epistemology-of-the-closet

"Because he attacks people who are different and preys on their secrets."

That’s why Sherlock says he hates Magnussen so. Not just because Magnussen preys on people, and not just because he deals in secrets, but because he preys on the secrets of people who are different. This struck me to the heart because it’s a big part of the (homo)erotics of a lot of detective fiction; in the late 19th and early 20th century, the people whose secrets made them different and vulnerable were most often homosexual people. These stories originated in a time when homosexuality was a newly reviled identity and homosexual acts a crime, when the pursuit of illicit knowledge always had a sexual charge and a queer potential. Eve Sedgwick calls this “the epistemology of the closet”: by the nineteenth century, “there had in fact developed one particular sexuality that was distinctively constituted as secrecy,” homosexuality. Or as she puts it most succinctly, “secrecy itself becomes manifest as this secret.” And if that’s true, we can see why detective stories with male heroes and male antagonists almost always have a thread of homosexual implication running through them. (See “Sherlock and the Homophobic Prohibition" for more on this; Anne Jamison’s great metas on ACD’s aquaintances with Oscar Wilde and Roger Casement also show how central such threats of exposure were to public discourses of law, morality, and patriotism.)

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Eve Sedgwick, from Epistemology of the Closet:

The sacred tears of the heterosexual man: rare and precious liquor whose properties, we are led to believe, are rivaled only by the lacrimae Christi whose secretion is such a specialty of religious kitsch. What charm, compared to this chrism of the gratuitous, can reside in the all too predictable tears of women, of gay men, of people with something to cry about?

Indeed, it was the long, painful realization, not that all oppressions are congruent, but that they are differently structured and so must intersect in complex embodiments that was the first great heuristic breakthrough of socialist-feminist thought and of the thought of women of color.This realization has as its corollary that the comparison of different axes of oppression is a crucial task, not for any purpose of ranking oppressions, but to the contrary because each oppression is likely to be in a uniquely indicative relation to certain distinctive nodes of cultural organization.
—  Eve Sedgwick, The Epistemology of the Closet
Homosexual panic" [is] a defense strategy that is commonly used to prevent conviction or to lighten sentencing of gay-bashers[.] Judicially, a "homosexual panic" defense for a person (typically a man) accused of antigay violence implies that his responsibility for the crime was diminished by a pathological psychological condition, perhaps brought on by an unwanted sexual advance from the man whom he then attacked. In addition to the unwarranted assumptions that all gay men may plausibly be accused of making sexual advances to strangers and, worse, that violence, often to the point of homicide, is a legitimate response to any sexual advance whether welcome or not, the "homosexual panic" defense rests on the falsely individualizing and pathologizing assumption that hatred of homosexuals is so private and so atypical a phenomenon in this culture as to be classifiable as an accountability-reducing illness. The widespread acceptance of this defense really seems to show, to the contrary, that hatred of homosexuals is even more public, more typical, hence harder to find any leverage against than hatred of other disadvantaged groups. "Race panic" or "gender panic," for instance, is not accepted as a defense for violence against people of color or against women; as for "heterosexual panic," David Wertheimer, executive director of the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, remarks, "If every heterosexual woman who had a sexual advance made to her by a male had the right to murder the man, the streets would be littered with the bodies of heterosexual men
—  "Epistemology of the Closet" by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, page 19
From the introduction to the Epistemology of the Closet by Eve Sedgwick

Even identical genital acts mean very different things to different
people.

To some people, the nimbus of ‘the sexual’seems scarcely to extend
beyond the boundaries of discrete genital acts; to others, it enfolds
them loosely or floats virtually free of them.


Sexuality makes up a large share of the self-perceived identity of some
people, a small share of others’.


Some people spend a lot of time thinking about sex, others little.

Some people like to have a lot of sex, others little or none.


Many people have their richest mentaUemotional involvement with
sexual acts that they don’t do, or even don’t want to do.


For some people, it is important that sex be embedded in contexts resonant with meaning, narrative, and connectedness with other aspects of their life; for other people, it is important that they not be; to others it doesn’t occur that they might be.


For some people, the preference for a certain sexual object, act, role, zone, or scenario is so immemorial and durable that it can only be experienced as innate; for others, it appears to come late or to feel aleatory or discretionary.


For some people, the possibility of bad sex is aversive enough that their lives are strongly marked by its avoidance; for others, it isn’t.

For some people, sexuality provides a needed space of heightened discovery and cognitive hyperstimulation. For others, sexuality provides a needed space of routinized habituation and cognitive hiatus.

Some people like spontaneous sexual scenes, others like highly scripted ones, others like spontaneous-sounding ones that are nonetheless totally predictable.

Some people’s sexual orientation is intensely marked by autoerotic pleasures and histories - sometimes more so than by any aspect of alioerotic object choice.  For others the autoerotic possibility seems secondary or fragile, if it exists at all.

Some people, homo-, hetero-, and bisexual, experience their sexuality
as deeply embedded in a matrix of gender meanings and gender
differentials. Others of each sexuality do not.

Finishing Touches
MAGGIE NELSON

on the posthumous work of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.

Atmospheric Changes, Artist’s Books © Eve Kosofsky Sedgewick (date unknown)


Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
The Weather in Proust

Edited by Jonathan Goldberg
Duke University Press, January 2012. 215 pp.

When I first heard that Duke University Press would be putting out a collection of the final writings of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick — one of the primary founders of the field known as queer theory, who died of breast cancer in 2009 — I first imagined a scrapbook-like volume of wild stray thoughts and posthumous revelations. Then, when I heard the collection was titled The Weather in Proust, and that it included all the unfinished writing Sedgwick had done in service of a critical study of Marcel Proust, I imagined it might be a swirling, dense, epic literary analysis, à la Walter Benjamin’s 1,088 page The Arcades Project, the likes of which the world had never seen.

The slimmish, 215-page collection, edited by Jonathan Goldberg, is neither of the above. It is decidedly not a hodgepodge of odds and ends that Sedgwick left behind, but rather nine solid, finished-feeling essays on topics that preoccupied Sedgwick throughout her prolific career. These topics — which include webs of relation in Proust, affect theory, non-Oedipal models of psychology (especially those offered by Melanie Klein, Sandor Ferenczi, Michael Balint, Silvan Tomkins, and Buddhism), non-dualistic thinking and antiseparatisms of all kinds, and itinerant, idiosyncratic, profound meditations on depression, illness, textiles, queerness, and mortality — will be familiar to anyone who has spent time with Sedgwick’s previous work, which includes the groundbreaking Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985), Epistemology of the Closet (1990), Tendencies (1993), and Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (2003).

But while a great deal here is familiar — indeed, many passages from the above books resurface, verbatim, throughout these pages — there is nothing rehashed about the project itself. To the contrary: For a writer whose prose (and thought) could often be astoundingly dense, circuitous, and lovingly (if sometimes frustratingly) devoted to articulating the farthest reaches of complexity, the overall effect of The Weather in Proust is one of great clarification and distillation. Indeed, for those unfamiliar with Sedgwick’s work, I would recommend starting with The Weather in Proust and moving backward from there, as the volume offers an enjoyably compressed, coherent, and retrospective portrait of Sedgwick’s principal preoccupations.

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Figured something out for myself: as someone who spent so much of grad school dragging hidden homoerotic themes out of detective fiction, it’s strange to feel frustrated with readings that isolate those themes to the exclusion of all else. I don’t want to ignore them, far from it; I want to see how they interact with the other themes, such as wrongdoing and justice, law and (dis)order, morality and mortality, knowledge and ignorance. Sedgwick’s right, the gay/straight dichotomy may underpin all our models of social knowing. I want to know how. I want to focus on the connections. I don’t have to prove the queer subtext any more, because even the mainstream media see it; now I want to do more wide-ranging readings that show why it’s important to everyone, not just queer folks and fangirls.

Anyone working in gay and lesbian studies, in a culture where same-sex desire is still structured by its distinctive public/private status, once marginal and central, as the open secret, discovers that the line between straining at truths that prove to be imbecilically self-evident, on the one hand, and on the other hand tossing off commonplaces that turn out to retain their power to galvanize and divide, is weirdly unpredictable. In dealing with an open-secret structure, it’s only by being shameless about risking the obvious that we happen into the vicinity of the transformative.
—  Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet
Going back to a book that changed my life.

Thinking about privacy, celebrity, and sexuality, I pulled out my notes on Eve Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet, and found a passage that articulated in two pages what I’d spent 120 pages of a college thesis to figure out. This all seems so obvious now, but in 1991 it was a revelation that helped spawn queer theory:

"In the particular area of sexuality, for instance, I assume that most of us know the following things that can differentiate even people of identical gender, race, nationality, class and “sexual orientation”—each one of which, however, if taken seriously as pure difference, retains the unaccounted-for potential to disrupt many forms of the available thinking about sexuality.

  • even identical genital acts mean very different things to different people
  • to some people, the nimbus of “the sexual” seems scarcely to extend beyond the boundaries of discrete genital acts; to others, it enfolds them loosely or floats virtually free of them
  • sexuality makes up a large share of the self-perceived identity of some people, a small share of others’
  • some people spend a lot of time thinking about sex, others little
  • some people like to have a lot of sex, others little or none
  • many people have their richest mental/emotional involvement with sexual acts that they don’t do, or even don’t want to do
  • for some people, it is important that sex be embedded in contexts resonant with meaning, narrative, and connectedness with other aspects of their life; for other people, it is important that they not be; to others it doesn’t occur that they might be
  • for some people, the preference for a certain sexual object, act, role, zone, or scenario is so immemorial and durable that it can only be experienced as innate; for others, it appears to come late or to feel aleatory or discretionary
  • for some people, the possibility of bad sex is aversive enough that their lives are strongly marked by its avoidance; for others, it isn’t
  • for some people, sexuality provides a needed space for heightened discovery and cognitive hyper-stimulation. For others, sexuality provides a needed space for routinized habituation and cognitive hiatus.
  • some people like spontaneous sexual scenes, others like highly scripted ones, others like spontaneous-sounding ones that are nonetheless totally predictable
  • some people’s sexual orientation is intensely marked by autoerotic pleasures and histories—sometimes more so than by any aspect of allerotic object choice. For others the autoerotic possibility seems secondary or fragile, if it exists at all
  • some people. homo-, hetero-, and bisexual experience their sexuality as deeply embedded in a matrix of gender meanings and gender differentials. Others of each sexuality do not.”

***

Eve proved to me once and for all that sexuality and desire and what I called “the erotics of knowledge” weren’t just possible as subject of intellectual work, but necessary.

I miss you, Eve.

Epistemology of the Closet proposes that many of the major nodes of thought and knowledge in twentieth-century Western culture as a whole are structured—indeed, fractured—by a chronic, now endemic crisis of homo/heterosexual definition, indicatively male, dating from the end of the nineteenth century. The book will argue that an understanding of virtually any aspect of modern Western culture must be, not merely incomplete, but damaged in its central substance to the degree that it does not incorporate a critical analysis of modern homo/heterosexual definition; and it will assume that the appropriate place for that critical analysis to begin is from the relatively decentered perspective of modern gay and antihomophobic theory.
—  Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet
Epistemology of the Closet, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

If the new common wisdom that hotly overt homophobes are men who are “insecure about their masculinity” supplements the implausible, necessary illusion that there could be a secure version of masculinity (known, presumably, by the coolness of its homophobic enforcement) and a stable, intelligible way for men to feel about other men in modern heterosexual capitalist patriarchy, what tighter turn could there be to the screw of an already off-center, always at fault, endlessly blackmailable male identity ready to be manipulated into any labor of channeled violence?

anonymous asked:

I'd love it if you would elaborate on the fetichization of the coming out narrative (especially in lights of recent events; Tom Daley). I know you've written something about it before, but I sort of felt that it needed a little more substance. Maybe you could recommend some good literature on the subject? Many thanks.

The main critiques of the coming out narrative that I’m familiar with are those which point out that it (1) assumes the naturalness of historically contingent categories of experience specific to the development of Western societies (read: it’s eurocentric), (2) reinforces heteronormativity by implicitly taking it for granted, (3) turns complex processes of social and sexual subjectivation (subject-making) into highly individualized and depoliticized narratives, and (4) potentially reduces the individual in question to a series of psychosexual “symptoms,” thereby propping up psychiatric authority and reinserting nonheterosexualities into the framework of deviance.

For more on my second point above, I also recommend taking a look at this.

Eve Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet is probably still the classic text on coming out. In the second half of Saint=Foucault: Toward a Gay Hagiography, David Halperin also applies a Sedgwickian/Foucauldian critique of outing in relation to Barthes and others. The general thrust of his argument is that outing serves to silence Barthes—specifically his ideas around the death of the author—by suggesting that he be read through the lens of his homosexuality, as if his entire ouevre were somehow reducible to a medicalized notion of suffering and escapism. Put another way, we can’t take seriously his ideas about the author as a series of socially constituted citations because all this is just an attempt to hide the truth of his being, namely, his sexual orientation. The effect is that this knowingness on the part of the outer pathologizes and discredits the voice of the outed.

I may post my own thoughts on all this and Daley in the near future.

I hope this helps!

mint-chocolategelato asked:

The problem with BBC Sherlock is that it continues to treat the 'not gay' thing as a joke, when it shouldn't. And that effectively erases an entire sexual orientation as a joke, therefore not taking into account the existence of queer people. Sometimes this bleeds into the fandom as well, It's when you like the pairing for no other reason but 'they are gay' or 'the writers write them gay', or 'they are gay therefore better than any other couple' or 'ew female character no'. And that isn't okay.

That last point—ew female character no—you’re right, that’s not okay, and neither is the idea that the couple is attractive or worthy simply because they’re gay. And I agree that the winking about gayness on the show can be offensive, but see, I started studying male-male desire in detective fiction in 1994, focusing on original characters like ACD and Holmes’ Auguste Dupin. In those stories, and right into the 20th century, the gay possibility was COMPLETELY erased, even as it formed the basis for the structure of the stories’ desires and dynamics. (Eve Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet shows how this works, and was important to me.) I had to push and push and push to prove to my colleagues that the gay possibility even existed, much less mattered, so that when John first said “Of course we need two, why wouldn’t we?” I literally punched the air and cheered. (Unfortunately, the fact that Mrs. Hudson dropped to a scandalized whisper when she said, “Mrs. Turner’s got married ones” did take the wind out of my sails.)

I’m also not sure that gay identity is completely erased in the show, because Irene so calmly answers John’s “I’m not actually gay” with “Well I am.” Yes, her gayness is pretty much a tidbit for the male gaze, and is further negated by her attraction to Sherlock, but the fact that she can say it seriously, not as a punch line, does reveal that homosexuality is a legitimate possibility in the BBC universe. (As is the existence of Harry and Clara, who of course weren’t in ACD—although as afrogeekgoddess has pointed out, we haven’t seen them on screen, and I don’t hold out hopes that we will. Which is fucked.)

I do, however, completely agree that the show treats gay male identity as a joke. Full stop. (See the owners of the pub at Baskerville for proof.) I’d like to think that makes slash fic a recuperative act, foregrounding what the mainstream show would erase, but I’m still thinking that through. Points like yours really help me do that. Thanks.

[My work’s queerness lies in its] resistance to treating homo/heterosexual categorization — still so very volatile an act — as a done deal, a transparently empirical fact about any person. The resistance is not a matter of airily wanting to ignore the ‘facts of life’ in their materiality. If anything, the specificity, materiality, and variety of sexual practices, along with their diverse meanings for individual lives, can be done better justice in a context where the impoverished abstractions that claim to define sexuality can be treated as not authoritative. The dividing up of all sexual acts — indeed all persons — under the ‘opposite’ categories of ‘homo’ and ‘hetero’ is not a natural given but a [sic!] historical process, still incomplete today and ultimately impossible but characterised by potent contradictions and explosive efforts.
—  Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, 2008 preface to Epistemology of the Closet
Nonce Taxonomy

Eve Kosofsky Sedqwick coined this term in Epistemology of the Closet. There are many categories that we use in reference to others.

"A tiny number of inconceivably coarse axes of categorization have been painstakingly inscribed in current critical and political thought: gender, race, class, nationality, sexual orientation are pretty much the available distinctions." (22)

These broad categories are not enough for successful navigation of a complex world, however. Any human subject utilizes a storehouse of additional categorizations every day.

"[E]verybody who survives at all has reasonably rich, unsystematic resources of nonce taxonomy for mapping out the possibilities, dangers, and stimulations of their human social landscape. It is probably people with the experience of oppression or subordination who have most need to know it.” (22-23)

Nonce taxonomies are categories that a subject makes tactically in order to navigate the social world. Oppressed subjects have more need of them as they must navigate a field fraught with more danger.

[N]once taxonomy … the making and unmaking and remaking and redissolution of hundreds of old and new categorical imaginings concerning all the kinds it may take to make up a world.” (23)

Where the Gothic hero had been solipsistic, the bachelor hero is selfish. Where the Gothic hero had raged, the bachelor hero bitches. Where the Gothic hero had been suicidally inclined, the bachelor hero is a hypochondriac. The Gothic hero ranged from euphoria to despondency; the bachelor hero, from the eupeptic to the dyspeptic.
—  "The Beast in the Closet," from _Epistemology of the Closet_, by Eve Kosofsky Sedgewick