The Mother of Us All?


I have long believed that the late Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick saw herself, at least in relation to gay male readers, as our mother. My proof has been two consecutive rhetorical questions posed by Sedgwick in her very brilliant third book: Epistemology of the Closet. The questions concern how Marcel Proust’s brilliant and very big novel, A la recherche du temps perdu, or Remembrance of Things Past, positions any reader of it as, if not the mother of Proust per se, then certainly that of Proust’s narrator. “Is it not the mother to whom both the coming-out testament and its continued refusal to come out are addressed?” asks Sedgwick. “And isn’t some scene like that,” she asks as well, “behind the persistent force of the novel’s trope, ‘the profanation of the mother’?” (248). Then again, as I had already noticed, Sedgwick also saw herself as Proust. “Who hasn’t dreamt,” she had asked there as well, still rhetorically, “that A la recherche remained untranslated, simply so that one could (at least if one knew French) by undertaking the job justify spending one’s own productive life afloat within that blissful and hilarious atmosphere of truth-telling” (240). Of course Proust is not the only gay or eventually “queer” man, Sedgwick herself admitted, with whom she could identify. The breast cancer that would eventually metastasize and kill her, Sedgwick writes in an early essay (“White Glasses,” to be later included in the collection Tendencies), had prompted her to see herself, in particular, as a gay man with AIDS.

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