Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick: A Tribute From Marrakech


Posted on April 19th, 2009 by Katherine Franke
 3 comments  

eveI returned today from 10 days in Morocco to learn with great sadness of Eve Sedgwick’s passing.   In an odd way, it was fitting that I was in North Africa during her last days – for there are few places in the world in which one can experience the celebration of homosociality more than one can in the Maghreb.

Eve gave us this term: homosociality.  Challenging us to think beyond a homo-hetero binary as the primary frame for organizing the expression of desire, in Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985), Eve sought to show us how the intimate bonds between men should be understood as at once about erotic between-mendesires but not essentially so, as in the conventional homosexual sense, or to use her way of framing it, in the genital sense.  Rather, she envisioned a continuum between homosociality and homosexuality, whereby men’s desires for one another served as the social force, or glue, that holds patriarchal societies together.  To this end, she suggested that we might better understand the desires between men as a continuum between “men loving men” (homosexuality) and “men promoting the interests of men” (homosociality).  Provocatively (as she always was) she thus suggested a similarity between a self-identified gay male couple (men loving men) on the one hand and Jesse Helms and Ronald Reagan working to develop “family policy” (men promoting men’s interests) on the other.  In this sense, Sedgwick urged us to see the relationship between sexual (gay/lesbian) and power (gender) -based politics.

As we walked through the streets of Marrakech and the village of Imlil over the last week, I couldn’t help but be reminded of  Sedgwick’s work, and when I described the culture to my family with whom I was traveling as deeply homosocial, I mentioned Between Men as the source of an analysis that urges us to resist seeing gayness in the Chelsea/Castro sense when we witness two men in public holding hands, stroking one another’s faces, or walking arm in arm.  These sights are very common in Morocco, as they were when I was in Cairo last spring.   But we’d be wrong to “read” Moroccan culture as latently homosexual.  What Eve gave us was a more complex way to think the world – to see how same-sex intimacy in these sorts of settings cannot be reduced to sexual desire, yet the desire that structures these ways of relating should not be denied either.  That’s the continuum of which she wrote – one that helped us understand the men on the streets of Marrakech, as much as the characters in the novels of Henry James, as “about” intimacy between men, as “about” how that intimacy triangulated their desire for women, and as “about” how homosociality perpetuated certain gender hierarchies that were deeply patriarchal in nature.  It wasn’t lost on us that it was mostly men we saw in public in Morocco.  While the men held hands while they drank tea in quaint cafes, the women were walking miles gathering wood for cooking, were home preparing the family meals, and were doing the reproductive work of society in their own homosocial settings.

As our tribute to Eve Sedgwick we should all return to her great work and read it once again.   Her ideas were vitally present for me this last week in Morocco just as they were when I returned home to my apartment in Chelsea.  In both places I was/am surrounded by men arm in arm – but Eve taught me that these two settings are more similar that I might otherwise have thought, had I not read her great work.

3 comments

  1. […] then, in the immediate aftermath of Eve Sedgwick’s passing, it is particularly problematic to insist on such a distinction – between that which is intended […]

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