Queer is a continuing moment, movement, motive—recurrent, eddying, troublant. The word “queer” itself means across—it comes from the Indo-European root -twerkw, which also yields the German quer (transverse), Latin torquere (to twist), English athwart.
—  Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Tendencies, 1993
I think many adults (and I am among them) are trying, in our work, to keep faith with vividly remembered promises made to ourselves in childhood: promises to make invisible possibilities and desires visible; to make the tacit things explicit; to smuggle queer representation in where it must be smuggled and, with the relative freedom of adulthood, to challenge queer-eradicating impulses frontally where they are to be so challenged.
—  Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. “Queer and Now." Tendencies. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993. 1-20. Print. 3.
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?
—  Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, The Epistemology of the Closet
epistemology of the closet

A short answer, though a very incomplete one, might be that not only have there been a gay Socrates, Shakespeare, and Proust but that their names are Socrates, Shakespeare, Proust; and beyond that, legion - douzens or hundreds of the most centrally canonic figures in what the monoculturalists are pleased to consider “our” culture, as indeed, always in different forms and sense, in every other.

What’s now in place, in contrast, in most scholarship and most curricula is an even briefer response to questions like these: Don’t ask. Or, less laconically: You shouldn’t know. The vast preponderance of scholarship and teaching, accordingly, even among liberal academics, does simply neither ask or know. At the most expansive, there is a series of dismissals of such questions on the grounds that:

1. Passionate language of same-sex attraction was extremely common during whatever period is under discussion - and therefore must have been completely meaningless. Or

2. Same-sex genital relations may have been perfectly common during the period under discussion - but since there was no language about them, they must have been completely meaningless. Or

3. Attitudes about homosexuality were intolerant back then, unlike now - so if people probably didn’t do anything. Or

4. Prohibitions against homosexuality didn’t exist back then, unlike now - so if people did anything, it was completely meaningless. Or

5. The word ‘homosexuality’ wasn’t coined until 1869 - so everyone before then was heterosexual. (Of course, heterosexuality has always existed.) Or

6. The author under discussion is certified or rumoured to have had an attachment to someone of the other sex - so their feelings about people of their own sex must have been completely meaningless. Or (under a perhaps somewhat different rule of admissible evidence)

7. There is no actual proof of homosexuality, such as a sperm taken from the body of another man or a nude photograph with another woman - so the author may be assumed to have been ardently and exclusively heterosexual. Or (as a last resort)

8. The author or the author’s important attachments may very well have been homosexual - but it would be provincial to let so insignificant a fact make any difference at all to our understanding of any serious project of life, writing, or thought.

These responses reflect, as we have already seen, some real question of sexual definition and historicity. But they only reflect them and don’t reflect on them: the family resemblance among this group of extremely common responses comes from their closeness to the core grammar of Don’t ask; You shouldn’t know

Epistemology of the Closet, p 52-3, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

I’m not that interested (or impressed) by her project of examining (mostly male) queerness in canonical texts, but this is such an accurate description of the frustration you run up against if you try to discuss queerness in any kind of texts. It’s more than a bit sad that 23 years later, this still happens.

Some of the infants, children, and adults in whom shame remains the most available mediator of identity are the ones called (a related word) shy. (“Remember the fifties?” Lily Tomlin used to ask. “No one was gay in the fifties; they were just shy.”) Queer, I’d suggest, might usefully be thought of as referring in the first place to this group or an overlapping group of infants and children, those whose sense of identity is for some reason tuned most durably to the note of shame.
…[I]t has been too easy for the psychologists and the few psychoanalysts working on shame to write it back into the moralisms of the repressive hypothesis: “healthy” or “unhealthy,” shame can be seen as good because it preserves privacy and decency, bad because it colludes with self-repression or social repression. Clearly, neither of these valuations is what I’m getting at. I want to say that at least for certain (“queer”) people, shame is simply the first, and remains a permanent, structuring fact of identity: one that…has its own, powerfully productive and powerfully social metamorphic possibilities.

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick,p. 63-65 “Shame, Theatricality, Queer Performativity” Touching Feeling

thanks for validating my shame, Eve!

The concept of the homosocial, and its connections to and differences from heterosexuality, homophobia, and homosexuality, have been influentially elaborated for literary studies by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. She argues that heterosexual public culture is structured by male homosocial bonds, formed when heterosexual men enter into alliances with each other to further their individual and collective interests on the world’s stage. Such alliances are often achieved through the exchange of women in marriage, but women exist in this system only as objects, not subjects of their own desires and ambitions. Homosocial bonds can overlap with homoerotic ones, but they can also be homophobic, working to exclude men whose sexual desires for each other may threaten male alliances created and maintained in pursuit of power rather than pleasure. Including, in Sedgwick’s words, ‘male friendship, mentorship, admiring identification, bureaucratic subordination, and heterosexual rivalry’, many of the forms taken by male homosocial bonds are vividly dramatized in Marlowe’s plays and poems. […] The potential compatibility of homosexual love with heterosexual marriage and the upholding of social order and convention in Edward II is underwritten by Mortimer Senior’s famous statement that ‘the mightiest kings have had their minions’ (1.4.390), in a speech which suggests that a king’s love for a young man need not be dangerously transgressive, but can affirm orderly cultural values and structures. Mortimer Junior’s rejoinder specifies that Gaveston’s transgressions infringe class and national distinctions, stressing that only when these kinds of disorder intersect with homoeroticism does the latter fall into the category of disturbing behaviour. Mario Di Gangi asserts that ‘homoerotic relations in Renaissance England could be socially orderly as well as socially disorderly or sodomitical’, and Edward II challenges us to figure out what makes the difference.
—  Kate Chedgzoy, Marlowe’s Men and Women: Gender and Sexuality
The lie, the perfect lie, about people we know, about the relations we have had with them, about our motive for some action, formulated in totally different terms, the lie as to what we are, whom we love, what we feel with regard to people who love us…–that lie is one of the few things in the world that can open windows for us on to what is new and unknown, that can awaken in us sleeping senses for the contemplation of universes that otherwise we should never have known.
—  Proust, The Captive
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
Finishing Touches

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.

Keep reading

Queer, I’d suggest, might usefully be thought of as referring in the first place to this group or an overlapping group of infants and children, whose sense of identity is for some reason tuned most durably to the note of shame. What is it about them (or us) that makes this true remains to be specified. I mean that in the sense that I can’t tell you now what it is—it certainly isn’t a single thing—but also in the sense that, for them, it remains to be specified, is always belated: the shame-delineated place of identity doesn’t determine the consistency or meaning of that identity, and race, gender, class, sexuality, appearance, and abledness are only a few of the defining social constructions that will crystallize there, developing from this originary affect their particular structures of expression, creativity, pleasure, and struggle. I’d venture that queerness in this sense has, at this historical moment, some definitionally very significant overlap, though a vibrantly elastic and temporally convoluted one, with the complex of attributes today condensed as adult or adolescent “gayness.” Everyone knows that there are some lesbians and gay men who could never count as queer and other people who vibrate to the chord of queer without having much same-sex eroticism, or without routing their same-sex eroticism through the identity labels lesbian or gay. Yet many of the performative identity vernaculars that seem most recognizably “flushed” with shame consciousness and shame creativity do cluster intimately around lesbian and gay worldly spaces. To name a few: butch abjection, femmitude, leather, pride, SM, drag, musicality, fisting, attitude, zines, histrionicism, asceticism, Snap! culture, diva worship, florid religiosity; in a word, flaming.

And activism.

—  Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Shame Theatricality, Queer Performativity“ In Touching Feeling
The tradition of the Sonnets is the tradition of reading them plucked from history and, indeed, from factual grounding. There are all the notorious mysteries of whether they are a sequence, when they were written, to whom and to how many people addressed, how autobiographical, how conventional, why published, etc., etc. To most readers of the sequence, this decontextualization has seemed to produce a license for interpreting the Sonnets as a relatively continuous erotic narrative played out, economically, by the smallest number of characters—in this case four: the poet, a fair youth, a rival poet, and a dark lady. I am going to take this reductive interpretive tradition (which represents the way I read the Sonnets, in fact) as a license in turn for using the Sonnets to illustrate, in a simplified because synchronic and ahistoric form, what I take to be some of the patterns traced by male homosocial desire. Marx’s warning about the ‘developed, or stunted, or caricatured form, etc.’ in which historically decontextualized abstractions are apt to appear should be prominently posted at the entrance.
—  Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire