Memory believes before knowing remembers. For Sedgwick, the study of sex is not coextensive with the study of gender, as sex is chromosomal and gender is constructed. She draws distinctions between constructionist feminists who see sex as biological and essential, and gender and gender inequality as culturally constructed , radical feminists who see chromosomal sex, reproductive relationships, and sexual inequality as culturally constructed , and Foucauldians who see chromosomal sex as biologically essential, sexuality as culturally constructed, and reproduction as both. She discusses the realization in feminism that not all oppressions are congruent as a particularly important one, because it included the realization that a person who is disabled through one set of oppressions may in fact be enabled through others; for example, a woman who uses her married name shows her subordination as a woman and her privilege as a presumed heterosexual. Sedgwick also addresses the ways in which the relationship between sex and gender can be compared to the relationship between race and class. According to Sedgwick, they are related but should be mapped on different axes; Sex and gender, while related, are not coextensive.
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This is a very accurate assessment, both in terms of content and regarding the form of Epistemology of the Closet. Which is to say that Sedwick tackles the subject matter that she admits is highly problematic with a highly dense text that is resistant to a simple reading as said subject matter itself.
This makes for a reading experience that is as highly interesting as it can be frustrating. Time and time again one finds oneself going back a few lines to disentangle the semantic bog strewn across very long paragraphs riddled with often obscure terms. It is the kind of book that requires a second read while voiding that very possibility by the very nature of the text.
Sedgwick seems very aware that this is her approach inbuilds the main theme of instability of possible semantic attributions into the very fabric of the text itself so that it becomes structural in more senses than one.
Whether she realizes it is also likely to turn off potential readers who would otherwise gladly explore the ideas expoused in said text is another question.
Around this axis Sedgwick works out an analysis of seminal no pun intended texts in queer literature. Given how non-pellucid Sedgwick herself is, it is not surprising that Henry James should feature so prominently. If James were born in the 20th century and turned to queer theory, I expect he would write very much as Sedgwick does, which is oddly enchanting, in a way. Familiarity with these works is mandatory, rereadings may even be in order otherwise an already oblique text veers into unintelligibility.
Melville and Billy Budd This was perhaps my favorite chapter. Issues of articulation, of silencing and pacifying homosexual tensions give it an extra sense of relevance. Oscar Wilde and The Picture of Dorian Gray Surprisingly enough this chapter was not as long or thorough as one might expect. Given the importance the text has had for queer writers, readers and queer-ness in general, Sedgwick does not invest as much as one might like in her analysis.
Henry James and The Beast in the Jungle This is a short story that not even dedicated James readers will immediately bring to memory, assuming they have even read it I had not. It proposes an alternate interpretation to the orthodox one by reading the characters as dancing in and around the closet. Ideas of self-blindness and internalized homophobia that goes so deep it becomes destructive of the self are presented with the typical overabundance of verbosity but are convincing for all that.
It deconstructs the mechanisms through which a queer individual goes from simply suffering from the stifling effects of homophic repression to actively enforcing them. Proust and A la Reserche By far the most fun chapter to read and probably the one that is both clearest on sections and obfuscating on others.
Sedgick self-inserts, intentionally so, throughout most of this one. The notion of the important- perhaps even revolutionary- of female readers of Proust was extremely interesting and one I wished had not be tacked right at the end. I would read an entire thesis on that.
Overall, this is a difficult text that fights the reader almost line by line. It will be intensely rewarding to some and perplexingly frustrating to others.
One thing that can be safely said, Epistemology of the Closet is not, at all, pellucid.
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
Literary Influences[ edit ] Epistemology of the Closet focuses on other literary works that reflect the social and political ideas of queer theorists. Sedgwick uses the writings of these authors to point out examples in other pieces of famous literary text that help propel her argument about the binary behind the homosexual identity and how language serves to define that binary. This heterosexual woman is troubled by her inability to determine whether or not the men she is having sex with are bisexuals, and is therefore fearful that she has been infected with AIDS Impact[ edit ] More than any other book, Epistemology of the Closet has probably had the greatest influence on geographical research on sexualities. Epistemology of the Closet has also had a tremendous impact in the gay community as it is known for being a very "important book", and "one of the key texts of queer theory, and, as such, is a challenging book to read.
Epistemology of the Closet
D from Yale University. At Cornell she was among the first women to be elected to live at the Telluride House. 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. Sedgwick first presented her particular collection of critical tools and interests in the influential volumes Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire and Epistemology of the Closet Her theoretical interests have been synoptic, assimilative and eclectic.
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