aesthetic with scientific, the ethical with the historical, and play havoc with all usual boundaries of disciplines, period, and genre.

Patterson Scarlett, Broome Street at Broadway (Rooftop Elevator Room), 2011, from the book, Petite Mort: Recollections of a Queer Public.

I am a contributing author to Petite Mort: Recollections of a Queer Public.
Click on this link for additional information and a free PDF of this fantastic new book.

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