What does sex radicalism look like—for queer theory but not only queer theory—in a critical dispensation tuned less to the liberatory promises of sex than to matters of biopower? This article takes up Henry David Thoreau's vexed relation to the ascetic imperatives of nineteenth-century capitalism in the context of his determination, as he says in Walden, to “love the wild not less than the good.” It tracks Thoreau's interest in the wild as part of his career-wide effort to imagine carnal life away from the forms of biopolitical coding and optimization that he understood to be captivating his body more and more completely. As against these imperatives of maximized bodily instrumentalization—crosswired to whiteness, labor, reproductivity—Thoreau tests out the possibilities of a more errant carnality, a “wildness” that, I argue, both is and is not an expression of what, by the end of the nineteenth century, would be called “sexuality.” Doing so, he helps us bring into focus some of the knotty conceptual dilemmas of our own queer theoretical moment, in which the impulse to nurture traditions of sex radicalism sits sometimes uneasily alongside renderings of sex as a key element of imperial racialization and biopoliticized control.

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