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Epistemology of the Closet

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  1,326 ratings  ·  35 reviews
What is at stake in male homo/heterosexual definition? Through readings of Melville, Nietzsche, Wilde, James and Proust, the author argues that the vexed imperatives to specify straight and gay identities have become central to every important form of knowledge of the 20th century.
Paperback, 258 pages
Published December 6th 1991 by University of California Press (first published 1990)
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David
I have been thinking a lot lately about how variable the gay experience is across America and around the world, and even by individual. I have been recently seeing a guy from Venezuela who is only in the process of coming out. He hasn't come out to his parents, but has come out to his American friends and classmates, as well as some of his close female cousins. He has three brothers, and after coming out to one of them recently, he received the response that while his brother respects him, he do ...more
Stef Rozitis
An interesting book. One of those ones where trying to wrap your head around it gives you a headache (in a good way). I wish I had read the books she discussed in it! For me the connection between (unacknowledged) male homosexuality and women's experience, even queer women's experience was convincingly shown by the text (in addition many of the observations about being closetted/known are transferrable as are many of the fears.

Probably everyone should read it, or something like it to show how cu
...more
Sarah
Jan 15, 2013 Sarah marked it as to-read
My feelings toward this book are laced with resentment and I haven't even read it yet. However, I am becoming increasingly enraged with the way the metaphor of "the closet" is popularly employed: with the attendant utter lack of acknowledgement that oppression and homophobia exist, and the implication that therefore queer people are obvs. totes pathological/pathetic liars. And bad liars at that because all the smug straight people are laughing up their sleeves at the "poor" "pathetic" "closeted" ...more
Patricia
Well, Eve Sedgwick is brilliant, as always, although her literary analysis is certainly a much lass breezier read than the amazing and much-assigned introduction and first chapter of this book. Part of the problem is that I haven't read a lot of the texts by dead white men that she analyzes, and that made some of the later chapters incredibly difficult to get though. (Chapter 2, on Billy Budd, was particularly torturous for me.) But, as in her other work, the insights that she eventually reaches ...more
Vanessa
This is definitely a good analysis of the function of the closet in homosexuality. The introductory chapters were especially well written and fleshed out an influential cultural and social criticism. The binarism chapters were the downside of Sedgwicks book. The binarisms she ascribes to a section oftentimes did not fully come out of her following analysis of them. Also it was especially hard to understand her chapter on 'Billy Budd' (which might be caused by my lack of having read the novel). T ...more
Anh  Le
In this highly acclaimed work, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick proposed a new mode of literary and cultural critique that destabilized a Western structural binary, in this case not a gendered one (e.g the prominent gender discourse of men versus women), but rather a “sexual” one that began with the rampant spatial and temporal manifestations of the homo/heterosexual. Calling out this definitional framework as “an endemic crisis” that fractured and damaged the modern conceptualization of this binary, Sedgw ...more
Zacharygs
This was an amazing and very readable work. It would get five stars from me if I was more conversant (and hence, engaged/interested/informed) in the literature she analyzes in the second half of the book. Sedwick's claim that the homo/heterosexual destabilization/phobia itself produces and is implicated in various social binaries (Art/Kitsch, knowledge/ignorance Same/Different, Health/illnnes) is a fascinating and thoroughly interesting reading. Even more impressive was here ability to enter int ...more
Oscar
Much of Sedgwick’s work focused on the concept of binaries, particularly, how the concept of binaries deals with the contrast of hetero/homo sexuality. And while such binaries or oppositions are present in life, things are not always as clear cut. Sedgwick deals with such issues at great length in this work and provides a Foucaultian influenced analysis of the historical/social/personal factors that have shaped the manner in which sexuality has been shaped and identified throughout the ages. One ...more
Y
sedgwicks seminal text which really helps usher in queer theory (alongside judy b. and david halberstam) is perhaps most useful and deserving of at least 3/5 stars by virtue of her introduction alone, where she writes of the various axiomatics that she feels are imperative to queer theory. she points out, among other things, that the study of gender is not the same as the study of sex (or sexuality), that if there is to be a binary set up, it should be between sex and sexuality, and not sex and ...more
John Gardner
For much of my adult life, I have felt a special burden for ministry to homosexuals. To better equip myself for ministry to this people group, I have committed myself to reading books in the field of “queer theory”, in the hopes of coming to a better understanding of a point of view that is foreign to my own. This book, published in 1990, has been considered a landmark book in this field of study, and so I purchased it for my own study.

Within the first few pages, I quickly realized two things: F
...more
Moureco
Pequeno ensaio datado de 1990 sobre o armário tentando a autora desconstruir o nó cego do sua representação e categorizações: protecção vs. afirmação; privacidade vs. exposição; separatismo vs. integracionismo; minoritário vs. universalizante. No sistema judicial americano, e segundo várias sentenças do Supremo Tribunal dos Estados Unidos que eram recentes em 1990, a protecção de um direito colidia directamente com outra, (por exemplo: privacidade vs. responsabilidade) tornando o problema muito ...more
Tina
As much as this book has been named as one of the founding works of the queer theory and discourse, it is not dull and is still relevant in it subject today.

What I find amazing in my updated edition from 2007, is what had happened since the book's first conception at the end of the 1980s - and this last edition. For example, the original introduction to the book mentioned the openly anti-gay US Supreme court decision Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), where the majority decision cites a seemingly unbro
...more
Michael
In Epistemology of the Closet (1990), Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick explores the epistemology of the closet, the dominant metaphor for understanding gay male identities in the 20th century. Part of this analysis implies that the closet is something that functions where others "think they know something about one that one may not know about oneself," which grants them excitement and power (80). The closet functions much like an "outer secret, the secret of having a secret" (205)—if one has a secret knowl ...more
Daniel Alt
Steeped in academic-theoretical jargon, this book is a labored read that takes a sentence-by-sentence dogged reader's patience. Still, Sedgwick makes interesting parallels in the hinted-at ideas of Foucault, Butler, and other theoreticians with the novels of Wilde, Proust, Melville, as well as commentary on contemporary culture at the time. This was published circa 1990, and the culture was still reeling from the aids epidemic and what it meant. Personally, I prefer the writings of Susan Sontag ...more
Bryoniadioica
Classic text in queer theory. A little outdated now, even at the time I first used it, but basis for much later building in the field.
Hannah
Very, very interesting read. Quite dense--a background in philosophy would be helpful.
Jamie Bernthal
It's difficult to overestimate the down-to-earth magnetism and influence of Sedgwick, and 'Epistemology' has everything for which she's rightly still at the top of her field, years after her death. When I read this I was unfamiliar with Proust and James, which made some of Sedgwick's close reading difficult to understand, but the general points -- about male homosociality and homoerotic desire being interlinked and interdependent -- are well-made and substantiated to the satisfaction of all leve ...more
Rhianna Marks
It takes a while to get through, especially if you are a newbie to the subject. The language is definitely scholarly and dense, I'm still not sure I understand everything fully but it's a good I will be revisiting.

Reading the revised edition is especially interesting when read with Halperin's latest edition of "How to Do the History of Homosexuality" as there is a bit of a dialogue between the two scholars about their opposing perspectives.
Kylo
Sep 29, 2007 Kylo rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: grad school dropouts
Shelves: queertheory
Sedgwick is an extraordinarily gifted thinker and writer. She manages to write humane, intelligent, queer theory which truly opens books, ideas and readers, without ever being doctrinaire. It's such a pleasure, and distressingly rare, to read lit-crit which is well informed by theory but not beholden to Theory. Her writing requires careful, patient reading, but rewards the reading commitment. Highly recommended.
Paul Hoehn
May 04, 2014 Paul Hoehn rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people like me (#iknowuknow #camp?)
Shelves: queer-reads, dreamy
The importance of this book is, of course, monumental, which is what drew me to it in the first place. However, reading it was an unexpectedly beautiful experience. One can feel Sedgwick's tenderness toward her subjects in away that renders her at times almost parodically scholarly endeavor tremendously personal.
Beth
This book, wow. Exceptional. Tough to read, very slow going, but powerful ideas. I think I pretty much worship Eve Sedgwick.

The only drawback for me is that I have not read/studied Billy Budd, which this book focuses on quite a bit. It made me want to read it, though!
Gwen
The defining work for Queer literary theory. As this type of work goes this book is more approachable than most, but it is still deeply academic. This is a must read if you are trying to understand Queer theory, otherwise I would avoid it.
Leslee Friedman
Another one of those books that shifted all my perceptions. The whole thing is worthwhile, but if you're daunted, "Axiomatic" is pure brilliance.
Jessica
This is another book that I read for a class, and it isn't really for the casual reader. It's good, it's just jargon-heavy.
Mandy
Another book I read half of for a class and intend to return to once I have the time. Sedgwick is pretty badass.
Kristen
Just going to admit that I will probably never finish this. (See also: Judith Butler)
Debbie Hu
i tell basically anybody i have more than three conversations with to read this book.
Ryan
i think i read this too late in life. that and i hate comparative lit.
Amy P.
An excellent book about the construction of sexuality.
Nicole
i guess i need a doctorate to understand this broad.
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Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick was an American academician specializing in literary criticism and feminist analysis; she is known as one of the architects of queer theory. Her works reflect an interest in queer performativity, experimental critical writing, non-Lacanian psychoanalysis, Buddhism and pedagogy, the affective theories of Silvan Tomkins and Melanie Klein, and material culture, especially textil ...more
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“There is no unthreatened, unthreatening conceptual home for the concept of gay origins. We have all the more reason, then, to keep our understanding of gay origin, of gay cultural and material reproduction, plural, multi-capillaried, argus-eyed, respectful, and endlessly cherished.” 4 likes
“The ability of anyone in the culture to support and honour gay kids may depend on an ability to name them as such, notwithstanding that many gay adults may never have been gay kids and some gay kids may not turn into gay adults.” 4 likes
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