Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (1950-) - Key Figures in Literary Theory

The Blackwell Guide to Literary Theory - Gregory Castle 2007

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (1950-)
Key Figures in Literary Theory

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick was born in Dayton, Ohio, and was educated at Cornell University and Yale University, where she received her doctorate in 1975. She has taught at a number of institutions, including Boston University, Dartmouth College, and Duke University, where she was the Newman Ivey White Professor of English. She now teaches in the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Sedgwick’s early work was instrumental in establishing a theoretical vocabulary for queer theory. Of crucial importance was the concept of HOMOSOCIAL DESIRE which she introduced in her first book Between Men (1985). Drawing on the work of Gayle Rubin and Rene Girard, Sedgwick constructed a theory of “triangular desire,” a relationship in which a woman serves as the conduit for a homosocial bond between men, a privileged access to social power that requires women and simultaneously excludes them. Epistemology of the Closet (1990) is a pioneering study of homosexuality in literature, focusing on Melville, Wilde, James, and Proust. Especially influential was Sedgwick’s theory of “homosexual panic,” a violent reaction against any manifestation of homoeroticism or “genitalized” homosexual behavior that might threaten homosocial bonds. In the early 1990s, she continued to pursue questions of queer identity in literature, causing something of a scandal with her controversial essay “Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl” (1991). She also co-edited important essay collections, including Performativity and Performance (1995) and Shame and Its Sister: A Silvan Tomkins Reader (1995). The latter marks Sedgwick’s interest in the work of Tomkins and his theories of innate primal affects, which she used to refine her own conception of “queer PERFORMATIVITY” in Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (2003).

In addition to her groundbreaking theoretical work, Sedgwick has published a book of poems, Fat Art, Thin Art (1994), and an account of her experience with depression while recovering from breast cancer, A Dialogue on Love (1999). An experimental melange of generic elements, her memoir seeks to understand the significance of therapy and the power of self-exploration.


Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

---- . Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

---- . Tendencies. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993.

---- . Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003.