Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick



Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (May 2, 1950 – April 12, 2009) was an American academic scholar in the fields of gender studies, queer theory (queer studies), and critical theory. Her critical writings helped create the field of queer studies. Her works reflect an interest in a range of issues, including queer performativity; experimental critical writing; the works of Marcel Proust; non-Lacanian psychoanalysis; artists' books; Buddhism and pedagogy; the affective theories of Silvan Tomkins and Melanie Klein; and material culture, especially textiles and texture. 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 criticized for the "scandalous" interpretation it took.  Sedgwick published several books considered "groundbreaking" in the field of queer theory, including Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985), Epistemology of the Closet (1990), and Tendencies (1993). Sedgwick also coedited several volumes and published a book of poetry Fat Art, Thin Art (1994) as well as A Dialogue on Love (1999). Her first book, The Coherence of Gothic Conventions (1986), was a revision of her doctoral thesis. Her last book Touching Feeling (2003) maps her interest in affect, pedagogy, and performativity. Jonathan Goldberg is currently editing her unpublished late essays and lectures, many of which are fragments from an unfinished study of Proust.

According to Goldberg, these late writings also examine such subjects as Buddhism, object relations and affect theory, psychoanalytic writers such as Klein, Tomkins, D.W. Winnicott, and Michael Balint, the poetry of C. V. Cavafy, philosophical Neoplatonism, and identity politics. 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's oeuvre ranges across a wide variety of media and genres; poetry and artworks are not easily separated from the rest of her texts. Disciplinary interests included literary studies, history, art history, film studies, philosophy, cultural studies, anthropology, women’s studies and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) studies.

Her theoretical interests have been synoptic, assimilative and eclectic. Sedgwick’s writing is supposed to make the reader more alert to the "potential queer nuances" of literature, encouraging the reader to displace their heterosexual identifications in favor of searching out "queer idioms. Sedgwick drew on the work of literary critic Christopher Craft to argue that both puns and rhymes might be re-imagined as "homoerotic because homophonic"; citing literary critic Jonathan Dollimore, Sedgwick suggests that grammatical inversion might have an equally intimate relation to sexual inversion; she suggested that readers may want to "sensitise" themselves to "potentially queer" rhythms of certain grammatical, syntactical, rhetorical, and generic sentence structures; scenes of childhood spanking were eroticised, and associated with two-beat lines and lyric as a genre; enjambment (continuing a thought from one line, couplet, or stanza to the next without a syntactical break) had potentially queer erotic implications; finally, while thirteen-line poems allude to the sonnet form, by rejecting the final rhyming couplet it was possible to "resist the heterosexual couple as a paradigm", suggesting instead the potential masturbatory pleasures of solitude.