Touching Feeling

Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity

Book Pages: 208 Illustrations: 1 figure, 1 photo Published: January 2003

Cultural Studies > Affect Theory, Gender and Sexuality > Queer Theory, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Theory

A pioneer in queer theory and literary studies, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick brings together for the first time in Touching Feeling her most powerful explorations of emotion and expression. In essays that show how her groundbreaking work in queer theory has developed into a deep interest in affect, Sedgwick offers what she calls "tools and techniques for nondualistic thought," in the process touching and transforming such theoretical discourses as psychoanalysis, speech-act theory, Western Buddhism, and the Foucauldian "hermeneutics of suspicion."

In prose sometimes somber, often high-spirited, and always accessible and moving, Touching Feeling interrogates—through virtuoso readings of works by Henry James, J. L. Austin, Judith Butler, the psychologist Silvan Tomkins and others—emotion in many forms. What links the work of teaching to the experience of illness? How can shame become an engine for queer politics, performance, and pleasure? Is sexuality more like an affect or a drive? Is paranoia the only realistic epistemology for modern intellectuals? Ultimately, Sedgwick's unfashionable commitment to the truth of happiness propels a book as open-hearted as it is intellectually daring.


“[Sedgwick’s] ideas about the structures of desire between men in fiction have generated critical work for others, as her theories are put to work in rereadings of authors, texts, genres and periods. Any critic who so successfully challenges the fundamental terms of the discipline, and opens up new subjects for others to write and publish about, deserves fame and distinction. Moreover, Sedgwick's courage in speaking openly about her illness and about aspects of her self that most academic women would keep private, including being fat, is very moving.” — Elaine Showalter, London Review of Books

“[Sedgwick’s] miraculous prose keeps ideas and attitudes in play that would collapse into contradiction or program in a lesser writer. . . . In the era of queer theory, Sedgwick’s miraculating writing keeps open a sense of sexuality as not binarized, neither only instrumental nor irreducibly conflictual, even when she is most passionately engaged in the work of advocacy. Today, writing through and after “queer” in a landscape of political impoverishment, Sedgwick’s thought and writing function, as she would say, as a kind of semaphore: There is More Than This. I think we need her writing more than ever.” — Christopher Nealon, American Literature

“Fearless, challenging and occasionally exhilarating, Sedgwick remains one of the most courageous critics around.” — Publishers Weekly

“These collected essays brush, with a graceful, soulful touch, across such topics as how illness (her own cancer) shapes her teaching, or shame provokes queer empowerment, or paranoia (her own fears) fires up intellectual daring. Sedgwick, a queer-identified straight academic, is a challenging, truly original thinker. Her muse—borne by electric, almost erotic language—is too stimulating to shun merely because it's mot simple.” — Richard Labonte, Q Syndicate

"[D]eftly argued. . . . Sedgwick's latest book is an excellent introduction to shame studies. . . ." — Diana George, The Stranger

"Eve Sedgwick is one of the most amazing scholars of our time. Her erudition, brilliance, passion, and unusual combination of interests thrill. Sedgwick's latest book, Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity, excites, demands, perplexes. . . . Sedgwick's book is a marvelous read. Literary scholars and professors of education, put your seatbelts on, for Sedgwick certainly takes you on an interesting ride. She once again makes a significant contribution to not just one but many intersecting fields-literary criticism, education, queer theory, cultural studies, and autobiography. If scholars are not yet in love with Eve, they will be after reading this book." — Marla Morris, Journal of the History of Sexuality

"Recommended." — J. W. Hall, Choice

"This is sobering reading at the same time as it is motivational for anyone involved in scholarly pursuits. Sedgwick sheds light on the wide range of sensations the vocation involves, including moments of frustration, disillusion, anger, and joy. Of the many insights and fronts for action suggested by this book, the one I will take most to heart is a continuing belief in possibility. This is especially necessary when in more cynical moments a favoured interpretation seems automatic or even mandatory. Sedgwick has tried to provide the conditions for ‘a mind receptive to thoughts, able to nurture and connect them, and susceptible to happiness in their entertainment.’ It sounds such a modest hope, yet her writing shows it to be one consistently beset with difficulties, adding to our estimation of Sedgwick’s courage in these conservative times." — Melissa Gregg, Electronic Book Review

"While Sedgwick attempts to provoke realizations in us through a number of skillful means, including language . . . we need to feel our own way through many of the issues she raises. This is especially necessary when she points, through the lessons of her dying, to our mortalities. It was then that I felt her touch most powerfully." — Robert Sember, Literature and Medicine

"Fifteen years after publication, and nine years after the death of its author, Touching Feeling stands out. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s book defined subjects, keywords, and literary-critical ambitions that dominated discussion in English departments thereafter. Whether she set the future on this path or was superbly in tune with the contemporary mood is unclear." — Mark Greif, Chronicle of Higher Education

“Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick writes with intense precision, and yet her work directs us toward the domain where meaning is music, unquantifiable, enigmatic, nonlinguistic. If the performative speech act, with all its relation to norms and laws, is central to the reception of her work in queer theory, then the performativity of knowledge beyond speech—aesthetic, bodily, affective—is its real topic.” — Lauren Berlant, author of The Queen of America Goes to Washington City

“Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's gift is to electrify intellectual communities by reminding them that ’thought’ has a temperature, a texture, and an erotics. With a generosity that is at once self-abnegatingly ascetic, and gorgeously, exhibitionistically bravura, she opens door after door onto undiscovered fields of inquiry. There are too many high points in Touching Feeling for me to list them. Sedgwick's language, richly garlanded, syntactically showstopping, gives, everywhere, its characteristic, always surprising pleasure.” — Wayne Koestenbaum, author of Andy Warhol


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick is Distinguished Professor of English at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is the author of numerous books including A Dialogue on Love and Epistemology of the Closet. Her books Tendencies; Fat Art, Thin Art, a book of poetry; Novel Gazing: Queer Readings in Fiction; and Shame and Its Sisters: A Silvan Tomkins Reader (coedited with Adam Frank) are published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

Interlude, Pedagogic 27

1. Shame, Theatricality, and Queer Performativity: Henry James’s The Art of the Novel 35

2. Around the Performative: Periperformative Vicinities in Nineteenth-Century Narrative 67

3. Shame in the Cybernetic Fold: Reading Silvan Tomkins (Written with Adam Frank) 93

4. Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is About You 123

5. Pedagogy of Buddhism 153

Works Cited 183

Index 189
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3015-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3028-8
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