Gender and Difference Revisited
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GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 11.3 (2005) 479-481

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Gender and Difference Revisited

Masculine/Feminine: Practices of Difference(s). Nelly Richard. Translated by Silvia R. Tandeciarz and Alice A. Nelson. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. xiii + 94 pp.

Translation inevitably involves a time lag, as if a book needed to gather energy for a leap across the chasm between languages. The translation of "theory" into English has played a significant part in determining the course of literary and cultural studies, since English remains a hegemonic language for scholarly practice. The lag between the writing and publication of a French theoretician's latest work, say, and its translation into English has grown shorter over the last few decades, reflecting the demand for near-instantaneous transmission of knowledge in the new global order. Nelly Richard is a significant figure in Latin American feminism and critical theory, but Masculine/Feminine, originally published in 1993, has been slow to appear in English. This is unfortunate, because the book is very much of its own cultural moment and seems belated today, although potentially in a useful way. It was written at a time of both defensive and ecstatic encounter between feminism and what was then still known as "postmodernism," when it was still necessary to insist that such an encounter was needed. Richard was also writing from a particular place, newly redemocratized Chile. Founder and director of Revista de crítica cultural, an important Chilean journal of theory and culture, Richard is known for bringing the work of European and North American thinkers to the attention of Latin American scholars and for her tireless support of the Chilean avant-garde, as well as for her own contributions to cultural theory. To read her work is to consider the locality where it is written, both in time and in space, and to ask after the kinds of intervention it can perform today.

The book's cover displays a beautiful trans-woman, "Evelyn," posed invitingly on a bed—a photograph that looks very Nan Goldin but turns out to be by Chilean artist Paz Errazuriz. "Evelyn's" invitation promises a book that will take into account all varieties of persons who call themselves women. Indeed, while tracing the politics of redemocratization and connecting it with the state of play in post-Pinochet feminist artistic and critical practice, Richard tirelessly challenges [End Page 479] all essentialisms. Arguing that the avant-garde remains politically relevant even after the Pinochet regime, and that it is available to readings through contemporary theory, Richard offers an internal critique of democratization that posits the inextricability of gender from other political issues. Chilean art becomes both exemplary, a model of Deleuzian "minor" literature, and a valuable artifact in and of itself. This interlacing of the global and the local in the name of theoretical and political praxis is one of the book's most compelling aspects. There is an imminent theorization of global relations implicit in Richard's joining of the specific and the general, the local and the global, a methodology whose importance exceeds considerations of belatedness that might be applicable to this translation—if, indeed, this translation is not too late.

Richard's chapter on transvestites, perhaps referenced by the cover photograph, is a conscious act of de-essentializing femininity and is the book's most problematic and provocative intervention. In it Richard argues for the subversiveness of transgendered artistic practice through, for instance, the example of avant-garde gay male artists signing their work with women's names. To say that cross-dressing is subversive is nothing new; what Richard contributes is a specifically Latin American reading of the form that this subversion takes—what she calls "the Latin American vocation of retouching [retoque]" (46), the remaking of the artifacts of the First World by persons at its periphery. Rather than treat drag as a cabaret performance or as a personal act of self-making, Richard reads it as an act of participating in an attempt to overcome or ignore poverty, to analogize and bring...