Authors: Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American critic

Identity: Gay or bisexual

Author Works

Nonfiction:

The Coherence of Gothic Conventions, 1980

Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, 1985

Epistemology of the Closet, 1990

Tendencies, 1993

A Dialogue on Love, 1999

Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity, 2002

Poetry:

Fat Art, Thin Art, 1994

Edited Texts:

Performativity and Performance, 1995 (with Andrew Parker)

Shame and Its Sisters: A Silvan Tomkins Reader, 1995 (with Adam Frank)

Gary in Your Pocket: Stories and Notebooks of Gary Fisher, 1996

Novel Gazing: Queer Readings in Fiction, 1997

Biography

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (SEHJ-wihk) was born in 1950, the daughter of Leon Sedgwick, an engineer, and Rita Goldstein, a high school teacher. She received her bachelor’s degree summa cum laude at Cornell University in 1971 and went on to earn a master’s in philosophy in 1974 and a Ph.D. in 1975 at Yale University. From 1975 to 1976 she was an instructor in English at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. From 1978 to 1981 she served as an assistant professor of English and creative writing at Boston University, where she also cofounded the Women’s Studies Committee, the Faculty for Women’s Concerns, and the Rousseau and Wollstonecraft Seminars.{$I[AN]9810001646}{$I[A]Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky}{$I[geo]GAY OR BISEXUAL;Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky}{$I[tim]1950;Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky}

From 1981 to 1983 she was on the faculty at Harvard University’s Radcliffe College and a faculty fellow at the Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute. She joined the faculty of Duke University as an associate professor of English and women’s studies in 1984, where she founded the lecture series “Sex, Gender, Representation.” In 1987 Sedgwick was the Mrs. William Beckman Visiting Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and in 1992 she was a professor at Dartmouth College; from 1991 to 1992 she was a research fellow at the National Humanities Center. She has judged literary awards for the Modern Language Association of America, including the James Russell Lowell Prize, the Crompton-Noll Award in Gay and Lesbian Studies, and the Michael Lynch Service Award. She served on the Board of Trustees of The English Institute and the Dickens Society, and from 1985 to 1986 she was the co-chairperson of the Modern Language Association’s Commission on the Status of Women in the Profession.

Sedgwick was the recipient of a number of awards, honors, and prizes, including a Mellon fellowship (1976 to 1978) and a Kirkland Endowment (1980 and 1981); she was corecipient of the Crompton-Noll Award in Gay and Lesbian Studies from the Gay and Lesbian Caucus of the Modern Language Association for her article “Homophobia, Misogyny, and Capital: The Example of Our Mutual Friend” (1984). From 1987 to 1988 she was a Guggenheim Fellow.

In addition to her books, Sedgwick published articles in such distinguished literary journals as South Atlantic Quarterly, Critical Inquiry, Epoch, Massachusetts Review, Salmagundi, and Poetry Miscellany. She was coeditor of the journal Genders from 1988 to 1991 and has been a member of the advisory board of the Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities, Journal of the History of Sexuality, and Gay and Lesbian Quarterly.

It was with the 1985 publication of her book Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire that Sedgwick began the work that would make her one of the leading figures in the development of lesbian and gay studies in the literary academy.Between Men is a literary study of works including William Shakespeare’s sonnets, William Wycherley’s play The Country Wife (pr., pb. 1675), James Hogg’s novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s The Princess(1847), George Eliot’s Adam Bede (1859), William Makepeace Thackeray’s Henry Esmond (1852), Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend (1864-1865) and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870), and Walt Whitman’s poetry. Intended for an audience of other feminist scholars as an antihomophobia, antiseparatist text, Sedgwick hypothesizes in this book that there is an unbroken continuum between the “homosoial”–that is, the normative and visible, relations–between men, and the “homosexual”–prohibited, hidden–relations between men. Building on the theories of René Girard, Sigmund Freud, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Gayle Rubin, Sedgwick unifies her readings of these disparate texts with the underlying thematic paradigm of the “male traffic in women.”

Epistemology of the Closet, another landmark in the development of what has been called “queer theory,” further challenges assumptions about sexuality and gender. Through readings of Herman Melville, Marcel Proust, Friedrich Nietzsche, Oscar Wilde, and Henry James, Sedgwick persuasively argues that issues of sexual identities are central to every important form of knowledge in the twentieth century. Tendencies is a collection of many of Sedgwick’s essays previously published in scholarly journals. In this book the essays range from discussions of Denis Diderot, Wilde, and James to her controversial article “Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl,” her discussion of bringing up gay children, an essay on poetry and spanking, a performance piece on the artist Divine (coauthored with Michael Moon), and an article about her own experience with breast cancer in the context of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) crisis and its imperative to rethink the politics of sexualities.

Fat Art, Thin Art is a collection of her poetry. Sedgwick maintained a connection between her reputation as a literary critic and queer theorist and her poetic writing when she spoke of her desire to write poetry: “Part of my motive as a poet was that the most writerly writing I could do, and the most thinkerly thinking, be shown not to be generically alien to each other.”

The collection of essays she edited with Andrew Parker, Performativity and Performance, further investigates the relationships between conventional forms of academic criticism and creative genres such as drama and poetry. A Dialogue on Love is a memoir of her experiences in therapy after surviving breast cancer, which was reviewed as being either thoughtful and enlightening or self-indulgent. Touching Feelingcollects her articles on emotion, based on close readings of a number of different, and different types of, authors. Sedgwick became a leading literary critic not only because of her vast contributions to the field of gay and lesbian studies but also because of her experiments with stretching, expanding, and multiplying the forms that the genre of criticism can accommodate. Sedgwick died on April 12, 2009.

BibliographyFraiman, Susan. “Geometries of Race and Gender: Eve Sedgwick, Spike Lee, Charlayne Hunter-Gault.” Feminist Studies 20, no. 1 (Spring, 1994): 67-84. Begins with Sedgwick’s premise of a three-sided relationship in which two men bond over a woman and amplifies the triangle to include race, as well as gender and sexuality.Loftus, Brian. “Speaking Silence: The Strategies and Structures of Queer Autobiography.” College Literature 24 (February, 1997): 28-44. Discusses Sedgwick’s autobiographical work along with that of Gertrude Stein.Payne, W. Douglas. “Resisting Normalization: Queer Theory in an Interval.” College Literature 26 (Spring, 1999): 200-209. Novel Gazing is reviewed along with two other works in an overview of the state of the field of queer theory.Simerka, Barbara. “Homosociality and Dramatic Conflict: A Reconsideration of Early Modern Spanish Comedy.” Hispanic Review 70 (Autumn, 2002): 521-534. Applies Sedgwick’s theories of homosociality.
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