February 3, 2023

Save the Net Books

Blogazine on Books, Arts, and Music

About Eve Kosofsky Sedwick, Queen of Queer Theory” [by Blake Smith]

from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Big Fat Nonbinary Mistake by Blake Smith
Tablet, January 12, 2023

Subtitle: “The queen of queer theory sought to exonerate the persecution complex plaguing the West. Instead, their work has exacerbated it.”

There are (at least) two types of women who love gay men in ways that make gay men like me nervous. Camille Paglia is one of the most well-known exponents of the first strain – along with fellow Italian-American celebrity fruit flies Madonna and Lady Gaga: energetic, pretentious, (pop) cultured women who envision gay men as their “creatives” “interesting” Colleagues.

The second kind – stereotypically nerdy, mousy and frumpy in sweaters – loves gays not as a bunch of chattering slags who support their self-image as sexy and scandalous, but from the safe distance of books. These women often read and write about gay men and gay sex in an intellectualized fantasy of escaping their own sexuality. (Why young women of this type are increasingly pretending to be gay men and undergoing surgery to make themselves do so is a mystery for another time.)

Perhaps the most intellectually significant example of the second type was Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, one of the founders of queer theory. In her books Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985) and The Epistemology of the Closet (1990), Sedgwick laid crucial theoretical foundations for examining how male homosexuality and queerness in general have been, and have been, shaped by literature, philosophy and culture of the modern west. As a gay man and academic, I’ve long felt a pull of gratitude towards her and also a surge of revulsion at what I can’t help but recognize her terrifying type.

Sometimes, when you read an author, you have the unsettling certainty that if you had known him in high school, you would never have let him sit in the cafeteria with you. Just as I cringe inwardly at the sight of a dowdy, seemingly inebriated woman reading Boys’ Love manga or The Song of Achilles, I am disturbed when I read Sedgwick – a fat straight woman who spoke of her abject sexual poverty Relationships in Dialogue on Love (1999) – write about male anal eroticism with angry apparent delight at its transgression of academic propriety. The gay male thinkers who made their work possible, like Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault, never insisted on such demonstratively provocative specificity in their writing, whatever they did in practice – not least because they envisioned the erotic, like Barthes’ American translator Richard Howard says is what the writing intellect can indirectly evoke but not directly implement.

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