restricted access Marcel's Écriture Féminine
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Marcel's Écriture Féminine

What follows is an interrogation of the possessive apostrophe in my title: the mark of appropriation, defining "Marcel" as possessor, master, of an écriture féminine. But in the peculiar grammar of this construction, Marcel might equally be read as the object of an écriture féminine: a reversal suggesting the putting into écriture féminine of Marcel, in which the aspiring writer in Proust's Remembrance of Things Past is the one written. Such an ambiguity, the always-possible chiasmus or reversal of subject and object, destabilizes the position of each; like Hegel's master and slave, each both usurps and depends upon the position of the other for its own. In Paul de Man's terms, the possessive apostrophe is properly unreadable, refusing to decide between two conflicting power relationships; each term is unstable as subject or object, possessor or possession, master or mastered.

Its unreadability, however, is precisely what makes such an illegible title appropriate here, for I would like to restore the title's occulted reversibility—and overturn the assumptions of a critical tradition that has tended to repeat Marcel's claims for mastery rather than question them. The eruption of what might be read—or unread—as an écriture féminine in the Proustian text ultimately explodes the mark of possession, refusing to be annexed and domesticated within Marcel's narrative discourse. This refusal transgresses the confident subject/object notions of narrator and [End Page 337] narrated, speaker and speech, writer and written, overturning the implicit claim to mastery that structures these relationships. Marcel's failure in the position of possessing subject throws into question not only his own "authority" but also the claims of a critical tradition that has repeated his "authoritative" assertions, thereby endorsing the shaky hierarchy of the subject/object distinction.

My use of écriture féminine within a canonical male-authored text may be less—or more—scandalous when qualified here as a critical rather than polemical move. Originally the call to "write the body" as the only authentic means to "write the feminine," écriture féminine's claims have subsequently been questioned, beginning with its source, the very speaking or writing subject herself. Is she speaking herself as subject or speaking for herself as object? As Shoshana Felman asks when Luce Irigaray argues the impossibility of "speaking woman" within the Aristotelian, logocentric structures of western discourse, "Is she speaking the language of men, or the silence of women? Is she speaking as a woman or in the place of the (silent) woman, for the woman, in the name of the woman? Is it enough to be a woman in order to speak as a woman?" (3). Felman points to Irigaray's repetition of the "oppressive gesture" that has reduced woman to something "spoken for," a representation (4). The inevitable fall into representation by which the speaking subject becomes an object "spoken for" is pursued by Ann Rosalind Jones's suggestion that the effort to "speak the body" fails to recognize that the body itself is always already mediated, enmeshed in representation. Écriture féminine would seem to stand now as the failure to "speak" the unmediated body, instead speaking "for" the body inevitably mediated by representation. But even as it bespeaks representation, however, écriture féminine marks the point of failure of representation's confident tautologies, the moment at which a text's mimetic illusions dissolve. Used here as a writing that literally "dissolves"—in the idiom of the Proustian text's episode—narrative claims, écriture féminine confounds Marcel's and his critics' attempts to domesticate it as representation, representation understood, as Alice Jardine puts it, as "the sorting out of identity and difference . . . the process of analysis: naming, controlling, remembering, understanding" (Gynesis 118). It will be used to explore a "space coded as feminine" (Gynesis 25) in which definitions and differences no longer retain an illusory stability and in which the very category of the feminine dissolves in sexual ambiguity and oscillation.1 What is in question is the possibility of mimetic closure—whether a text can close around that which it claims to represent [End Page 338] , to...