Lesbian and gay studies was still in its academic infancy when Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick wrote her long-unpublished essay on James Merrill's long poem “The Book of Ephraim” (1976). Sedgwick's essay focuses on what she sees as the poem's fascinated concern with the administration of punishment and pain by one man on another. Written at least partly as a bid for recognition from a major American poet of the time, the essay can also be understood as an early act of engagement on Sedgwick's part with some of the most enduring of her critical and theoretical interests, such as abjected sexualities, nonoedipal psychologies, and the analysis of virtuosic performances (including, eventually, her own) of cultural authority.

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