The Essentialist Villain

On Leo Bersani

By Mikko Tuhkanen

Subjects: Literary Theory, Philosophy, Continental Philosophy, Cultural Studies, Queer Studies
Hardcover : 9781438469676, 258 pages, May 2018
Paperback : 9781438469669, 258 pages, January 2019

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Table of contents


1. Homomonadology: Proust–Deleuze–Beckett–Blanchot

2. Wanting Being: Freud–Laplanche

3. Rethinking Redemption: Benjamin–Baudelaire–Nietzsche

4. Simultaneity and Sociability: Benjamin–Beckett–Simmel

5. Narcissus, a Cosmology: Luther–Freud–Plato–Speculative Astronomy

Works Cited

The first book-length study of Bersani’s work, tracing the unfolding of his onto-ethics/aesthetics amidst numerous literary, artistic, and philosophical influences.


Since his first publications in the late 1950s, Leo Bersani's work has influenced numerous scholarly fields, from studies of French modernism and realist fiction to psychoanalytic criticism and film theory. It has occasionally helped precipitate the emergence of new disciplinary fields, such as queer theory in the late 1980s. The Essentialist Villain is the first book-length study of this impressively rich oeuvre. Mikko Tuhkanen tracks the unfolding of Bersani's onto-ethics/aesthetics, paying particular attention to his persistent references to "essence," a concept central to classical speculative philosophy, which has fallen into distinct disfavor since the emergence of deconstructive thought. Because of his early influences—particularly Gilles Deleuze's philosophy—Bersani remains an ontologist through decades when deconstruction seems to have all but disallowed any thought of being. Tuhkanen also locates Bersani's thought amidst numerous literary, artistic, and philosophical interlocutors, including Deleuze, Freud, Proust, Laplanche, Beckett, Baudelaire, Genet, Leibniz, and others.

Mikko Tuhkanen is Associate Professor of English at Texas A&M University. His books include Leo Bersani: Queer Theory and Beyond; Queer Times, Queer Becomings (coedited with E. L. McCallum); and The American Optic: Psychoanalysis, Critical Race Theory, and Richard Wright, all published by SUNY Press.


"Mikko Tuhkanen's provocative and comprehensive study of the work of Leo Bersani deserves the status of a decisive and paradigm-shifting event in the field of critical theory … Tuhkanen thinks with Bersani, alongside him, and enjoins his readers to do the same. " — Lateral

"This very impressive book provides a full-scale assessment of Leo Bersani's half-century of thinking and writing, at the same time as it offers a reassessment of our contemporary critical landscape. It is rare that a book on a single thinker can do that, but Tuhkanen has accomplished a tremendous amount of intellectual work here. A brilliant book on a brilliant thinker. I learned a great deal from it and recommend it highly. " — Tim Dean, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

"The Essentialist Villain offers a wonderfully original and convincing assessment of the speculative power of Leo Bersani's oeuvre. Identifying a 'homo-monadology' at its core, Tuhkanen details the complex and shifting role sameness has played throughout. By situating him at the proper onto-aesthetic level of his thought, this study positions Bersani among the leading independent thinkers of our era. " — Joan Copjec, Brown University