The Annual Queer Theory Lecture in honor of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, presented by Duke Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies, will take place on Wednesday, November 8, 2023 at 5:00 pm ET. This year’s speaker is Dr. Lynne Huffer, whose talk is titled “These Survivals: Autobiography of an Extinction, Lecture and Interactive Exhibit.” Registration for both in-person and livestream attendance is available here.
Lynne Huffer is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Philosophy at Emory University. She is the author of a trilogy on Foucault’s ethics of eros: Foucault’s Strange Eros (2020); Are the Lips a Grave?: A Queer Feminist on the Ethics of Sex (2013); and Mad for Foucault: Rethinking the Foundations of Queer Theory (2010). She is also the author of Maternal Pasts, Feminist Futures: Nostalgia, Ethics, and the Question of Difference (1998) and Another Colette: The Question of Gendered Writing (1992). She has published academic articles on feminist theory, queer theory, Foucault, ethics, autotheory, and the Anthropocene, as well as personal essays, creative nonfiction, and opinion pieces in mass media venues. She is also the author, with Jennifer Yorke, of Wading Pool, a collaborative artists book, available at Vamp and Tramp. Her current experimental book-length text-image project, under review, is These Survivals: Autobiography of an Extinction.
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Image description: Edited typescript of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s manuscript for “The Warm Decembers.”
Katie Carithers, a Spring 2023 Archival Expeditions fellow at Duke University, spent her fellowship working with the Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Papers. As part of her fellowship, she designed a course module intended for introductory LGBTQ studies courses. Her module focuses on Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet.
Of her module, Carithers writes:
The overall goal of the module is for students to use these archival materials to situate Sedgwick as a thinker within a cultural history. Through the selected archival materials, students will encounter Epistemology as thinking and writing that is in progress and in dialogue with other scholars and writers. And not just academic writing! There are zines, newspaper clippings, comics, and other written/visual artifacts. The aim is that, by close reading these materials, students will analyze how the taking up of sexuality as an analytic framework is tied to authorial and historical politics — and how that this is true for Sedgwick as well as scholars of LGBTQ studies today. I think that can help students reflect on the kind of questions they want to animate their own work and how they perceive their own writing in relation to their current moment.
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Odette Mazel, a PhD candidate at the Melbourne Law School, has published an article applying Sedgwick’s analysis of paranoid and reparative reading to international law. Appearing online in the current issue of the Australian Feminist Law Journal, “The Texture of ‘Lives Lived with Law:’ Methods for Queering International Law” offers a balanced interpretation of Sedgwick’s analysis. Mazel writes:
Queer theory’s obligations to critique and problematise the mechanisms of power and discourse, especially law, remain important for revealing, unsettling and destabilising established sexual and gender norms. However, as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick argues, the emphasis on paranoid or critical practices in queer theorising must be counterbalanced by recognising the queer methods of repair evident in the way LGBTQIA+ people engage with systems of oppression in empowering and transformative ways. In this paper, I draw on the methodological tools that Sedgwick provides to examine LGBTQIA+ engagements with international law in terms of their creative, generative and sustaining capacities.
Referring to recent work exploring the concept of “legal materiality,” Mazel draws on Sedgwick’s artwork. Reproducing selected pages from Sedgwick’s 2004 calendar “Dropped Held,” Mazel writes:
The pictures accompanying each month in Sedgwick’s calendar of 2004 depict figures, animals and objects falling, but each dropping/falling is reciprocated with a depiction of holding/catching. These collaged images and stamped designs reflect to me the ethical queer orientation inherent in reading reparatively LGBTQIA+ efforts for legal reform. They express the vulnerability experienced in moments of suspension, the feeling of being in the tension, the space between repression and liberation. That there is dropping, but there is also holding.
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Image caption: An undated photograph of Eve Sedgwick in Greenwich Village. (Photo: Hal Sedgwick)
Annie Sansonetti is one of two inaugural recipients of the Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Travel Grant to support the development of new work engaging with the Sedgwick archive at Duke. Her project is titled “Feminine Boyhood and Trans Girlhood Onstage.”
There is a photograph of my best friend and I as children that I especially love. The year is 2002. In the photo, I am in her “girl” clothes and she is in my “boy” clothes. We pose, my hand on my hip, her arm by her side. We smile with our other arms around each other. I remember our debut in her big, sun-filled kitchen: coffee and pastries on the table and the surprise on our parents’ faces. Laughter ensued, someone took a photo, and we played in our shared clothing all day. I assume that I eventually swapped her clothes for mine, although this moment does not stand out in my mind. The memory of my friend’s roomy walk-in closet and our subsequent exit of it—down the spiral staircase hand in hand, with our footsteps set to a symphony of our giggles—does.
I call this moment, and the gendered and (trans)sexual activity that transpired there, “Eve’s closet.” Play in Eve’s closet is my descriptor for queer and trans pleasure in the curvature of sexual and gendered spaces, what Sedgwick described in a response to an essay by Jacob Hale as an “identification with what is, at any given moment, understood to be the growing edge of a self.” It recalls moments of childhood play—“of daring surmise and cognitive rupture”—between queer and trans kids (here trans feminine and trans masculine), where clothing, make-believe, and toys are the “very stuff” of queer sexuality and/or where friendship is a medium for gender transition or sex change. Eve’s closet is a funhouse for kids: comprised of many entrances and exits, where they are encouraged to come in and come out when they are ready. It is like a theatre’s backstage, or a dressing room, where costume choices are endless. In Eve’s closet, and in play among children, even bridal lingerie has queer and trans potential.
I visited the Eve Kosofksy Sedgwick papers at Duke University’s Rubenstein Library with an interest in Sedgwick’s writing on trans feminine childhood—what was then-called “feminine boyhood,” “boyhood effeminacy,” or “boyhood femininity” in common parlance of queer theory in the 1990s. I am interested in how stories of trans feminine childhood—of feminine boyhood and trans girlhood—have been written and performed in theatre and the performing arts, especially when friends (or other queer- and trans-loving collaborators) are the chosen or desired audience members or co-stars. I read an early 1989 draft of her now-famous essay “How to Bring Your Kids Up Gay,” later re-published in Tendencies in 1993 with the subtitle “The War on Effeminate Boys,” as well as her lesser-known 1989 essay “Willa Cather and Others” on Cather’s 1905 short story titled “Paul’s Case: A Study in Temperament.” But I soon became fascinated by Sedgwick’s collaborations with her best friend and once-roommate Michael Moon, especially their co-authored 1990 essay, more of a “performance piece,” on the topic of “divinity,” what they called “a little-understood emotion.”
In “Divinity,” Moon and Sedgwick reflect on the “roominess” of the fat woman’s body—and her closet—for the feminine boy. While I am interested in the content of the essay (especially a film still of Divine and the “Infant of Prague” from John Waters’ 1970 film Multiple Maniacs, and I certainly have my own stories of play in fat women’s closets as a girly-boy), for the purposes of this report, I want to dwell on Moon and Sedgwick’s collaboration for what it teaches us about the pleasure and play of the trans masculine and trans feminine relation. In Sedgwick’s papers, there are multiple drafts of “Divinity”—some with misplaced paragraphs, others with Moon’s and Sedgwick’s marginalia, and a few with Moon’s initials swapped for Sedgwick’s and vice versa, as if they were sharing and exchanging each other’s voices, or playing dress up with each other’s bodies, if you will.
Moon and Sedgwick both spent time in the closet. Moon as a “proto-gay,” feminine boy and Sedgwick as a fat woman who accompanied them there (and who was, especially in her white glasses, a fat woman who was a gay man). But they also stepped outside them quite proudly and defiantly, both together and apart, like me and my friend. For Moon and Sedgwick, their play-space was writing; for my friend and I, it was clothing. Inspired by Moon and Sedgwick’s essay and my photograph, we might make the claim that queer and trans children’s play with each other (both “actual” children and the inner child of the queer or trans adult who is “co-present,” not gone, after Mary Zaborskis) can constitute felt and pleasurable enactments of queer sexuality and/or gender transition beyond the confine of an “adult”—legal, medical, and political—form of legibility and between friends.
Play in each other’s shared clothing is co-authorship. It a chance for queer and trans kids to stage the bodies and lives they want for themselves and their friends, at least for the time being, and until they have the autonomy to demand more from the world at the level of sexual and gender-determination in an adult-centric world. In extant queer and trans scholarship and popular culture, tomboys and sissies are often staged far apart from each other. But what about their conviviality and solidarity—the “I have what you need/want, you have what I need/want” kind of mutual aid? Think: my photograph. It occurs to me that in our play, a repertoire that was certainly “t4t,” we relished the share of clothing, bodies (body parts?), and toys that sustained our queer and trans childhood—little-by-little, day-by-day, and moment-by-moment, like the best scenes of queer and trans childhood’s “divinity.”
In this sense, play among queer and trans children is best encapsulated in Sedgwick’s last words on the “divine” collaboration between Divine and Waters (and, I add, herself and Moon, and me and my friend). This play, is, as Sedgwick writes, “as scarce as it is precious.” It offers us “opulent images and daring performances that suggest the experiment of desires that might withstand the possibility of their fulfillment.” In the absence of a certain fulfillment, there is no “finale” to such play’s enactment of desire. Instead, there are only a bunch of opulent and daring debuts with the friends who withstand the often frustrated, unrealizable experiments in queer and trans desire with you.This is“Eve’s closet,” where children can change their genders/sexualities, stage a scene, and strike a pose with a friend, always as if for the first time. There may even be someone queer- and trans-loving around to photograph it.
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The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University has announced the recipients of this year’s Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Travel Grants. Annual travel grants to support research using the Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Papers at the Sallie Bingham Center are funded by the Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Foundation and administered through Duke University’s Rubinstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. We congratulate this year’s grant recipients and look forward to their work.
The 2023-2024 grant recipients and project titles are:
Matilde Manara, Postdoctoral Fellow, Collège de France, “Proustmania! Reading, writing, sewing Proust today.”
Christina Olivares, Ph.D. candidate, Department of English Education, Teachers College at Columbia University, “Reparative Gestures/Queering Education: Eve Kosofsky Sedwick’s pedagogical practices and James Sears’ research in adolescent education.”
Evan Pavka, Faculty, Department of Art & Art History, Wayne State University, “Reconstructing ‘Queer Space.’”