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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Languages of Light Lecture - Sleep, 'Night', and Bodily Anonymity: The Harms of Rape While Unconscious

7th May 2014, 17:00 to 18:00, Room 140, Elvet Riverside Building, New Elvet, Professor Cressida Heyes (University of Alberta)

Recent media coverage has drawn attention to cases of women sexually assaulted while unconscious. The most sensationalized involve young white women being assaulted by young men at parties while drunk.

But case law and reports from advocacy groups indicate the problem of sexual assault of unconscious women is widespread and more complex--including violation of women who are medically vulnerable, pre-meditated drug-facilitated sexual assault, and opportunistic sexual violence that disproportionately affects women marginalized by poverty, under-housing, domestic abuse, and sexualized racism. This lecture draws on existential phenomenology to make sense of the distinctive bodily harms of sexual assault--especially rape--on unconscious, semi-conscious, and waking women. While rape clearly fails to recognize subjectivity understood as individuality, it also negates the possibility of anonymity, and, as it involves unconsciousness, the possibility of balancing the experience of "night" with moving out into the world.

About the speaker 

Cressida Heyes holds the Canada Research Chair in Philosophy of Gender and Sexuality at the University of Alberta. Her publications include Self-Transformations: Foucault, Ethics, and Normalized Bodies (2007), The Grammar of Politics: Wittgenstein and Political Philosophy (Ithaca 2003), and the volume Cosmetic Surgery: A Feminist Primer (2009, with Meredith Jones). She holds a BA (Hons) in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics from Oxford University, an MA in Political Science, and a PhD in Philosophy, both from McGill University. 

Cressida Heyes’s research is concerned with the political philosophy of the body and of health and illness. Her current research looks at how bodily needs and practices are worked into governance–both of the self, and of the polity. She is interested in how the contemporary organization of work shapes our lived experience of time and our own agency, and in how various techniques of the self are used to escape this experience. Her research on the politics and philosophy of health and illness is especially concerned with mental health as it relates to gender and sexuality. 

This lecture is jointly hosted by the School of Modern Languages and Cultures and the Institute of Advanced Study, as part of the ‘Languages of Light’ series. All welcome. For further details contact


The Languages of Light research strand will examine:

a) The semiotics of light, and its meaning-making implications;

b) How knowledge discourses deploy and mediate dichotomies of light/darkness; the philosophical, political and methodological assumptions and effects of such dichotomies;

c) The extent to which perspectives from different languages, historical periods and cultural contexts highlight and help to elucidate (the terms themselves are indicative) key issues surrounding the meanings of light;

d) The significance of illumination practices – and metaphors of illumination – as these change over time and across cultures.

The Languages of Light strand will involve a series of public lectures and discussions addressing cultural, experiential and epistemological aspects of light. These include the ‘clearings’ or ‘lightenings’ (Heidegger’s Lichtungen) that allow intelligibility to emerge; the role of luminosity and scintillation in intersubjective relations (Levinas); the multiple implications of enlightenment (as historical Aufklärung, but also as spiritual Erleuchtung); the relationships between illumination and other cultural practices and institutions, from the culinary to the cinematic; the politics of sleep and wakefulness in capitalist postmodernity; and the changed epistemological implications of light after the utter darkness of the Shoah.

Contact for more information about this event.