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Reviews WhatDoes a Woman Want?Reading and SexualDifference, by Shoshana Felman; vi &178 pp. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993, $34.00 cloth, $12.95 paper. "My life is a deceitíul country," words that begin Vita Sackville-West's autobiography, testify to a discovery that Shoshana Felman made about her own life and finds to be "characteristic of the female condition" (p. 15): she is missing from her own autobiography because it is written in the language that reduces women's otherness to their difference from men. Women's autobiography is "what their memory cannot contain although their writing inadvertently inscribes it" (p. 16), namely, the story of a trauma included in each woman's story. This claim needs argument beyond the remark that feminist psychiatrists agree, especially when Felman says that she encounters feminism as an inspiration rather than as orthodoxy. However, her emphasis on the performative elements in writing (dreaming) and reading (resisting) that defy classification goes far toward excusing such lapses. Aldiough trauma cannot be remembered , Felman continues, it can be testified to in the effort made by female "speaker and listener to recover something of which the speaking subject cannot be in possession" (p. 16). Having begun by asking what it might mean for a woman to reclaim Freud's 'What does a woman want?" Felman ends the book by answering that women want to awaken to the birth of their own autobiography. Two ways for women to come into their own stories are revealed through Felman's readings of autobiographies by Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, and Adrienne Rich and of three texts by men, two stories by Balzac, and the analysis in The Interpretation ofDreams of Freud's dream about his patient Irma, each of which dramatizes "a male encounter with femininity as difference." Felman transmutes Freud's question into Rich's 'With whom do you believe your lot is cast?" a question driven by the fact that a life is always told through others' stories. The way for a woman to readforher own life, then, is to read the stories of other women's lives, and the belief that a woman's lot is cast with other women is not only reasonable but also necessary. This is the first way for a woman to read for her own autobiography. The second is to read literature and theory with her own life. To do so is to read in the revolutionary way that Philosophy and Literature, © 1994, 18: 354-422 Reviews355 Freud listened to his patients: to read listening to the silences, listening at the same time to others and to oneself, being aware that so to listen is to risk all. It is to let the texts address and perhaps surprise one. The male texts read from Felman's life turn out to narrate stories of female resistance, while the female texts demonstrate the impossibility of female autobiography. Balzac's mad heroine in "Adieu" resists recognition of and by her lover, while the heroine in "The Girl with the Golden Eyes" resists sexual appropriation by having both a female and a male lover. In Freud's dream, Irma resists his treatment, her complaint resists interpretation, and her "female knot of pain" resists the psychoanalytic theory that is being born witii Freud's theory of dreams. Dreams play a large role in What Does a Woman Want? Their analysis during her psychoanalysis revealed to its author both her "own life story as unknown— that is, not merely unrecognized but unsuspected" (p. 122)—and a kind of understanding that has "the uncanny force of act" (p. 122) in showing something unsuspected that once seen changes (converts, turns around) the one who sees it. Women's own stories lie in something ofwhich they cannot be in possession and to which dreams are a privileged road. Felman found women's resistance in Balzac and Freud when she read them for and with her life, and women's dreams in their autobiographies, in which are inscribed what their memories cannot contain. Interpreting women's stories as dreams are interpreted, Felman bears witness to her connection with mothers, daughters, and sisters and shows how the lot of all women is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 354-355
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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