This book has been a long time in the writing. By one measure, it started
in 2003, with an essay on John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Plea-
sure that I wrote while snowbound at the Center for Research on Gender
and Sexuality at New York University. Fond thanks to Carolyn Dinshaw,
who facilitated my time in New York, and to David Halperin and Valerie
Traub for inviting me to present a version of that piece at the Institute
for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan. It
took me several years to work out that my thinking about orgasm and
Fanny Hill did not belong in the present book, which was subsequently
reoriented as an emphatically twentieth- century project. Anyone curi-
ous about my false start can refer to my essay “‘Critical Extasy’: Orgasm
and Sensibility in Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure,” in Signs: Journal of
Women in Culture and Society 32, no. 2 (2007): 459–83.
A truer beginning was made at the “Sexuality after Foucault” con-
ference, at the University of Manchester at the end of 2003, where, with
Laura Doan and David Alderson’s warm invitation, I presented a ple-
nary address, “Twentieth- Century Orgasm.” At the time of this confer-
ence, I had just shifted institutions and countries, leaving the Depart-
ment of English with Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne to
take a position in the Department of Film, Television, and Media Studies
at the University of Auckland. The seven years I spent at the Univer-
sity of Auckland correspond roughly with the time it took to write this
book. Across that period, there were times—often sustained lengths of
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