Drawing on feminist scholarship and the work of Michel Foucault, Sedgwick uncovered what she claimed were concealed homoerotic subplots in writers like Charles Dickens and Henry James. Sedgwick argued that an understanding of virtually any aspect of modern Western culture would be incomplete or damaged if it failed to incorporate a critical analysis of modern homo/heterosexual definition. She coined the terms "homosocial" and "antihomophobic."
Noted works include "How to Bring Your Kids Up Gay," "Queer Performativity: Henry James's The Art of the Novel," and "Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl," which was heavily criticised for the "scandalous" interpretation it took.
Eve Kosofsky was raised in a Jewish family in Dayton, Ohio. She received her undergraduate degree from Cornell University and her Ph.D from Yale University. She taught writing and literature at Hamilton College, Boston University, and Amherst College. She held a visiting lectureship at University of California, Berkeley and taught at the School of Criticism and Theory when it was located at Dartmouth College. She was also the Newman Ivey White Professor of English at Duke University, and then a Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
During her time at Duke, Sedgwick and her colleagues were in the academic avant-garde of the culture wars, using literary criticism to question dominant discourses of sexuality, race, gender, and the boundaries of literary criticism. Sedgwick first presented her particular collection of critical tools and interests in the influential volumes Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985) and Epistemology of the Closet (1990). The latter work became one of gay and lesbian studies' and queer theory's founding texts.
She received the 2002 Brudner Prize at Yale. She taught graduate courses in English as Distinguished Professor at The City University of New York Graduate Center (CUNY Graduate Center) in New York City, New York, until her death in New York City from breast cancer on April 12, 2009, aged 58.
Eve Kosofsky married Hal Sedgwick in 1969; he survives her. Commentators often pointed out the juxtaposition between Sedgwick's transgressive and often radical writing on the limits of human sexuality with the fact that she maintained a married, monogamous, heterosexual relationship for decades.
Sedgwick summed up her basic argument in BBetween Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire in Epistemology of the Closet, a later work. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire was supposed to demonstrate "the immanence of men’s same-sex bonds, and their prohibitive structuration, to male-female bonds in nineteenth-century English literature…"
The book focused on the putatively oppressive effects on women and men of a cultural system where male-male desire could become intelligible only by being routed through nonexistent desire involving a woman.
Sedgwick’s "male homosocial desire" referred to all male bonds, including, potentially, everyone from overt heterosexuals to overt homosexuals. Sedgwick coined the neologism "homosocial," which was supposed to be a rejection of the then-available lexical and conceptual alternatives to challenge the idea that hetero-, bi- and homosexual men and experiences could be easily differentiated. She argued that these three categories could not actually be readily distinguished from one another, since what might be conceptualised as "erotic" depended on an "unpredictable, ever-changing array of local factors."
One reviewer asserts that the structures of "homosocial desire" that Sedgwick is said to uncover in the book are so "omnipresent" in Western literature, and so often read through other ideological screens, that "we should beware."
"Homosocial" is a neologism meant to be distinguished from "homosexual" and connotes a form of male bonding often accompanied by a fear or hatred of homosexuality.
Sedgwick's inspiration for Epistemology of the Closet came from reading D. A. Miller’s essay, ‘Secret Subjects, Open Subjects’, subsequently included in The Novel and the Police (1988).
In EEpistemology of the Closet Sedgwick argues that "virtually any aspect of modern Western culture, must be, not merely incomplete, but damaged in its central substance to the degree that it does not incorporate a critical analysis of modern homo/heterosexual definition." According to Sedgwick, homo/heterosexual definition has become so tediously argued over because of a lasting incoherence "between seeing homo/heterosexual definition on the one hand as an issue of active importance primarily for a small, distinct, relatively fixed homosexual minority ... [and] seeing it on the other hand as an issue of continuing, determinative importance in the lives of people across the spectrum of sexualities."
Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick was my first introduction to the world of queer theory and literary criticism and was the foundation of my senior thesis. The section on Charles Dickens "Our Mutual Friend" confirmed my thought that there was something lovely going on between Eugene Wrayburn and Mortimer Lightwood and blew my mind with what was written on the rival relationship between Eugene and Bradley Headstone. --Stephan SchmetterlingFurther Readings:
Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
Paperback: 244 pages
Publisher: Columbia University Press (April 15, 1985)
Amazon: Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire
Hailed by the New York Times as "one of the most influential texts in gender studies, men's studies and gay studies," this book uncovers the homosocial desire between men, from Restoration comedies to Tennyson's Princess.
Epistemology of the Closet: Updated with a New Preface by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
Paperback: 280 pages
Publisher: University of California Press; 2 edition (January 17, 2008)
Amazon: Epistemology of the Closet: Updated with a New Preface
Since the late 1980s, queer studies and theory have become vital to the intellectual and political life of the United States. This has been due, in no small degree, to the influence of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's critically acclaimed Epistemology of the Closet. Working from classic texts of European and American writers--including Melville, James, Nietzsche, Proust, and Wilde--Sedgwick analyzes a turn-of-the-century historical moment in which sexual orientation became as important a demarcation of personhood as gender had been for centuries. In her preface to this updated edition Sedgwick places the book both personally and historically, looking specifically at the horror of the first wave of the AIDS epidemic and its influence on the text.
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