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Philosopher of the In-between. (Books).

Regarding Sedgwick: Essays on Queer Culture and Critical Theory

Edited by Stephen M. Barber and David L. Clark Routledge. 288 pages, $22.95

STEPHEN M. Barber and David L. Clark's Regarding Sedgwick: Essays on Queer Culture and Critical Theory is the only book-length study of the writings of the influential queer theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. The editors have assembled an estimable collection of authors, including Judith Butler, whose work on gender performativity has been used extensively by feminist and lesbian scholars. In addition, two of the essayists, Kathryn Bond Stockton and Melissa Solomon, appeared in Sedgwick's own anthology Novel Gazing: Queer Readings in Fiction; and two others, Douglas Crimp and Lauren Berlant, appeared in Michael Warner's Fear of a Queer Planet.

Sedgwick is often regarded as the mother of queer theory, and this anthology contains numerous essays that actively travel down the intellectual paths she opened. Ross Chambers' "Strategic Constructivism? Sedgwick's Ethics of Inversion" is a closely argued and invigorating analysis of Sedgwick's theoretical tenets. Other essays, such as Deborah P. Britzman's "Theory Kindergarten" and Paul Kelleher's "If Love Were All: Reading Sedgwick Sentimentally," use Sedgwick's approach to assess other texts, in this case Melanie Klein's work in psychology and the Third Earl of Shaftesbury's early 1 8th-century writings in Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times.

One of the exciting aspects of Sedgwick's work is that it is so often focused upon fiction. Thus, as the editors note, Sedgwick's readers never see "the scouringly brilliant close readings" of Hegel and Nietzsche, for instance, that characterize Butler's own work. Butler's essay "Capacity" acknowledges the role that literature plays in her academic life: "But I have needed the encounter with literature again and again in order to nudge me out from the tight grip of my conceptual threads." Sedgwick's theoretical work places a high priority on literature, and several essays in Regarding Sedgwick reflect on this preoccupation: Lauren Berlant provides a careful reading of Mary Gaitskill's 1991 novel, Two Girls, Fat and Thin; Butler closes her essay with a comment on Henry James' The Golden Bowl; Stockton's essay provides a reading of James' "The Pupil"; while Solomon's essay applies Sedgwick's theories to Erika Lopez' Flaming Iguanas: An Illustrated All-Girl Road Novel Thing (1997).

Several essays, notably that of Solomon, cite Sedgwick's work with the Buddhist notion of bardos, or in-between points. It is impossible to read Solomon's essay and not think about the bardos in one s own life as a gay person--for example, the anxious period between deciding to come out of the closet and one's first admission of being homosexual, or the waiting period between daring to be tested for HIV and obtaining the results. This anthology carefully considers the liminal stages of our lives and how gay men and lesbians can make these periods more rewarding.

The collection is not without a few bumps, which strangely seem to center around the editors' own work. Their introduction is filled with obfuscating prose such as the following gem: "That opacity of knowledge, figured in the cross-mirroring faces and forces of available identification, is the kind of disorienting refraction that Sedgwick sees as constitutive of a self, her self, the self that fecundates and is fecundated by inimitable similarities, similar inimitabilities" (emphasis in original). At 53 pages, this introduction is longer than any single essay in the book. (Berlant's essay is 37 pages; most of the others are about twenty pages or less.) The introductory essay closes with a cross-reading of the various essays in the collection. This seems to me a bit imperialistic. The essays have not yet had a chance to speak for themselves and already the editors are cross-referencing these works. In the interview with Sedgwick that closes the anthology, one wishes that they had pared down their own long-win ded queries--some running to half a page--to allow for longer responses from Sedgwick herself.

Still, Regarding Sedgwick is an important book. Kathryn Bond Stockton's "Eve's Queer Child" is one of the richest and rigorous--not to say laugh-out-loud humorous--essays that I've encountered in all of queer theory. Although some gay men and lesbians may reject the word "queer" as a label to define their own sexualities, this anthology demonstrates that the field of queer theory has made and continues to make an important contribution to our understanding of sexuality in all its forms.

William S. Hampl teaches English at the University of Rhode Island.
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Title Annotation:Regarding Sedgwick: Essays on Queer Culture and Critical Theory
Author:Hampl, William S.
Publication:The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2003
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