Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
- Category : 1950-births
- Type : PSE
- Profile : 5/1 - Heretical / Investigator
- Definition : Split - Small (62)
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Incarnation 1
American poet and educator, a creative writer and professor of English at prestigious eastern universities.
Eve Sedgwick's strikingly original work on male homosocial desire has made her one of the founders of gay and lesbian studies in America. She sees her work as "being strongly marked by a queer politics that is at once antiseparatist and antiassimilationist; by a methodology that draws on deconstruction among other techniques, and by writer experimentation." Sedgwick's name has become near synonymous with "queer theory" since the publication of her "Epistemology of the Closet," 1990. This witty, empathetic and often-dense book draws on classic texts of Western European and North American writers -- including Herman Melville, Henry James, Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde - to delineate a modern history in which sexual identity became as important to a sense of self as one's gender identity. "Epistemology" examines and analyzes how the categories of "homosexual" and "heterosexual" continue to shape modern outlooks, particularly through the ways they are encoded in literary texts.
Sedgwick's quick draw critics have, however, characterized her founding work in Queer Studies as therapy-in-writing via a self-indulgent area of research in which academics typically revel in their unhappy childhoods and personal sexual histories. The funky and provocative titles of some of Sedgwick's essays (e.g., "Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl," "How to Bring Your Kids Up Gay," and "Is the Rectum Straight?: Identification and Identity in The Wings of the Dove"), provide plenty of fuel for their fire.
Eve Kosofsky's father was an engineer and her mother was a high school teacher. Pale and fat, she felt vastly different to her darkly handsome family. Academic life provided an intellectual escape where she would also develop her intense identification with gay men through close friendships in order to be accepted "as an essential, central member of a queer family."
Holding a B.A. (Cornell, 1971), M.Phil./Ph.D. (both from Yale, 1974/75), Sedgwick is a poet as well as a critic, having taught writing and literature at Hamilton College, 1978-81, Boston University, 1981-83 and Amherst College (1984-88). She took the post of Professor of English at Duke University in 1988. Her works include the academic texts, "The Coherence of Gothic Intentions," 1980, "Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire," 1985, and "Tendencies," 1993; plus her volume of poetry, "Fat Art, Thin Art," 1994. One of her current writing projects is "The Raw and the Frozen: Essays in Queer Performativity and Affect."
Sedgwick's "A Dialogue of Love," 1999 provides a fascinating memoir of her treatment for depression following recovery from breast cancer. She went into therapy in 1992, a year and a half after being diagnosed, eventually surviving a mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy. Her memoir explores the poetics of therapy through her chosen medium of a "texture book" in which her diary entries are interwoven with haiku, excerpts from her male therapist's notes, and threads of dialogue between therapist and patient.
Sedgwick explains that a "texture book wouldn't need to have a first person at all, any more than weaving itself does." Her "Dialogue" thus comprises a complex fabric in which two different perspectives (that of therapist, and patient) become mingled in an interpersonal weave that twists and complicates the division between first person and second. Moreover, she includes some of her verse written in Haibun, a form of poetry borrowed from 17th-century Japan by way of James Merrill. Sedgwick also examines her own life and sexuality for the first time in some detail. She entered therapy with a goal: "If I can fit the pieces of this self back together at all, I don't want them to be the way they were." This personal narrative explores universal themes such as death, family, abandonment, and happiness. She also addresses the anomaly of her status as a gay studies guru who happens to be a heterosexual woman married to her "fella". As such, she candidly faces her critics (academic, lay, male, female, straight, gay) by reclaiming and brazenly representing the sort of intimate themes that supposedly weaken her body of work.