Epistemology of the Closet

Epistemology of the Closet

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.

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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. In the book, the author explores the 'closet' by examining the homo/ heterosexual binaries, how one is constructed to reinforce the other. The more distinct these binaries are, the easier it is to assign people different identity markers. As I read this book, I also thought that it is also in the modern/industrial phase, when agrarian societies losing their firm grip, and the progress in modern science is making it possible to imagine the world differently, it is also this phase that effected democracy, (gender-based) equality (an unimaginable proposition before), decline of empires (big and small) everywhere, the mushrooming of cities and industrial units changed the world drastically.

I haven't lost any friends, I haven't been eschewed from my family or work communities; I have been accepted for who I am, gay. It has been a while now since I have read through Eve Sedgewick's Epistemology of the Closet and while I may have lost some of the particulars and nuances into the receding oblivion, the impact it has made on my world view persists. I read recently that many believe that homophobia is a fear that the homophobe himself may be gay - that is probably true, and is by no means a new idea. I suppose it must have been the rise of religion that gave voice to the prudish hatred for the sexual act. I have a Mormon friend whose parents told him that while he is entitled to love whoever he chooses, they condemn the homosexual act. Language is very powerful - it can make people fall in love, it can entertain, it can enlighten, but it can also breed hatred and misunderstanding, it can lie, it can kill.

Sedgwick seems very aware that this is her approach inbuilds the main theme of instability of possible semantic attributions into the very fabric of the text itself so that it becomes structural in more senses than one. Whether she realizes it is also likely to turn off potential readers who would otherwise gladly explore the ideas expoused in said text is another question. Around this axis Sedgwick works out an analysis of seminal (no pun intended) texts in queer literature. At any rate, Sedgwick puts into play Melville's Billy Budd; Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Grey (with bits of Nietzsche); Henry James's The Beast in the Jungle; Proust's In Search of Lost Time. While Sedgwick does frame each author and summarize each work (minus Proust's, which is understandable), the reader is expected to know them fairly well (along with Foucault) and have the particular texts fresh in their memory. Given the importance the text has had for queer writers, readers and queer-ness in general, Sedgwick does not invest as much as one might like in her analysis. The main theme is the closet as spectacle: male homosexuality becomes the epitome of vicarious experience through the narrator's watching Charlus and on a meta-level through the reader's reading the narrator watching Charlus.

I wish I had read the books she discussed in it!

I would recommend the introduction and first chapter to everyone (seriously, everyone), but the rest of the book only to those working academically on sexuality in literature.

I have my own issues with the way this book is namedropped in the subculture, but I'm hoping it will actually feel relevant to real life and not just like a bunch of inaccessible academic waffle*.

Overall a very good critical analysis of the idea of the closet at the time it was written and probably still today.

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. I read a lot of books, but its been a long time since I had to look up the meaning of so many words! A universalizing view affirms that all persons are of equal worth, though they may differ in many ways, and that an understanding of homosexuality is important for people of all sexual persuasions. With this understanding, we can hold a universalizing view of all people and people groups, because apart from grace, we all have equal standing.

  • English

  • GLBT

  • Rating: 4.13
  • Pages: 258
  • Publish Date: October 16th 1990 by University of California Press
  • Isbn10: 0520078748
  • Isbn13: 9780520078741