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Unfinished Business: Craig Owens and Art Education
Elusive Affiliation: Craig Owens and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
David Deitcher

I don’t quite remember when Craig Owens first told me about his enthusiasm for the work of the late, great literary scholar and doyenne of queer theory, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. I do remember that our conversation took place over dinner at one of the many mediocre restaurants along Columbus Avenue near his apartment on West Eightieth Street. Craig and I became friends when we re-met during the fall of 1979, shortly after I enrolled at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center to begin what became my thorough re-education in art history as a doctoral candidate studying with Rosalind Krauss, among dauntingly intelligent classmates of whom Craig was the tallest, I think, not excepting Douglas Crimp.1 Our friendship gathered intensity throughout the first half of the 1980s and then ebbed, but revived somewhat before Craig became sick, and eventually returned to his parents’ home in Lake Forest, Illinois, where he died from AIDS-related illnesses on July 4, 1990.

Certain details from our conversation about Sedgwick’s work linger in memory to narrow the range of when it occurred. That it took place in 1985 or later seems clear since most of what Craig had to say depended on his having read Sedgwick’s Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985),2 and focused on the importance of her theory of the “homosocial.” But Craig also mentioned another aspect of Sedgwick’s work that is absent from that relatively early book: her revealing engagement with the problem of “the sentimental”—one of the ultimate terms of critical derision since the birth of modernism.3 In the absence of Craig’s papers, which disappeared not long after his death, I cannot say with certainty how or when he learned about Sedgwick’s interest in the sentimental. Lacking access to potentially revealing details that one might have found in correspondence or journal entries, I can only assume that Craig’s familiarity with that facet of Sedgwick’s work depended on his having read a pair of essays, each called “Epistemology of the Closet” (parts one and two), which appeared in the spring and summer 1988 issues of the Raritan Review. That Craig read those essays seems clear inasmuch as they figure in the reading list for Visualizing AIDS, a workshop that he conducted at the University of Rochester during the spring semester of 1989.4

The first Raritan essay includes Sedgwick’s initial foray into the sentimental, and differs significantly from the far deeper, more expansive and demanding analysis of that subject in her later book, Epistemology of the Closet.5 It seems likely that Craig never read that book, as it was not published until 1990, the year he died. In the Raritan essay, Sedgwick relates her interest in the sentimental and the potential for its rehabilitation, to “recent feminist criticism, particularly around nineteenth-century American women’s fiction, and less explicitly but much more broadly in non-literary feminist thought.” Significantly, she also notes “a somewhat similar rehabilitation of ‘the sentimental’ as an important gay male project . . . one that has been in progress for close to a century under different names, including those of ‘camp’ and ‘kitsch’.”6 That uncharacteristically careless pairing of “camp” and “kitsch” suggests how much more work Sedgwick had yet to do to treat the subject as sensitively as she did in her then as-yet unpublished book. In the end, Craig never published anything about the sentimental, nor about Sedgwick’s work on that subject, which begs the question of how, precisely, the two scholars’ writing and teaching intersect.


Sedgwick provided a suggestive, but overly broad indication when she spoke at the memorial on July 25, 1990, which close friends organized for Craig at Artists Space, then located at 223 West Broadway in SoHo. After speaking affectionately about the limited scope and duration of their friendship, Sedgwick stated: “Craig did me the incredible honor of finding my work usable at the experimental intersection of feminist and gay identities and politics” (italics added).7

In only two published essays—the first by Owens, the second by Sedgwick—does the scholars’ engagement with each other’s work become fully manifest. To read Owens’s “Outlaws: Gay Men in Feminism” (1987) and Sedgwick’s “Tales of the Avunculate: Queer Tutelage in The Importance of Being Earnest” (1993)8 is to grasp how generative they found each other’s work during the little more than two years of their acquaintance. Without having first read Sedgwick’s Between Men, Owens would have had far more difficulty convincing readers of his primary objectives in writing “Outlaws”: first, to prove that the legal and medical apparatus that oppresses women also oppresses gay men; second, to argue for the viability of a political alliance between feminists and gay men. Such objectives clearly situate Owens’s essay at the “experimental intersection of feminist and gay identity and politics.”9 Conversely, without Owens’s essay to inform her own, Sedgwick would have had to expend far more time, energy, and space to thinking through and explaining how uncovering Oscar Wilde’s oblique references to uncles and aunts might reveal his play’s no less covert gay meanings.

In the first half of “Outlaws,” Owens identifies and responds critically to obstacles that he discerns to the political alliance that both scholars advocated in their writing and teaching. For Owens, the first impediment is the pervasive myth of gay male gynophobia—a myth that functions, he writes, “to obscure the profound link between misogyny and homophobia in our culture.” In Sedgwick’s Between Men, Owens found an “extraordinary recent study of male bonding in nineteenth-century British fiction,” in which she “argues convincingly that male homophobia is a distinctly feminist concern”.10 It was of vital importance to Owens that Sedgwick’s book makes that point as convincingly as it does, since the second obstacle to the feminist/gay alliance consists of homophobia in feminist writing. In his essay “Outlaws,” Owens confronted such homophobia—notably, in response to his essay “The Discourse of Others: Feminism and Postmodernism” (1983).11 Consistent with both scholars’ shared mission of securing the feminist/gay political alliance, Owens reassures readers, however, that the writers in question are not themselves homophobes.

The first example he confronts consists in an unpublished fragment of an otherwise favorable blurb that Linda Nochlin wrote for Hal Foster’s anthology, The Anti-Aesthetic (1983).12 In that fragment, Nochlin laments the relative paucity in Foster’s book of writing by women, while noting a pair of exceptions: first, Rosalind Krauss’s “Sculpture in the Expanded Field”; second, Craig “playing a kind of ‘Tootsie’-role”—a reference to Sidney Pollack’s 1982 film, Tootsie, in which an ambitious male actor (Dustin Hoffman playing Michael Dorsey) assumes a drag persona (Dorothy Michaels) to land a much-wanted role in a soap opera. To Nochlin’s quip, Owens responds by asserting that the “association of transvestism and homosexuality is, of course, fully historical and contingent.”13 However, he adds, “in an ideological climate in which that association is presumed to be self-evident, to caricature a gay male feminist critic as a transvestite is tantamount to exposing his homosexuality.”15 Perhaps Nochlin’s characterization of Owens—the gay male feminist—as a “feminized man,” should be read, he avers, “simply as an inversion of the Nietzschean characterization of the feminist as a masculine woman; even so I would suggest . . . that it is as fully homophobic as Nietzsche’s is misogynistic, for it deploys what has come to be recognized as a distinctly homophobic mechanism of social control.”15

To be subjected to that “mechanism of social control”—more familiarly known as “outing”—one must first be concealing, or anyway not revealing that one is gay. In “The Discourse of Others,” Owens took himself to task for his failure (in an earlier two-part essay from 1980, “The Allegorical Impulse: Towards a Theory of Postmodernism”) to address a “remarkable oversight”;16 that is, his failure in that otherwise groundbreaking essay to recognize and address the implications of the fact that so much of the art that he had analyzed as postmodern, is art by women—indeed, by feminists.17 In his writings, Owens did not disclose the fact that he was gay until his essay “Outlaws.” While that disclosure was irrelevant to his previous writings, including “The Discourse of Others”—which arguably made him a target for Nochlin’s codes revelation—it assumed importance, however, within the context of the feminist/gay male alliance that he advocated in “Outlaws.”

Craig seemed comfortable as a gay man who would not have denied either his queer sexual orientation nor the fact that being gay constituted a significant aspect of his mutable sense of self. But (pace Wikipedia), I did not know him to be someone who would have claimed the mantle of the “gay activist” or AIDS activist—the possible exception being when, late in his tragically abbreviated life, he conducted the workshop he titled Visualizing AIDS. But it was only in writing “Outlaws” that Craig finally came out in print as a gay man.18 In his essay “Architecture of Influence: Thinking through Craig Owens,” artist Tom Burr argues that what bothered Craig most about the prospect of coming out in class—by presenting his then recently completed “Outlaws”—was less the acknowledgment of homosexuality per se than his discomfort with the fact that identifying as gay—that is, adopting the relatively stable, modern classification based on a person’s sexual object choice—contradicted his understanding of subjectivity as radically decentered, unstable, contingent, mutable.19 With so much else at stake, it was to an even smaller circle of trusted friends that Craig came out as a person living with HIV/AIDS.20


Midway through “Tales,” Sedgwick credits Owens’s “Outlaws” with providing the answer to a question that she asks herself: “What may be at stake in the making visible of aunts and uncles in this play?” More dramatic and poignant than the details of precisely how Sedgwick enlisted Owens’s essay to answer that question is the postscript with which she concluded “Tales,” in which she does Craig the “incredible [posthumous] honor” of conveying how she found his work “usable”:

“Tales of the Avunculate”—written in the summer of 1990—was sparked by the work of Craig Owens . . . and any pleasure in its writing came from the anticipation of showing it to him when a draft of it might be completed. That was the least of the things that suddenly became impossible on his death from AIDS-related illness, on July 4, 1990, at age thirty-nine.21

Sedgwick’s remarks at the memorial for Craig included a variant of that postscript. “Three weeks ago, I was halfway through writing an essay [“Tales”] whose intellectual motive came, as it happened, from a couple of cryptic paragraphs of Craig’s that I had been worrying over for a long time.”22 The paragraphs that both inspired Sedgwick and gave her something to worry about relate to Owens’s discussion in “Outlaws” of texts by another feminist, some of whose writing he had reason to find homophobic: Luce Irigaray’s “Women on the Market” and “Commodities among Themselves,” two chapters from her book, This Sex Which Is Not One.23 “Irigaray extrapolates a ‘homosexual monopoly,” Owens observes, “from Lévi-Srauss’s discussion of kinship structures as arrangements which facilitate the exchange of women among (groups of) men—exchanges in which women participate only as objects.”24 To this reader, the most cryptic, or anyway the most difficult and therefore anxiety-inducing parts of Owens’s response to Irigaray begin with his gloss on her account of Lévi-Strauss’s analysis of kinship structures, and extends through Owens’s turn to writings by Juliet Mitchell and Gayle Rubin: “closer feminist readers of Lévi-Strauss.” In reading Rubin, and especially Mitchell, Owens finds that, “for Lévi-Strauss at least, the incest taboo is a prohibition against neither intergenerational nor homosexual liaisons.” As reported in “Outlaws,” that understanding, especially as articulated in Mitchell’s psychoanalytic- and Marxist-informed analysis of kinship structures, provided Sedgwick with an approach to the avuncular that enabled her to uncover the gay subtexts in Wilde’s play. It is hardly irrelevant to Sedgwick’s interest in Owens’s essay that he also found in Mitchell’s work support for the idea that the incest taboo “may actually work to integrate homosexual impulses into the sexual economy, and that ‘repression’ of homosexuality may be less [than] universal.”25

Inversely, it is when Owens turns to Freud’s characterization of the “social instincts”—to “camaraderie, esprit de corps, or the love of mankind in general,” as “manifestations of sublimated homosexual desire”—that he reveals how very useful he found Sedgwick’s Between Men. There, he deploys her understanding of the “homosocial” to argue that the “gay male intellectual has a fundamentally different stake in feminism than his heterosexual ‘counterpart’”; and, furthermore, to support his contention that there is a “link between feminist and gay politics.”26 Sedgwick’s theorization of the homosocial enabled Owens to grasp how institutions such as the military, the prison, and the boy’s school—widely regarded as hotbeds of homosexual activity and wellsprings of homoerotic iconography—actually function as “machines for the reproduction, not of homosexuals, but of homophobes.” In Sedgwick’s work, Owens claims to have found nothing less than a way to transform “the fear of homosexuality from an isolated political issue into a central concern of any left political coalition today.”27

Craig was fully aware of the challenges confronting the attempt to situate homophobia as a “central concern of any left political coalition.” That awareness clearly informed an early part of “The Discourse of Others,” in which he finds reason to criticize passages from Fredric Jameson’s The Political Unconscious (1981).18 Jameson, for example, acknowledges the need for a “reaudition of the oppositional voices of black and ethnic cultures, women’s or gay literature, ‘naïve’ or marginalized folk art and the like”—a laundry list of the disenfranchised and/or the underrepresented that, Owens notes, relegates women’s cultural production to the status of folk art. Owens rightly regards that condescension as a digression from Jameson’s main argument, which centers on the fact that the “affirmation of such non-hegemonic cultural voices remains ineffective” if they are not “first rewritten in terms of their proper place in ‘the dialogical system of the social classes.’”29 As a left-leaning gay man with a profound interest in feminist thought, Owens remains ambivalent. On the one hand, he acknowledges that the “class determinants of sexuality—and of sexual oppression” are “too often overlooked.” On the other, his deepening immersion in feminist theory throughout the mid-1980s prompts him to assert: “sexual inequality cannot be reduced to an instance of economic exploitation . . . and explained in terms of class struggle alone.” The principal issue, he argues, is “not simply the oppressiveness of Marxist discourse, but its totalizing ambitions, its claim to account for every form of social experience” (italics added). He finds such totalizing ambition “characteristic of all theoretical discourse, which is one reason women frequently condemn it as phallocratic.”30 To be sure, what Owens finds most worthy of condemnation is not “theory per se but . . . the distance it maintains between itself and its objects—a distance which objectifies and masters.”31


Craig did not live long enough to witness, much less to participate in, the emergence of queer theory as a multi-disciplinary area of academic study built on the legacies of post-structuralist critical theory (notably, Foucault’s late work on human sexuality) and women’s studies. The burgeoning of queer theory attested to the viability—at least within academia—of the alliance between feminists and gay men that Owens and Sedgwick promoted in their work. Despite the rise of queer studies, and its impact within and beyond academia, reactionary forces have since undermined the possibility of transforming “the fear of homosexuality from an isolated political issue into a central concern of any left political coalition today.”32

Eleven years after Owens died, the events of September 11, 2001, set in motion world-altering shifts at the level of geopolitics as well as national and local politics. Even as Owens and Sedgwick were benefiting from the discovery of each other’s work, almost a decade had passed during which Reagan/Bush-era, supply-side “trickle-down” economics and globalization were accelerating the growth of economic disparities.33 Given the heightened levels of resentment resulting from economic disparities as extreme as any that have existed since the Gilded Age, one might well wonder if the misgivings about Marxism, or, more precisely, of its totalizing economism, which Owens directed at Jameson’s The Political Unconscious, may itself be outdated; rendered beside-the-point by historic events that neither Owens nor Sedgwick lived to imagine, much less to witness; events as unthinkable as the possibility that a fraudulent business failure, con artist, racist, and xenophobic misogynist—Donald J. Trump—could become president of the United States.

Two years after the formation of the Occupy Movement, French economist Thomas Piketty affirmed its raison d’être when he published Capital in the Twenty-First Century, its unprecedented wealth of data gleaned from research into European and American tax rolls dating back to the French Revolution. Like the Occupy Movement, and Bernie Sanders’s subsequent insurgency, Piketty’s book contributed to a revival of interest in Marxist thought, as the book’s findings have proven as irrefutable as they are unsustainable.34 Reflecting on historical patterns of income and wealth “convergence” (greater equivalence) and “divergence” (greater disparity) in the United States since the start of the twentieth century, Piketty’s research revealed what many already knew: the immediate post-World War II era constituted a period of significant “convergence,” which the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan reversed. Piketty makes abundantly clear the effects of the Reagan era’s trickle-down economic policies.35 Add to that the now almost daily police killings of unarmed black men,36 the less prominently reported murders of trans women, and the failure to hold police accountable for well-documented, unjustified killings of black men and boys, have together cast a pall over American life, one that recalls another social splintering, which extended throughout the 1980s and 1990s: between those who were acutely aware of and cared deeply about the gay men and the black and Hispanic men and women whom AIDS was killing, and those who plainly did not.

The feminist/gay alliance that Owens and Sedgwick advocated in their work remains incomplete, in an expanded version that takes into account not only gender and sexuality, but other alliances such as race. This, now more than ever, figures among our most urgent political needs since January 2017, when Donald Trump became president of the United States. During the election campaign, his former chief strategist Steve Bannon had already taken aim at identity politics, claiming that as long as the Left remains focused on issues of “race and identity” the Right can push through its own agenda of white supremacist nationalism and more trickle-down economic policies.37 That strategy took on alarming prominence when Bannon sent his Breitbart protégé and Internet troll, Milo Yiannopoulos,38 on a speaking tour of campuses during the Presidential campaign. Egregiously titled the “Dangerous Faggot Tour,” nothing could undermine the alliance that Owens and Sedgwick advocated more: an openly gay man vilifying feminism as “cancer” and castigating queer and gender studies programs as “poisonous and toxic.”39 Extending such blatant misogyny to deride people of color, transexuals, and immigrants, it became clear that Yiannopoulos, in line with Bannon’s strategy for Trump’s presidency, was intent on drumming up campus support for a full-blown return to the culture wars of the early 1990s—aimed at nothing less than reversing advances in social justice and undermining alliances across gender, racial, and class divides.

Following the presidential elections in November 2016, members of the allegedly liberal mainstream press were quick to assign blame for Hillary Clinton’s loss. Commentators of every ideological stripe lay most of the blame on “identity liberalism”; that is, on Clinton’s inclination to speak out forcefully in support of the civil rights and dignity of women, immigrants, blacks, Hispanics, LGBTQ Americans; on her appeal, that is, to a differential understanding of the United States, as opposed to the Trump campaign’s nativistic nostalgia for a patriarchal, monochromatic, Christianized nation. How else but by forging alliances among the relatively disempowered American majority can the Left hope to regain control of at least parts of Congress, and even the Executive branch of government?

The New York Times opened the floodgates to a torrent of liberal self-flagellation masquerading as self-reflection with its publication on November 18, 2016, of Columbia University professor Mark Lilla’s op-ed column, “The End of Identity Liberalism.”40 There, Lilla argues that celebrating difference may be a “splendid principle of moral pedagogy,” but is “disastrous as a foundation for democratic politics.” He insists, moreover, that it has “produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups.” Here, Lilla deliberately ignores the possibility that such “self-defined groups” are capable of forming political alliances. Furthermore, his argument is premised on his acceptance of Bannon’s right-wing argument—that as long as the Left is focused on identity politics, the alt-Right can succeed in implementing a policy that combines white supremacist nationalism with tax cuts for corporations and the rich.

No sooner was Lilla’s column published than it became the template for innumerable articles and opinion pieces similarly eager to blame Clinton’s loss on Clinton herself. These attacks targeted political coalitions based on identity, such as the alliance between feminists and gay men, and willfully ignored the abundant evidence of such well-documented factors that contributed to Clinton’s loss as Russian cyberwarfare, whether in cahoots with the Trump campaign or not. There were exceptions, but most of these critiques adhere to the binary opposition that columnists following Lilla’s lead helped to construct and maintain between “identity liberalism” and economism—the very binary for which Owens had criticized Jameson’s work thirty-five years earlier. Only three days later, The Los Angeles Times Review of Books published a refutation by another Columbia Professor, Katherine Franke, in which she related Lilla’s column to the views of Trump enthusiast, former KKK Imperial Grand Wizard, anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, David Duke, who had demanded that Trump nominate then Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to be his Attorney General, so that he could “stop the massive institutional racism against whites!” According to Franke, Lilla did “the nefarious background work of making white supremacy respectable. Again.” In her view, Lilla’s brand of liberalism “reduces . . . facts of human suffering and the systems of power that produce that suffering as beside the point.”41 Two weeks later, trans male writer and ACLU attorney, Chase Strangio rhetorically amplified Franke’s understanding that what is at stake in the politics of identity is no trivial matter to be subordinated to economic inequality; on the contrary, such politics must be understood as nothing less than “matters of survival.”

Perhaps the most elucidating and sobering response to Lilla’s column was Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson’s “What Donald Trump Doesn’t Know About Black People.” In his article, he cites Bernie Sanders’s assertion in a California speech that “‘it is very easy for many Americans to say, I hate racism, I hate homophobia, I hate sexism,’ but that ‘it is a little bit harder for people in the middle or upper middle class to say, maybe we do have to deal with the greed of Wall Street.’” Dyson accuses Sanders of historical revisionism—of “blam[ing] the loss of the election on a brand of identity politics that even liberals were slow to embrace.” Of the Right, he asserts, “the tragedy is that much of the professed concern about the white working class is a cover for the interests of white elites who evoke working-class solidarity to combat racial, sexual and gender progress.”42 In “The Discourse of Others,” Owens challenges Jameson’s subordination of the identity-based factors contributing to social injustice to “totalizing economism.” That Owens rejected the need to choose between economic and other causes of social injustice is implicit in his admission that the “class determinants of sexuality—and of sexual oppression are too often overlooked.”43 Today, the formation of coalitions, however contingent, is even more urgent than when Owens wrote his text, as legislators mercilessly cut social services beyond their capacity to help protect the lives of the most vulnerable among us, even as they cut taxes for corporations and the richest Americans.

Owens and Sedgwick would have discerned “tragedy” in this distressing return to the logic that informed Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” which realigned southern working-class whites with the Republican party at the start of the 1970s. There can be little if any doubt that the two scholars would have fully understood post-election calls for an end to “identity liberalism” as a strategic assault on hard-won, incremental gains in extending human rights and dignity to women, blacks, Hispanics, immigrants, and queers. In advocating an alliance of feminists and gay men, they believed it could contribute to a broader coalition that would exert political pressure to help realize a more just society. In contrast to Lilla, they would have agreed with Dyson’s assertion that, far from disastrous as a political foundation, “[a]ttention to diversity and identity does not undercut our nation’s embrace of democratic ideals. Rather, it strengthens them.” Certainly, they would not have wished to fall for the Right’s trap, as Lilla does, of pitting social justice against economic interests—while economic change is certainly necessary to counter growing economic inequality, it does not necessitate abandoning other forms of social equality. The elusive alliance that Owens and Sedgwick envisioned and worked to achieve has since become a lightning rod for right-wing polemical assault, not only on the hard-won gains of various minority groups, but as Trump has clearly revealed, on the democratic foundations of the nation they sought to render more just, and which is now, by any measure at greater risk than at any time during their lives, or ours.

  1. 1. I first met Craig in 1975, in the unlikely and decidedly odd circumstances of a job interview in which Craig was the seriously overqualified job applicant and I the clueless co-proprietor (along with the somewhat more knowledgeable, steadfastly formalist William Edward O’Reilly) of a small, destined-to-fail Upper-East-Side art gallery. I bailed out of the gallery business one year later, having managed to lose what money I had to invest in that youthful folly. I did not know that art dealers don’t finance their galleries with their own funds, any more than I knew how heedless it was to open one devoted to emerging, non-Minimalist painters and sculptors during the OPEC Oil Recession, late in the history of conceptualism’s “dematerialization of the art object.” In December 1976, I returned to the Institute of Fine Art (NYU) to complete work on the Master’s degree I had temporarily shelved; and to intern for a year in Twentieth Century Art at the Metropolitan Museum, where I worked with Henry Geldzahler and Lowery Stokes Sims. I did not offer Craig the job he applied for, and prefer to think positively about that rejection, as if it had eliminated one distraction from the process of becoming the groundbreaking art critic and educator he soon after became.
  2. 2. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985).
  3. 3. For an analysis of the sexist construction of “sentimentality” as a term of cultural derision, see Andreas Huyssen, “Mass Culture as Woman: Modernism’s Other,” in After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), 44–62. Huyssen’s otherwise insightful analysis fails to consider the role of homophobia in that historical formation, which Sedgwick later foregrounded in her magisterial Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).
  4. 4. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Epistemology of the Closet (I),” Raritan 7, no. 4 (Spring 1988): 39–69; “Epistemology of the Closet (II),” Raritan 8, no. 1 (Summer 1988): 102–30. For the title, description, and reading list for “Visualizing AIDS,” see Craig Owens, Beyond Recognition: Representation, Power, and Culture, eds. Scott Bryson, Barbara Kruger, Lynne Tillman, and Jane Weinstock (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 355. The editors do not identify when Owens taught “Visualizing AIDS,” a “workshop designed to mobilize theories of representation, ideology, and racial and sexual difference in response to the AIDS epidemic.” In email correspondence with the author (dated July 6, 2016), Melissa Mead, John M. and Barbara Keil University Archivist and Rochester Collections Librarian at University of Rochester, identified the workshop by a different name: “1989/AH 488–Visual Aids” [sic]. In conversation with the author (August 8, 2016), Lynne Tillman confirmed that the title, course description, and reading list in Beyond Recognition derive from Owens’s papers, from which the editors reconstructed courses that he taught at various universities and other art programs.
  5. 5. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).
  6. 6. Sedgwick, “Epistemology of the Closet (I)”: 65.
  7. 7. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Memorial for Craig Owens,” in Tendencies (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), 103.
  8. 8. Sedgwick, “Tales of the Avunculate: Queer Tutelage in The Importance of Being Earnest,” in Tendencies, 52–72.
  9. 9. Sedgwick, “Memorial for Craig Owens,” in Tendencies, 103.
  10. 10. Craig Owens, “Outlaws: Gay Men in Feminism,” in Men in Feminism, eds. Alice Jardine and Paul Smith, (New York/London: Methuen, 1987), 219–20; reprinted in Beyond Recognition, 219.
  11. 11. Craig Owens, “The Discourse of Others: Feminists and Postmodernism,” in The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, ed. Hal Foster (Seattle: Bay Press, 1983), 57–77; reprinted in Beyond Recognition, 166–90.
  12. 12. Owens, “Outlaws,” in Beyond Recognition, 220.
  13. 13. Ibid., 220.
  14. 14. Ibid.
  15. 15. Ibid., 221.
  16. 16. Owens, “Discourse of Others,” in Beyond Recognition, 170.
  17. 17. Craig Owens, “The Allegorical Impulse: Toward a Theory of Postmodernism,” October, no. 12 (Spring 1980): 67–86; reprinted in Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation, ed. Brian Wallis (New York and Boston: New Museum of Contemporary Art/David R. Godine, 1984), 203–17; reprinted in Beyond Recognition, 52–69; and “The Allegorical Impulse: Toward a Theory of Postmodernism Part 2,” October, no. 13 (Summer 1980): 58–80; reprinted in Art After Modernism, 217–36; reprinted in Beyond Recognition, 70–87.
  18. 18. In a conversation with the author on September 15, 2016, artist Tom Burr described Craig’s uncharacteristic nervousness when, in a seminar at the Whitney Independent Study Program, he orally presented his recently completed essay, “Outlaws.” According to Burr, Craig’s nervousness was palpable, as if he sensed that there was much at stake in coming out as gay in his critical writing.
  19. 19. Tom Burr, “Architecture of Influence: Thinking Through Craig Owens,” Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory, vol. 26, no. 1 (August 2016): 95–100.
  20. 20. While I do not remember when or even how Craig told me that he had, first, seroconverted, and then been diagnosed with AIDS, I do remember flying out to Chicago to visit with him at his parents’ home in Lake Forest, Illinois, in 1990, at a time when he was still strong and lucid enough to enjoy such a visit.
  21. 21. Sedgwick, “Tales of the Avunculate,” in Tendencies, 72.
  22. 22. Sedgwick, “Memorial for Craig Owens,” in Tendencies, 105.
  23. 23. Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, trans. Catherine Porter with Carolyn Burke (New York: Cornell University Press, 1985).
  24. 24. Owens, “Outlaws,” in Beyond Recognition, 223.
  25. 25. Ibid., 228.
  26. 26. Ibid., 219.
  27. 27. Ibid., 231.
  28. 28. Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (London: Methuen, 1981).
  29. 29. Owens, “Discourse of Others,” in Beyond Recognition, 172.
  30. 30. Ibid.
  31. 31. Ibid., 172–73.
  32. 32. Owens, “Outlaws,” in Beyond Recognition, 232.
  33. 33. So vast did the disparities become that in 2011 they led to the formation of a new “left political coalition,” Occupy Wall Street, whose slogan, “We are the 99%” proved more durable than the coalition itself. In protesting the fact that the top one percent of Americans control something like 40 percent of privately held wealth in the United States, while the bottom 90 percent hold 73 percent of all its debt, in 2015–2016 many Occupy members found a temporary new home in Bernie Sanders’s left-populist campaign for the presidency.
  34. 34. “It is hard to imagine an economy and society that can continue functioning indefinitely with such extreme divergence between social groups,” Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014), 297. To cite only one recent popular example of the resurgence of interest in Marxist theory, see Louis Menand, “He’s Back: Karl Marx, Yesterday and Today,” The New Yorker (October 10, 2016): 90–97.
  35. 35. “The top decile claimed as much as 45–50 percent of national income in the 1910s–1920s before dropping to 30–35 percent by the end of the 1940s. Inequality then stabilized at that level from 1950 to 1970. A rapid rise in inequality extended throughout the 1980s until by 2000 we have returned to a level on the order of 45–50 percent of national income. The magnitude of the change is impressive. It is natural to ask how far such a trend might continue,” Piketty, in Capital, 23.
  36. 36. See Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: The New Press, 2010).
  37. 37. Robert Kuttner, “Steve Bannon, Unrepentant,” The American Prospect, August 16, 2017, “The Democrats,” Bannon stated in an interview with Kuttner, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”
  38. 38. At the time, Milo Yiannopoulos was employed as a journalist and “technology editor” for Breitbart News. Yiannopoulos claims that his outrageousness is a deliberate attempt to attack the Left’s political correctness in the name of free speech.
  39. 39. Milo Yiannopolous, “MILO Explains the Patriarchy at Ohio University,” Breitbart, December 2, 2016,
  40. 40. A sample from that torrent includes, among other articles, Mark Lilla, “The End of Identity Liberalism,” New York Times, November 18, 2016: SR1,; Katherine Franke, “Making White Supremacy Respectable. Again,” BLARB, November 21, 2016,; David Leonhardt, “‘Identity Politics’ and Its Defenders,” New York Times, November 21, 2016,; Laila Lalami, “The Identity Politics of Whiteness,” New York Times Magazine, November 21, 2016, MM15,; Michelle Garcia, “An Identity Politics Where ‘Victims’ Vanquish Others,” New York Times, November 21, 2016,; David A. Love, “Here’s why Democrats still need ‘identity politics’,” The Grio, November 23, 2016,; Steve Inskeep and Mark Lilla, “Columbia Professor Says Democrats Need To Move Beyond Identity Politics,” National Public Radio, November 25, 2016,; Vann R. Newkirk II, “North Carolina’s New Rainbow Coalition: How Identity Politics Helped Give Democrats One Victory in a Disastrous Election Cycle,” The Atlantic, November 30, 2016,; Eric Levitz, “What Bernie Sanders Gets Right About Identity Politics,” New York Magazine, December 21, 2016,; Zach Carter, “Why Hillary Clinton Lost,” The Huffington Post, December 3, 2016,; Amanda Kerri, “Identity Politics Cost Us the Election, You Say?” The Advocate, December 3, 2016,; Chase Strangio, “The New War on Identity Politics Is Actually a Very Old Way of Repressing Marginalized Americans,” Quartz, December 6, 2016,; Graham Vyse, “How Democrats Can Bridge Identity Politics and Economic Populism,” The New Republic, December 12, 2016,; Sean Illing, “This professor set off a war of words over ‘identity politics.’ We debated him,” Vox, December 16, 2016; Walter Benn Michaels, Charles W. Mills, Linda Hirshman, and Carla Murphy, “What Is the Left Without Identity Politics? Four Writers Consider the Question Dividing the Democratic Party,” The Nation, December 16, 2016,; Michael Eric Dyson, “What Donald Trump Doesn’t Know About Black People,” New York Times, December 17, 2016,; Susan Chira, “Feminism Lost. Now What?,” New York Times, December 30, 2016,; Rebecca Solnit, “From Lying to Leering,” The London Review of Books 39, no. 2 (January 19, 2016): 3–7,
  41. 41. Lilla, “Identity Liberalism”, New York Times; Franke, “White Supremacy,” New York Times.
  42. 42. Dyson, “What Donald Trump Doesn’t Know,” New York Times.
  43. 43. Owens, “Discourse of Others,” in Beyond Recognition, 172.