Overview

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick is best known as a cultural and literary critic, as one of the primary forces behind the development of queer and gay/lesbian studies, and as author of several influential books: Tendencies, Epistemology of the Closet, and Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. The publication of Fat Art, Thin Art, Sedgwick’s first volume of poetry, opens up another dimension of her continuing project of crossing and re-crossing the electrified ...
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Fat Art, Thin Art

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Overview

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick is best known as a cultural and literary critic, as one of the primary forces behind the development of queer and gay/lesbian studies, and as author of several influential books: Tendencies, Epistemology of the Closet, and Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. The publication of Fat Art, Thin Art, Sedgwick’s first volume of poetry, opens up another dimension of her continuing project of crossing and re-crossing the electrified boundaries between theory, lyric, and narrative.
Embodying a decades-long adventure, the poems collected here offer the most accessible and definitive formulations to appear anywhere in Sedgwick’s writing on some characteristic subjects and some new ones: passionate attachments within and across genders; queer childhoods of many kinds; the performativity of a long, unconventional marriage; depressiveness, hilarity, and bliss; grave illness; despised and magnetic bodies and bodily parts. In two long fictional poems, a rich narrative momentum engages readers in the mysterious places—including Victorian novels—where characters, sexualities, and fates are unmade and made. Sedgwick’s poetry opens an unfamiliar, intimate, daring space that steadily refigures not only what a critic may be, but what a poem can do.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is the first book of poems by Sedgwick (Tendencies), the author of several scholarly volumes important to the comparatively new and hot theoretical discourse that calls itself ``queer theory.'' Unfortunately, the theorist as poet proves intellectually challenging yet poetically predictable. Interestingly, the book seems to acknowledge an uncertainty about poetic talents, opening with a meditation on a muse ``graceless'' and difficult to sustain, and concluding with prose which nearly admits the book's longest narrative poem to be a failure. One feels that such humility is not a pose, that it is honest. And yet, the poetry itself seeks clarity and grace; it does not question the ``poetic'' as have some experimentalists. At her best in middle-length poems such as ``Everything Always Distracts,'' Sedgwick can at times approach the wit, intellect and discursive syntactical energy of Randall Jarrell or James Merrill. But her greatest strength is her subject matter, which often reflects the concerns of a contemporary academic culture: the struggle to reimagine gender roles, sexuality, transgressive sexual fantasy and behavior, and realities of disease and depression. If one can look past the awkwardness of her abstract diction and a dependence on loose, sluggish iambs and unimaginative prose rhythms, there is an extraordinary mind to be engaged here. (Sept.)
From the Publisher

"Fat Art, Thin Art is a wrenchingly honest account—or enactment—of a writer’s relation to her gift. . . . filled with hesitations, self-cancellations, erasures, and gratifying fireworks. The pleasure of Fat Art, Thin Art is witnessing Sedgwick discovering, again and again, the wonders—gorgeous shames and vindications—of what she can say."—Wayne Koestenbaum

"How often the fiercest, the most autonomous American critics have been poets; from Emerson to Blackmur, from Burke to Hartman, many a discursion could be illustrated, even illuminated by reading the ulterior verse. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick is such another, and it will enrich certain enigmas she has proposed, as well as appeal to certain appetites she has awakened, to immerse in this element—fragmentary at its widest reach (a deconstructed Victorian 3-decker), healing at its most abrupt (‘the yard, the mud, the morning / in their new, punished clothes’), and ever searching for the makings of the dilemma. Such is the true poetics of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and of course it is the poetry as well."—Richard Howard

"Reading Fat Art, Thin Art is a thrilling experience. The publication of these poems will help to complete our picture of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick who, already recognized as one of the most extraordinary critics of her generation, now proves herself one of its truly innovative poets."—Maud Ellmann

"This is poetry of a great soul which presents to mind shapely and unmistakable presences brought very close to the eye. Fat Art, Thin Art is a work of poetic distinction and indispensable human use."—Allen Grossman

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822382652
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 8/9/1994
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 184 KB

Meet the Author

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick is Distinguished Professor of English, CUNY Graduate Center. Her many publications include A Dialogue On Love (Beacon, 1999); Tendencies (Duke, 1993); and Epistemology of the Closet (California, 1990).

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Read an Excerpt

Fat Art, Thin Art


By Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1994 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-8265-2



CHAPTER 1

    Who fed this muse?
    Colicky, premature,
    not easy to supply, nor fun to love:
    who powdered her behind and gave her food
    the years when ("still a child herself almost")
    her mother was too blue?
    "Almost"—I was a child.
    Blue, I was blue; even more I was green.
    They mystified me too,
    the red protuberant
    organs hypertrophied with self-abuse
    from which we thought back then
    a muse like this emerged.

    Her grandmother was willing, so I kept her,
    lucky I could so choose.
    My family fed this muse.

    And it was in a suburb she was schooled,
    like me, among assimilated Jews
    in the American creed
    that nothing could be very different from this
    or much better. It could be much worse.
    On TV she would watch the Museketeers.
    At a parent-teacher conference, Mrs. Tarrant,
    her fourth grade teacher, told me I didn't
    "know what a treasure I had there" in her
    which wounded me; who'd say such things for me?
    And I minded that she went
    so ardently to Mrs. Grove and Mrs. Wittman
    and her friends Julie, Nancy, Don, Meganne, and Susy
    and their moms, who she thought were wonder-moms.
    For two years, I swear, she wouldn't let me
    cook for her. I'd beg. She would refuse.

    She acted like she thought I'd poison her—
    that was the start of her terrifying revulsions.
    (It's true, cooking was hard for me.)
    And I, I always had to thank
    the teachers and the friends who fed my muse.

    I have to still; I want to.
    Is there another story, a better story,
    than the young muse in search of nurture, and finding it?

    Today they'd call it an eating disorder
    but I never heard of such another.
    Greedier than a dog,
    big-boned, rangy she grew up; was sometimes gaunt,
    then fat—and those fat times
    it was like somebody who hated her had tied
    clumps of upholstery stuffing all around her frame.
    The flesh fell off her just that easily, too. As if
    she never quite digested
    the things she ate—
    not in the sense of storing them as muscle or as fat,
    in some shape that would be her own shape;
    say, she had no reserve.
    It frightened me (I had my own "weight problem").
    Her belly like a wineskin:
    round, sometimes, as a kittenful of milk,
    then the same day
    slack like in a dustbowl photograph.
    It meant that every person, all her life, who ever
    stinted this muse one crumb
    threatened (they didn't know it) her survival.

    And every single hand that ever fed her, saved her life.

    (Iciest of questions for a muse:
    Is there any more where that came from?)
    Of course, I was in love with her, a lot,
    we were so close in age; but in the way of love
    maybe it wasn't something she could use:
    my eyes that dwelt then in her face;
    the rhythm of my day
    molded to her furies, her despondencies,
    the gaiety of her, her way of switching
    always ahead of me in her ragged right margin—
    so I could never pay attention to my work.
    Even today I've got nothing you'd call
    "work habits," though I've worked so hard.
    By the time she was 12
    I was cemented to my muse's moods.
    Maybe you'd say she didn't have a self?

    But she would court me too!
    There was this gruff, butch thing she'd do
    like she was taking care of me in a scary world
    that I ate up—who wouldn't?
    Did I know
    how all this grim sublimity
    in the tight-budded, clumsy ingenue
    could have been called as easily
    depression as (what she would call it) speaking true?
    Enough to worry: that, yes, I did know.
    Worry, the only gift we always gave each other freely.

    After that suburb, everything was news:
    there we'd been used to always being used
    to everything we saw. Not pleasure, okay,
    but pleasantness, and plenty, a cautious plenty
    we thought we could assume
    —lucky we: almost imagined the world could—
    and heterosexuals out the wazoo.
    (Except at scout camp; what that place had been
    for generations of baby lesbians
    it was for her. And I, as well, was happy there.)

    Later, after she'd run away from me
    all those times I would wonder
    sometimes how much her grueling aptitude
    for silence and aversion
    owed, maybe, to the domestic politics
    of postwar—when the thing you asked your courage
    would be, How to refuse?
    How to go limp when you're hailed by the Law
    in the shape of a state trooper with a dog;
    to leave, like the Unfriendly Ten,
    the names unnamed, to test your eloquence
    in untestifying to the Committee.
    A song my muse would like to sing
    was, We shall not, we shall not be moved.
    Except—another thing—she couldn't sing.

    And with her bad feet, never learned to dance
    through years and years of the lessons she liked
    for the sociability, for all the pain....
    She thought—and later our friend Hal would say it to her—
    it was in her nature as she was born
    to be elastic, even graceful; she somewhere had
    a voice to sing that was mobile
    and affecting, and she wouldn't (of herself) have knocked
    things over all the time or jerked so much
    from the strange deadness to the strange
    propulsions; somewhere could carry a tune.
    Which she both liked, and found it painful, to believe.
    Because, then, what had happened?
    What was the spell that bound her throat and feet?
    Tampered was a word she often used,
    with (implied) a point of interrogation trailing after.

    Questions I couldn't answer,
    story I can't tell. Even probably I don't know it,
    like the story of her leaving me;
    of all the times she left, and stayed away; let her
    tell, she's the muse. (If she will.) The plainest fact:

    for years, while she was homeless, I was housed.

    Was nourished, and gave nurture. Had my own
    queer enough aesthetic, it turned out.
    Had even my own loves, which weren't all hers.
    Fat amazon, found courage, such as it was,
    including if I had to
    the courage to survive her. Learned more about the shape
    my own refusals took:
    never to claim. Never to disavow.

    And did she, those years, toil, and did she spin?
    Whose was the sanctuary that took her in?
    Supply that kept her synapses synapping,
    maybe it was the care she always had with her
    from friends we'd shared, or hadn't,
    the old loves—old attention—dear praises from of         old—
    dearest of all, severity, sobrieties—
    the chaste, and sometimes the delirious, things.
    Some friends to me unknown.
    Many I know so well that even now
    they are "our" dear ones.
    Some dead; some are estranged.
    Many, even, I now fear that I've forgotten.

    This morning somehow she was at my side again—
    it seemed so natural,
    an "I" I guess I am when she is there.
    (But maybe not the old one; maybe an "I" that fed
    as much on the longing for her,
    on the body of her long refusal
    to be with me.) She beckoned, she
    enfolded me; enfolded me with her.
    She took the coffee cup out of my hands.
    I fell into it all,
    the vat of her unmakings, her returns,
    bottomless eyes, her halting narrow tongue,
    all the old saturnine
    ways whose only hint
    of the Utopian is how she reckons
    that somewhere in the making there are souls
    she'll teach the skills of hearing her
    silent No to the last
    loamy and bitter reverberation.
    Her presence seemed a promise to me, and I was happy.

    * * *

    So (Proust says), telling the truth
    in our book
    we lie in the dedication; but this one is no lie.

    Only she and not I
    (but here she is) as best she can,
    gracelessly even, if graceless be her way
    can proffer both our gratitude to those
    beloved, who fed this muse.


    Joy. He's himself today! He knows me!

    No good outcomes with this disease
    but good days, yes—that's the unit
    for now, the day: good day, bad day.
    From under the shadow
    you wield this power to
    be (or some days not to be) yourself,
    to recognize and treat me as
    (or some days not to), as myself.

    Thus, to make me myself
    by being recognizable to me;
    not to unmake us both,
    turning away,
    joining your sullen new friends.

    Grave, never offering back the face of my dear,
    abey: let me take some more pictures
    from this dramatic low angle by the footstool,
    pictures I won't be in,
    his face homing toward mine.
    Catch him mugging with his pretty sisters
    (one cuts her eyes drolly away,
    clearing a place to be sad)

    —and wait, please,
    for the i-Hr. Prints, then let me assemble
    a big pseudo-David Hockney photo collage;
    also hold on till I'm old enough to go instead,
    even just tag along.

    Guys who were 35 last year are 70 this year
    with lank hair and enlarged livers,
    and jaw hinges more legible than Braille.
    A killing velocity—seen another way, though,
    they've ambled into the eerily slow-mo
    extermination camp the city sidewalks are.

    In 1980, if someone had prophesied
    this rack of temporalities could come to us,
    their "knowledge" would have seemed pure hate;
    it would have seemed so, and have been so.
    It still is so.
    Yet every morning
    we have to gape the jaws of our unbelief
    or belief, to knowing it.


    The Navajo Rug

    I wouldn't say that, delirious,
    he's "not himself." Eye-dazzler
    left to ruin on a loom
    the weaver was forced to abandon,
    he is here in the unfielded, blinding
    patches of what's been himself,
    and if you knew him, you can see it all.
    The bolt of his graciousness
    like lightning with no sky;
    his fury, his very own fury—it is nonsense;
    the dry, thrown storm of his ravishing sentence.

    Rug that's still on the loom:
    a writer, just turned 32.


    A Vigil

    Gary, have you ever heard of a deity,
    maybe a Hindu one, who's an elephant?
    I think he's blue. Who's a god of love
    or trickster, turns up all over the place,
    named, maybe, Ganesh?

    Fever makes Gary formal.
    "I believe that is correct." Then he resumes
    exploring with his stuck-out tongue
    the inside surfaces
    of a bottle-green, hieratic snout
    snapped on for oxygen
    over his own, lovely snout,
    ashen right now.

    Because you know you look like that
    (with the long large-bore, corrugated azure
    transparent nozzle out
    from the more than semitically noble green
    muzzle of the thing
    under the all-night ICU lights).
    —That proboscis!
    Also the new dances I see you
    doing with your hands, so graceful,
    so imperious, I'm never sure
    whether you're inviting a hand to hold
    (I hold one hand with him already) or
    banishing some subject (me?) eternally
    from your countenance.

    (Or feinting at a gallantry
    to distract me from
    his unattenuable intent of plucking out
    the insult of some tube—some needle.)

    Gracious comes the response, but lethal.
    "Must there be so much speech?"

    Later I'm almost asleep in my chair
    and Gary's fluid-swollen lids are dropping
    over his green mask
    and his magical blue trunk, and the dance
    of the hands begins again
    so elegant, and he specifies,
    "Inimitable.
    The dance is inimitable
    because it is so refined
    and it is going on at every level, all the time."


    The Use of Being Fat

    I used to have a superstition that
    there was this use to being fat:
    no one I loved could come to harm
    enfolded in my touch—
    that lot of me would blot it up,
    the rattling chill, night sweat or terror.

    I've learned that I was wrong.
    Held, even held
    they withdraw to the secret
    scenes of their unmaking.
    But then I think
    it is true they turn away inside.
    It feels so like refusal
    maybe still there is something to my superstition.

    For years it drove me crazy
    your funny pudeur,
    the way you would refer to "your condition"—
    If he can't even say the words,
    I thought,
    then how on earth's he ever going to....

    Well, what?

    What vengeful predicate
    waited under my tongue?

    "Your funny pudeur"—but today I cling
    to my little phrase for you; think it
    invokes the cheap and dear
    indignity of the living
    in "having traits."


    Performative (Toronto)

    "Does it feel to you like we're saying goodbye?"
    "Are you crazy?"

    But we were trying;
    we hugged each other, and for a while we cried
    because my car was waiting in the dark
    morning, and Michael had decided now
    was time for him to die.
    The touching made us feel absurdly vital;
    when we were done boo-hooing we just giggled.
    "Is this what's called denial?"
    "Oh, honey, denial's gotten us this far."

    A honk in the snow outside.
    —Oh, and he did say he liked my work,
    he wanted me to keep on doing it.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Fat Art, Thin Art by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Copyright © 1994 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents I "Who fed this muse?" Joy. He's himself today! He knows me! "Grave, never offering back the face of my dear" "Guys who were 35 last year are 70 this year" The Navajo Rug A Vigil The Use of Being Fat "For years it drove me crazy" Performative (Toronto) Performative (San Francisco) "What I would be when I grew up" "Not like the clownish, friendly way you talk" Sh "I can tune my mind today" "All I know is I woke up thinking" Snapsh "Crushed. Dilapidated." The 58 1/2 Minute Hour How Not to Be There "Mobility, speech, sight" "A scar, just a scar" "When I got so sick it never occurred to me" Little kid at the airport practicing" "In dreams they're interchangeable" Our "It seems there are two kinds of marriage" "One of us falls asleep on the other's shoulder" Not Nicht Mehr Leben "I'm safe so long as the single feather of one wing" "In dreams on which decades of marriage haven't" II Trace at 46 An Essay on the Picture Plane Everything Always Distracts Sexual Hum Penn Central: New Haven Line Poet Sestina Lente III The Warm Decembers Note on "The Warm Decembers"
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