Grace Lavery

Job title: 
Associate Professor

Lavery studies the history and theory of interpretation since 1800, especially with respect to sexuality and gender. Her research across these fields of inquiry is linked by a concern with historical claims about aesthetic efficacy: the idea that certain aesthetic effects might simply work and that though that efficacy might be deeply responsive to context, it is possessed of its own hypothetical logic. Such claims, whose “subjective universal” condition is definitively theorized in Kant’s Critique of Judgment and often implicit within psychoanalytic accounts of the clinical scene, are notoriously dubious in a philosophical sense, but she is more generally concerned with their causes and effects. For example, in Quaint, Exquisite, she argues that a distinctive and influential account of aesthetic universality developed in the U.K., partly as a reaction formation designed to protect against the disorienting effects of Japanese modernity.

Her work in trans feminist studies is likewise focused on the belief that transition works; that it is truly possible to change sex. This belief may be as embarrassing to those who hold it as it is anathema to much of the scholarship on sex and gender, which tends to valorize interminability and indeterminacy, and treats binary thinking skeptically as a matter of course. But it is nonetheless both a motivating factor and a social fact for many trans women who embark upon medical and social transition, and so make a serious psychic investment in the transformative possibility of aesthetic technique. Her research seeks to understand both the historical and political conditions of possibility for such investments, and their logical properties as structures of thought, without reducing either to mere ideology or amorphous affect.