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Reviews373 elements acquires, by virtue of its interconnection with other elements, a network of associations inseparable from the representation itself." No doubt most New Critics would have agreed with that part of the book's conclusions. As Knapp points out in his introduction, those conclusions, both literary and political, run counter to much currendy dominant academic ideology. The book gives a general impression of caution, as though its author were only too aware that any criticism of the revolution must be conducted these days from within the revolution. Thus he emphasizes those features of liberalism (e.g., racial and sexual equality) that are most compatible with present orthodoxies rather than values (e.g., individual liberty and universalism) that the academic left tends to frown on. Amid a technical discussion of collective memory, he adds two lengthy footnotes to make explicit his commitment to affirmative action and opposition to "a philosophical or an ethical or political individualism ." These and other gestures of propitiation seem extraordinarily revealing about the present context of debate in academic criticism. Pennsylvania State UniversityChristopher Clausen Bodytalk: When Women Speak in Old French Literature, by E. Jane Burns; xvi & 277 pp. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993, $36.95 cloth, $14.95 paper. In Bodytalk, E. Jane Burns studies the voices of male-authored women characters from Old French literature. She opens the book with a short, sharp study of the verbal bravado of screen writer and sex goddess Mae West. West's medieval forebears, if we listen closely to what their bodies say, assert power even though their voices, like West's, are both "[theirs] and not [theirs] at the same time" (p. xiv). These women employ a "resistant doubled discourse" that Burns calls "bodytalk." This language, she says, is "not something that authors —consciously or not—make their characters do." Rather it is "something that we as feminist readers can choose to hear" (p. 7). Burns explores how through their bodies women in Old French literature can "rewrite the tales in which they appear," by "speaking within and against the social and rhetorical conventions used to construct them" (p. 7) . After several introductory flourishes on "redefining femaleness in relation to representation" (p. 8), Burns divides her book into two sections: "Knowing Women" and "Desiring Ladies." The first chapter, "A Close Look at Female Orifices in Farce and Fabliau," explores the construction of female identity implied by the Fabliau axiom that, "There is not a woman who doesn't have either a bad ass or a bad head" (p. 31). Burns then explores how Eve, in the 374Philosophy and Literature twelfth-century Jeu d'Adam, displays the way "constructed female speech can challenge from within a philosophical system that suppresses and devalues women's words" (p. 72). She then examines the Old French reworking of the Philomena story, Chretien's Enide, and Béroul's Iseut, whose "laughing mouth and open thighs . . . boldly redefine the very terms of medieval beauty" (p. 204). In short, Burns displays how women resist the strictures put on their language and bodies by an oppressive ideology. Burns openly asserts that her project is "not purely literary or theoretical but also personal and political" (p. xi). She was inspired in part by the image of pregnant professors, whose vulnerability to sexual and gender harassment in the academy reinforced to her that "women are bodies first and thinking beings only secondarily" (p. xii). Such "sobering observations" led Burns to explore the possibility of "reading the ambiguous status of the female body in Old French texts as we might read our own ambiguous status as female speakers in the academy, respecting all the while the specifically medieval subjectivity of these problematic heroines" (p. xiii). Throughout the book Burns appeals to a host ofauthorities: Cixous, Irigaray, Judith Butler, Theresa de Lauretis and many others. All the modern scholastic terms are here too: "project," "discourse," "objectified other," "subjectivity," "male-dominated," "cultural construction," "hegemonic discourses," "marginalized gendered speaker" and "phallogocentric logic." At its worst, Bodytalk, represents what is most predictable and trite in contemporary criticism. Ultimately, Bodytalk provokes us to return to the texts at hand more aware than before of the gender power struggles these stories depict. But...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 373-374
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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