Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, 1950-2009

15eve190 Eve Sedgwick died a week ago. The obituary in the NYT:

Ms. Sedgwick broke new ground when, drawing on feminist scholarship and the work of the French poststructuralist Michel Foucault, she began teasing out the hidden socio-sexual subplots in writers like Charles Dickens and Henry James. In a 1983 essay on Dickens’s novel “Our Mutual Friend,” she drew attention to the homoerotic element in the obsessive relationship between Eugene Wrayburn and Bradley Headstone, rivals for the love of Lizzie Hexam but emotionally most fully engaged when facing off against each other.

Several of her essays became lightning rods for critics of poststructuralism, multiculturalism and gay studies — most notoriously “Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl,” a paper delivered at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association in 1989. In it, Ms. Sedgwick argued that Austen’s descriptions of the restless Marianne Dashwood in “Sense and Sensibility” should be understood in relation to contemporary thought on the evils of “self-abuse.”

Such subtexts, she insisted, are woven throughout literary texts, and the job of criticism is to ferret them out, especially the repressed themes of same-sex love.

“It’s about trying to understand different kinds of sexual desire and how the culture defines them,” she told The New York Times in 1998, explaining the function of queer theory. “It’s about how you can’t understand relations between men and women unless you understand the relationship between people of the same gender, including the possibility of a sexual relationship between them.”