From Queer Theory to Affect Theory: Reading Eve Sedgwick
770 Hart. St
Brooklyn, NY 11237
“What does it mean to fall in love with a writer?” In their 1995 essay “Shame in the Cybernetic Fold: Reading Silvan Tomkins” Eve Sedgwick and Adam Frank express their newfound love for the twentieth-century psychologist and affect theorist Silvan Tomkins, a writer who, as they put it charmingly, “perfectly… understands us.” In this class we turn the question on Sedgwick herself, asking what is it about her style and technique that has led so many readers to fall in love with her—to feel she understands them? From her foundational 1985 study of homosocial desire, Between Men—a book largely credited with inaugurating the field of queer studies—to her later writings on Tomkins and Klein—which sit at the crux of the turn to affect in critical theory—Sedgwick has integrally shaped the history of literary and cultural studies, influencing scholars from Lauren Berlant to José Muñoz.
Moving carefully through some of major texts from her diverse corpus, this course explores Sedgwick’s approach to reading as an erotic practice—a practice shot through with feelings of anticipation and concern, pleasure and aggression. What is it about reading that produces a sense of intimacy between reader and writer, between a theorist and her object of study? If, as Sedgwick encourages us to believe, “knowledge does rather than simply is,” then how do our interpretive practices shape what it is we know or think we know? What is it, moreover, that “theory knows today”? Readings will include excerpts from The Epistemology of the Closet, “Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl,” “Shame in the Cybernetic Fold,” “Melanie Klein and the Difference that Affect Makes,” “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading: Or, You’re so Paranoid You Probably Think This Essay is About You,” and more.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 7-10pm
March 31 — April 21, 2015