On Reading Sedgwick for the First Time

You promised yourself you would finish your French essay today, but it’s the end of the day and it still sits unwritten. Sometimes you just know in your gut whether your assigned or your voluntary intellectual labor is more important. Sometimes you just know.

(I first opened Epistemology of the Closet eight months ago in the Dupont Circle Kramerbooks and it was like staring at this incomprehensible wall of words. I’ve learned a lot since then.)

A perfect ending to today: the day when you make choices to rejoice in the sun, to drop your work and see your friends, to sit talking for hours, to glory in the possibilities of intellectual engagement wherever they may come, to open yourself up and be ready to receive them.

Then that wall of words hovering before your eyes in Kramerbooks? You see it splintering and cracking until it becomes not a solid wall but this liquid, all the letters contracting and colliding as the liquid type (I imagine it’s in a Courier font) funnels down in this spiral like a bathtub drain, funnels in this steady stream down to the center of your body. Then you come home at the end of the day and you open Sedgwick (now Tendencies, not Epistemology, but the sentiment stands) and then you can access the words—because you put aside an exercise in the prose of a language you don’t speak to talk and talk and talk and see your friends and love the sunshine.

I firmly believe—in fact, I try to remind myself of it daily—that you don’t learn how to read by going to classes, though maybe that’s a part of it. Because I also firmly believe that you learn how to read by living and being, and that if you live and be in seriousness and in earnest, but reserve just enough energy to come home at night and think about how you’ve lived and been that day, then you will grow bit by bit and the words will pour in and you will become an adult and keep becoming an adult and keep reading more things and learning how to read more things.

Then, if you don’t stop, someday you may come to stand before a lecture hall, or to sit across a dinner table, and you will say this to your literal or metaphorical children, and they won’t believe you until they realize for themselves with startling clarity that this is a mode of living open to them as well, if they are only themselves open to it.

Then they will come home at night and reflect and then they will realize how much bigger the world is than their French essay and then they will cry half of terror and half of joy.

One thought on “On Reading Sedgwick for the First Time

  1. Hallo Emily! I’m so pleased to hear that Sedgwick’s words are becoming more transparent to you. We’ve complained sometimes about people being complete packages, but I guess it’s all facetious. In the end, I’m grateful, as you are, that growing as a friend can help you grow as a scholar and, more generally, as a human being too.

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