Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Tendencies is a collection of essays dealing with the general theme of homosexuality and literature. The essays vary considerably in form; Sedgwick lists some of the genres she intends to include—“the autobiographical narrative, the performance piece, the atrocity story, the polemic, the prose essay that quotes poetry, the obituary”—and the collection includes these and other genres. Many essays combine several genres, as does “White Glasses,” which is part creative writing, part autobiography, and part obituary.

The book is subdivided into three sections: “Queer Tutelage,” “Crossing of Discourses,” and “Across Genders, Across Sexualities.” Because the book consists of essays conceived and written independently, it lacks a single thesis, but it nevertheless displays methodological and thematic unity. Sedgwick’s goal throughout is to explore at a theoretical level the connections between human sexual desire and identity.

Sedgwick accomplishes this goal primarily through literary criticism. In Tendencies, the examples of literature range from eighteenth century French literature (Denis Diderot’s The Nun), through British literature (represented by Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde) and American modernists such as Willa Cather and Henry James, to contemporary popular culture, and especially the cult films of John Waters. Sedgwick thus draws on mainstream and canonical authors but also undercuts the distinction between high and low culture, canonical versus cult, through her juxtaposition of traditional literary figures with popular and contemporary culture.

Sedgwick focuses relentlessly on sexuality as the key to philosophical questions of identity, but her definition of “sexuality” is...

(The entire section is 723 words.)