Feminism and Queer Theory

Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet (1990) helped inaugurate the field of queer studies by insisting “that an understanding of virtually any aspect of modern Western culture must be, not merely incomplete, but damaged in its central substance to the degree that it does not incorporate a critical analysis of modern homo/heterosexual definition; and it will assume that the appropriate place for that critical analysis to begin is from the relatively decentered perspective of modern gay and antihomophobic theory”. Following the insights of her groundbreaking Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985), which had mobilized a “fusion of feminist and gay male preoccupations and interrogations”, Sedgwick challenged herself and her readers to try something new. In Axiom 2 of Epistemology, she offered a paradoxically open-ended declaration: “anti-homophobic theory is not coextensive with feminist inquiry. But we can’t know in advance how they will be different”. By modeling the difficult and vulnerable work of exploring that which one can’t know in advance, Sedgwick fostered “our ability to arrive at understandings of sexuality that respect a certain irreducibility in it to the terms and relations of gender”. Through a discussion of the introduction and first chapter of Epistemology, this panel will consider Sedgwick’s intervention and its influence today.

Watch the video here (including opening remarks by Keith Vincent, Erin Murphy, and Hal Sedgwick) :

9:00 a.m.
Erin Murphy (moderator)
Carolyn Williams
Lee Edelman
Siobhan Somerville

Text: Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990. Introduction and Chapter One, pp. 1-90.