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Reviewed by:
Mary Lynn Broe and Angela Ingram, eds. Women's Writing in Exile. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1989. 442 pp. $39.95 cloth; pb. $13.95.
Linda Kauffman, ed. Gender & Theory, Dialogues on Feminist Criticism. Oxford: Blackwell, 1989. 258 pp. $49.95 cloth; pb. $15.95.

Judging by the ways in which current feminist debates are engaged in these two collections, the simplistically framed conflicts of the Seventies and Eighties—between theory as "male" and "experience" as female—have given way to more complex and reciprocal models of consciousness, language, and the articulation of personal experience in literary form.

Women's Writing in Exile gathers a diverse set of essays on "exilic texts" by twentieth-century women. They analyze displacements from a "mother" country that are either politically enforced or voluntarily chosen, as well as the more metaphorical banishments of those "exiled less by geography than according to received literary criteria." Many of these essays are doubled by their authors' sense of professional displacement: as Jane Marcus puts it, the feminist critic writes from an odd position, "aware of her own estrangement from the center of her discipline, awkwardly measuring just how much marginalization she is willing to bear, negotiating dangerous identifications with her subjects."

The first section, "Communities of Exile," begins with Shari Benstock's reconsideration of female modernism, which, she asserts, is not the underside of (male) modernism's literary terrain (pace Sandra Gilbert)—but, rather, "the excluded other within the law that ensures the law's operation," the "internal seam . . . in the Modernist fabric . . . that expatriation allowed to be externalized through writing." As if to illustrate female modernism's complex implication in the patriarchal codes from which its practitioners sought refuge, Mary Lynn Broe attempts a modernist collage on the troubled dynamics of incest as exile and "exilic" textual strategies in the writing of Djuna Barnes, Emily Coleman, and Antonia White. In more familiar discursive style, Susan Friedman's essay unfolds the personal, social, and spiritual reasons behind H.D.'s voluntary exile, whereas Judith Gardiner explores the ambivalent "exhiliration" of exile for Jean Rhys, Christina Stead, and Doris Lessing, in whose work England is both the center of culture and the locus of imperialism. Other essays examine the textual consequences of Isak Dinesen's return from Africa to Denmark and of African-American writers' (including Ntozake Shange, Gloria Naylor, and Alice Walker) different depictions of their characters' quests for spiritual asylum.

Section Two, "The Canons of Exile," looks at the work of writers whose exiles, in a more metaphorical sense, result from the exclusions imposed by genre definitions, publication practices, and the politics of literary criticism. Particularly challenging essays include Sonia Saldívar-Hull's discussion of feminist critics' blindness to racism and classism in the writing of Gertrude Stein, Celeste Schenck's related argument that writers who used traditional meters have been "exiled by genre" from the newly constructed high modernist canon, and Jane Marcus' reminder that the "elsewhereness" of women's exiles should not be read as providing alibis for lack of critical (and ethical) responsibility. The third section, "The Politics of Exile," includes analyses of gender and colonialism in Anglo-Indian fiction, women's literary dissections of fascism in Britain, Germany, and Spain, and Nadine Gordimer's complex treatment of exile, both external and internal, in Burger's Daughter. [End Page 662]

Just when each section seems to hint at tentative conclusions, the reader is further unsettled by the voices of four differently "placed" feminist critics (Annette Kolodny, Esther Fuchs, and Sneja Gunew in dialogue with Gayatri Spivak), whose remarks about personal and professional displacement underscore the problems inherent in any idealization of female liminality. However, although the Introduction states that the collection seeks neither to propose a definitive theory of exile nor to privilege the marginalized subject (whether writer or critic), several authors show little awareness of the discrepancies in their critical enterprise.

Many of the pieces in Gender & Theory are more complexly motivated by questions of status within the profession. Kauffman selected these essays to "interrogate the interrelations of feminism and critical theory by reconceptualizing subjectivity in historically and culturally specific terms" and juxtaposed them...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 662-664
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-01
Open Access
No
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