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Epistemology of the Closet

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  1,788 ratings  ·  54 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 October 16th 1990 by University of California Press (first published 1990)
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Khush
Apr 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing




'Epistemology of the closet' is an informative and interesting book. It is informative as it looks into the very physiognomy of 'closet,' and it is interesting because it assays the work of some great authors such as Proust, Joyce, Lawrence, and Wilde. Even though when one is familiar with these writers, it is exciting to look at their works with the acutely focused perspective of the 'Closet.'

'Closet' is not something that happens naturally. In countless personal gay narratives, one often hears
...more
David
Jun 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Nocturnalux
Fairly early on Sedgwick characterizes this project, in lieu of a warning of sorts, as 'not pellucid'. This is a very accurate assessment, both in terms of content and regarding the form of Epistemology of the Closet. Which is to say that Sedwick tackles the subject matter that she admits is highly problematic with a highly dense text that is resistant to a simple reading as said subject matter itself.

This makes for a reading experience that is as highly interesting as it can be frustrating. Ti
...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
Patricia
Oct 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classics, favorites
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
Sarah
Jan 15, 2013 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
Vanessa
Aug 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: university-books
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
Jaykumar Buddhdev
May 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, glbtqi
thoroughly exhausting and utterly an important text, it demands patience and complete focus!!!

on the flip side, i really did enjoy the digressive technique!!
Dennis
Apr 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4,5.
John Gardner
Feb 22, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Pedro Magdaleno
Jan 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
I was very fascinated with the way the author expressed they way in which the closet was stablished her point of view and understanding of the closet as an epistemology. Her expression of the closet theory was based on the denomination and meaning of homosexuality and heterosexuality.
The term epistemology of the closet in its over all meaning was very overwhelming. To me the meaning of the closet was something referring to fear and exclusion of people whom didn't for the norm. The meaning of the
...more
Valorie
I see a lot of people taking issue with this book because it's difficult to read, and so I want to dispel a misunderstanding right up front: Sedgwick is not writing a pop history book for anyone interested in LGBT studies. This is a book written by an academic, aimed at other professional academics. Epistemology is not a narrative, it's about how the field of academia has understood sexuality, gender, and the concept of "the closet." It's full of theory, it's written in academic jargon, it's rea ...more
Oscar
Sep 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Zacharygs
Nov 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
l.
I got about halfway through and I honestly don't care.
Jess
I concede that this opinion comes from an undergrad who has seldom encountered literary theory in a classroom setting (shame, shame, shame), but from what I gather--"affect" is intuitive. Abstract. Therefore, Sedgwick is, theoretically, not presenting anything new. The reality that gay women and men have been subject to the heteronormative social structures, producing a disheartening amount of pain, compulsive sexuality, and rigid identity boundaries-the equally unpleasant reality that straight ...more
Moureco
Dec 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queer
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
Tara Calaby
Theory generally really makes my brain hurt, and this book was not the exception. That said, I found that the arguments that Sedgwick makes in the 60+ page introduction are convincing, even if the context is now quite dated. I found less to be excited about in the chapters that provide an in-depth analysis of particular literary works, largely because I haven't read the majority of the books she focuses on.
Mason
Jan 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Though requiring focused attention on the part of the reader, Sedgwick's seminal text reveals a virtuosic deconstruction (and reassembling of) of our cultural conversation around homosexual identity and the persistent power of the closet in 20th century thought.
Ian
Nov 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-for-my-mfa
"Axiomatic"
Lara
Jun 28, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
⭐3.5
sharmane
Oct 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
life fucking sucks man
Jeremiah
Can you repeat that one more time?
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
y.
Feb 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Tina
Aug 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Miguel
As is often my problem, it is difficult to review a book so seminal (a self-conscious word choice, not ignoring the potential for "germinal" to be used as a synonym) and so fundamental to so many strains of thoughts. With that said, Sedgwick is an absolute master. Among her contemporaries, there are no literary critics more elastic in their thinking and brilliant in their argumentation. Indeed, it is only Leo Bersani who comes close in the exquisiteness of close reading encountered in this text. ...more
Michael
May 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Mia
Sedgwick uses case studies to discuss closeting in culture and society, and while in general her analysis is thoughtful and interesting, in particular this quote (remember, published in 1990), was just delightful:

"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
...more
Jamie Bernthal
Feb 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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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
“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.” 6 likes
“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.” 5 likes
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