You are on page 1of 7

Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Review by: Patricia S.

Yaeger MLN, Vol. 100, No. 5, Comparative Literature (Dec., 1985), pp. 1139-1144 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2905456 . Accessed: 24/10/2012 06:03
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

.
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

.

The Johns Hopkins University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to MLN.

http://www.jstor.org

all meaning and hence formsthe basis and the essence of language.firstdiscerniblein Fichte. In Wallace Stevens' "The Idea of Order at Key West.common at least since Aristotle."a girl walksbeside the sea and sings. after all. the source of it all: "She was the single artificer the world / In which she sang. The French Kant often speaks in imperimperfectly atives-sentences whichare not implicatedin the assertionof truth-and however peculiar the Kant who emerges. Heidegger and finishwith a veritabledisplayof Aristotle's"being is spoken of in many ways. strikes the assumpat Nancy's meditationon the sense of the imperative that the apophantic sentence bears tion.but she becomes the archetypalpoet. tilting the air. tell whenthesinging Why.Or have we? Stevens is not. points towardsa more general confrontation.withthe haunt that Kant bequeathed. but he radicallybreaks withit when he introduces the imperative and makes it the vehicle of meaning for all rational creatures. how haunted Kant's architectonichas become. became the self thatwas her song. . me. Her voice has enviable power. in Mastered the nightand portioned out the sea. Derrida.however dependent upon the legacy of one phase in Heidegger's reading of Kant. EnglishLiterature Male Homoand socialDesire. Kant no doubt remained withinthis traditionwhen he concentratesupon the in functionof synthesis judgment.ifyouknow. New York: Columbia University Press. for she was the maker. and Nancy's presentation. 1985. the of sea / Whatever self it had. endedand we turned As the nightdescended. but to cede their nominative power to woman herself.M L N 1139 fr6mconsiderations of Nietzsche. he cannot be avoided. For this Kant declares an underground war on the apophantic sentence-on the primacyof truth."relentand theyreinforce the of lesslyreturnto the difficulty thinking imperative. Between Men." beyond the confiningpower of the genius loci. And when she sang. 244 pages.seem to be lingeringat a thresholdin the historyof writingwhere men have not only begun to share." What more need be said? To envisiona woman as the maker of myths. The lights thefishing in boatsat anchorthere. his poem goes on for another two stanzas and addresses a masculine companion: RamonFernandez.the namer of names: the idea is breathtaking.tell whythe glassylights. content to linger with this image. Toward the town. The attemptto construct a "Kant" may be one of the responses to uneasiness he unleashes. HopkinsUniversity TheJohns PETER FENVES Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.on truthitself-and Nancy helps to draw the conflict out into the open.For feminist purposes we seem to have arrived. Not only does she sing "beyond the genius of the sea.

but goes a long way-for the men whom she leaves bonded together-toward palliating its gaps and failures" (p.Stevens recognizes. Aftera dazzling analysisof Adam Bede and Henry for Esmond. While the "single artificer" may representthe poet's ideal-his impossible wish for androgynous "mastery. . that it is not through the Adamic process of naming but only in the more complex process of dialogue that our linguisticpower resides.rivalryand hetero. like the economic prowess it mediates. as his singer cannot. mentorship. But the blasphemous discoveryof her book-its underlying paradigm and gothic bequest-is her recognitionof the ways homosocial desire can be read in relation to the changing structureof "male traffic women": a in traffic that makes homosocial bonds cohere. example.'" afterreading Eve KosofskySedgwick'sBetween Men: English Literature Male Homosocial and Desirewe will never be able to say that Stevens' maidenly singer forms the apex of a feminocentric triangleagain. Clearly the of structures homosocial desire that Sedgwick uncovers are so omnipresent in Western literature and so often read through other ideological screens that we should beware-her ideas invitea new criticalvigilance and yetstrikeso close to home thattheyinvitetheirown palliativerepresSedgwick'scentraltheme is the explorationof changes in the patternof male "homosocial desire" over several centuriesof English literature. men are able to exchange power and to confirmeach other's value even in the contextof the remaining inequalities in their power" (p. enchanting night. is masked in these novels' sexual pyrotechnics not only an unattractive is machismo but a covert pacificationfor painful class differences:"The sexually pitiable or contemptiblefemale figure is a solventthat not only facilitates the relativedemocratizationthat grows up withcapitalismand cash exchange. withRamon Fernandez.1140 REVIEWS emblazoned zonesand fiery Fixing poles. that"The Idea of Order at Key West" achieves its conclusion and begins its quest for a plural artificing. 160). and she gives detailed attentionto the ways in which "male friendship."it is only in the more open and ironic dialogue withhis other alter ego. This paradigm aptly summarizesthe homosocial dynamicof Esmondand AdamBede and seems What instantly-and terrifyingly-applicableto a dozen other narratives.and homosexuality" (1) have structuredthemselvesin relation to shifting patternsof class and gender.mustbe kept betweenmen. I have begun myreviewof Sedgwick'sbook witha re-readingof Stevens' poem because I want from the outset to emphasize Sedgwick's power to make us see familiartextsin new ways. and that dialogic power. Arranging. Harold Bloom Who is "master"here? Althoughin ThePoemsofOur Climate insists thatwhen Stevens'singerstops singing"her lingeringidea of order" unquestionably"triumphsover both the pale and unknowingFernandez and the Stevens who knows too well the fear of a 'calm darkness among waterlights. deepening. sion. Sedgwickconcludes: "in the presence of a woman who can be seen as pitiable or contemptible. entitlement. 160).

This synthetic approach is an importantand innovativestep in feminist analysis.Since Marxistfeminists want to examine the interconnectionbetween the division of labor and the vicissitudes historicalchange. Girard discoversthatin any given love triangle the choice of the beloved may depend more upon the predilectionof one's rival than it does upon unmediated desire for the beloved. she creates a diagnosticmodel others will emulate. Sedgwick emphasizes that this discontinuous homosocial/heterosexual spectrum takes on different cultural shapes in different historical eras. male bonding often involves the disruption of such continuity and may provoke a homophobic reactionto candid expressionsof passion or to explicitsexual bonding withother men. Obligatoryheterosexuality becomes the name. or. though not the ultimatemeaning."Homosocial" she explains. To choose either of these positions is to miss a great deal. more moderately. Although we can identifyan uninterruptedsequence in which women love and affirm other women in both the private and public spheres. she borrowsfrombothMarxist and radical feminist points of view. is a neologism meant to be distinguishedfrom "homosexual" and connotes a formof male bonding often accompanied by a fear or hatred of homosexuality. Marxist feministshave increased our understanding of both the cultural division of labor and the social statusof so-called "deviants"like prostitutes and male homosexuals. If her beautifulmediation between the "deconstructive finesse"of radical feminist thought and the historicalmaterialismof Marxist feminism makes Sedgwick's book required reading for all those embarked on a feministproject.)Moreover.(In her finalchaptersSedgwickexplains how thisfear can function as a regulativeideal keeping the traffic women and thejouissance in of men flowing in phallogocentrically productive directions. and when Sedgwick inventsa mode of analysis combiningboth perspectives.M L N 1141 Sedgwickis carefulto define her termsand to explain her methodology in a way that is as useful as it is electric. contrast. of the homosocial game. Sedgwick differentiates between a male homosocial and a lesbian continuum. the dangerous and transformative volatility potentialof history gets excluded fromtheir critique. and shp can argue conclusivelyfor this differentiation because her is methodology at once acute and expansive. of but theytend to ignore the criticaladvantages offeredby diachronicanalysisand to describe sexualityin termsof a fixed economy.Radical feministswant to understand our culture's systematic distribution libido.have viewed sexualityas the fundamentalproblem in the formationof female identity. an analysisof sexualityis only of interest of when it leads to a reading of the shifting "value" of women's reproductive labor. Desireand the Novelmakes her book required reading for everyoneelse. In such erotic rivalrythe forces connecting the two rivals are often as passional and .radical femIn inistshave seen sexism as the root oppression (and thus responsible for classism and racism). her revision of the erotic triangleswhich Rend Girard in analyzes so skillfully Deceit. but theiranalysishas contributed minimallyto our understandingof heterosexuality.

social or -sexual bonds. Girard offers this geometric analysis (in which the sides of the erotic triangleare read as equilateral)as a synchronic paradigm: he assumes that these patternsof rivalryfor and bonding through the body of another reveal symmetry with respect to class and gender.to keep in place.When of the young man the sonnets address is instructedto reproduce himself "(w)hat is at stake is preservingthe continuity the existingdominant of culture.thatthe structure Girard talks about most frequentlyinvolves two captious males battling for a less captious female. and this love is founded in organized social arrangementscarried out via the bodies of women in ways that do not oppose the youth's bond to the speaker.1142 REVIEWS perhaps more cohesive than those connectingthe rivalsto the love-object. heterosexuality is suddenly dangerous: to bring in an actual woman and to act out the rivalriesimplicitin the erotic triangleis to risk subversion of the homosocial bond which the sonnets neverthelessmanage. That symmetry deceptive beis cause of veryreal differences men's and women's access to power."The sonnetsreproduce the desirability male-malelove instead of of the more dangerous possibilityof desiring women. Sedgwick does more than point out the real gender asymmetriesin Girard's erotic triangles.and heterosocialdesires in any given cultural period. 1. however. and in because oppositional terms frequentlysuppress or gloss over relations actually based on hierarchy. throughmanipulationsof space-timemetaphors.she also shows that this farcicalinsistence on symmetry itselfa power device: it is an illusionuseful in mainis tainingmale power relationswhich are not at all illusory. This lack of symmetry disguised by a is projection of the characteristics each gender onto spacial or temporal of figureswhich seem to be comparable but whichactuallymask relationsof .and that the acting out of thissexual geometry reinforcesthe mapping of social power. An erotic triangle at firstappears to be symmetricalregarding both relations "between genders and between homoand hetero. "categories that in fact preside over the distributionof power in every society"(22). Afterexplaining Girard's misprisions. Sedgwick points out thatthe triangleGirard describesis not at all equilateral. At the conclusion of thischapter Sedgwicksummarizesher argument-a summaryworthparaphrasingto give a sense of her project's conceptual complexity.at the same time a criticaware of thissymmetrical "disproportion"can use Girard'sgeometry to discover points of contentionwithina given class/gender and to system examine the changingratioof homo. Girard omits from his analysis. The sonnets make interesting introductory material because of their explicit homoerotic content and because of the obviouslyillusorysymmetry their triangulation.While the imaginaryeven-handedness of Girard's reading of the erotictrianglegives us a distortedvision of how mediated desire functions.3. In the later sonnets." 2. Sedgwick goes on in chapter two to an analysis of Shakespeare's sonnets in order to investigate the "organizing power" of this triangular drama.

The relationsbetween sexual bonds and power re5. the man who seizes the role of male androgyne. Sedgwick points out that cuckoldry. In conmen and women" is actuallyat the asymmetrical Wife cluding this analysis Sedgwick notes that the women in The Country are compulsorily involved in male homosocial bonds and thatthese bonds occur in a contextof homosexual abstemiousness-in the absence. Now the familybecomes available as the sentieven mental context for power relations which seem. more instrumentaland manipulative than those in the sonnets or The Country Wife. in their geniality. fails to reach this position of masterybecause he is too obvious about his desire to circulateany women in his "possession" to gain power. Horner.He feigns powerlessnessand feminization the very momenthe is seizingcontrolover the system sexual exchange thatleads of to masteryover other men. Our conclusionsabout these patternsfunctionfor can contributeto our understandingof other moone momentin history ments. is dangerous sort. on the other hand. lations is always "intensively structured"but also highlyvariable withregard to timeand place. while Pinchwifeis completelyobsessed by the possibility being cuckolded and is thrallto of that category." Men can continue to particiof pate "in the sum of masculine power" even if this act resultsin the degradation of one member of the masculine partybecause women continue to be exchanged as property. of any direct contact between men's genitals. In her chapter on Sterne's A SentimentalJourney Sedgwick introducesa new historicalvalence.as a structureof desire. Despite a reliance on hierarchy.can manipulate the rules of the symbolic circulationof male power through women's bodies because he is willing in to risk this lability."What fascinatesus about The Country unlike Sparkish and Pinchwife.Sedgwick describes thisnew mode of power as "imperialism with a baby face" and analyzes the "glamour of familial pathos" which in settlesover men's designs for self-empowerment eighteenthand nineteenth centurynovels. neverthelessprolongs the homosocial bond-not as a moment of brotherhood.M L N 1143 dominance and subordinationand also refuse easy translationinto accurate readings of latent ideology. thatis. although as property "of a labile and Wife thatHorner.which involvesthe actingout of a sexual bond (but one whichis performedby one man upon another through the body of a woman) foregrounds heterosexual love "chieflyas a strategy homosocial desire.but as a harbingerof exaggerated masteryand required subordinationbetween men.but only comparatively. In this and later chapters class becomes a more importanttermin the analysisof an exchange of masculine power. Sedg- . Sparkish. The Country Wifein chapter three is Sedgwick's analysis of Wycherley's equally valuable.cuckoldry. who stands in what appears to be a "symmetrical relationhalfway between apex of power. The androgynous male who seems to contributes participateequally in masculine and femininecharacteristics to "the fictionof gender symmetry" actuallyshows us the fictiveness but of such symmetry. 4.

of Norman: University Oklahoma Press. Harold Bloom is the odd man out in the collection because. that working folk are "pastoralized" and the expropriated for bourgeouis ends by the narratorof a A Senaristocracy The mobilizationof a new narrativecelebratingthe raJourney.. Rhetoric Form:Deconat struction Yale. Hartman.Afterreading her book one understands with greater fiercenesswhy Monique Wittigis adamant in obsessed. . eds. YAEGER and Robert Con Davis and Ronald Schleifer. of The chapters that followon Hogg's Confessions aJustified Dickens' Esmond. and According to its editors. the sphere. and on the English response to Whitman yield even greater conceptual treasures. xii + 255 pages. the editors argue.if we must be geometrically Les Guerilleres sider changing our logos of desire from the triangleto the circle: "The women say that the feminariesgive pride of place to the symbolsof the the ring. and the kind of temporalitywe are attemptingto articulatehere is more simplyin Bloom the 'misreading'of predecessors rather than 'errors' inherent in time dialectically conceived as 'monu- . Eliot'sAdamBede."(45).Rhetoric Formis the resultof a conferenceon "ContemporaryGenre Theory and the Yale School" held at the University of Oklahoma in 1984. Between of our interpretations a number of beloved literarytexts but begins to change our archetypesof reading as well. series of symbolshas provided them with a guideline to decipher a collectionof legends theyhave found in the library. timental a paciously privatizedbourgeouis familybecomes one way of instituting economic as new and more delicatelypainfulmisogyny well as an explicitly mode of bonding between men. we should conthat. The genre under consideration here is that of of theory. Derrida's 'influence' is less apparent in his work. for example.Thackeray'sHenry nyson'sThePrincess.the circumference. "[h]is absence is our tacit importantin American acknowledgmentthat. Eve KosofskySedgMen is so rich and strangethatit should help criticalstudies wick'sBetween Men not only transforms go througha much needed sea change. Our Mutual Friend and Edwin Drood. Miller and Hartman.1144 REVIEWS wick notes. the 0. Sedgwick shows how triangular relationshipsinvolvingthe exchange and degradation of women have become a central and destructiveparadigm in our lives as well as in the homosocial divigationsof English literature. 1985. They say that this circle.while his work is forcefully it criticism. TenSinner. Harvard University PATRICIA S.the "school" evaluated is associated withan institution literary higher learning in New Haven by dint of the fact that the three critics and Formfocuses its attention-de Man. . the 'ends' of deconstructionwe are describinghere. does not share with de Man. upon whom Rhetoric and Miller-teach or did teach there.