restricted access Ventriloquized Bodies: The Narrative Uses of Hysteria in France (1850–1900) by Janet Beizer (review)
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L ’E s pr it C r éa teu r analyses were carried on at greater length and depth (and, for that matter, that they were accompanied by a more complete scholarly apparatus). Furthermore, there seem to be some fundamental unresolved contradictions here: on the one hand, Goulemot wishes to establish erotic novels as paradigmatic of all narrative; on the other, he suggests that their univocality reflects an agenda distinct from that o f other genres. These two ideas are not necessarily mutually exclusive and could easily have been reconciled into a single theoretical discussion of the erotic novel; Goulemot, however, neglects to do so in any satisfactory way. Scholars familiar with the recent volume of essays edited by Lynn Hunt, The Invention o f Pornography (published in 1993 by Zone Books, well after the original appearance of Goulemot’s book in French in 1991), will be particu­ larly sensitive to Goulemot’s failure to problematize his functionalist definition of erotic literature as texts that provoke sexual arousal, and do not allow for any other response, on the part of the reader. Goulemot’s definition is above all an anachronism: as the Hunt volume has successfully argued, it is not at all given that pornography qua pornography can be said to have existed in the eighteenth century. This work no doubt presented particular challenges to its translator and the translation is often good. There are, however, a number o f unfortunate moments of stylistic infelicity that should not have been allowed to stand by either translator or editor. There are indeed several sentences that, by dint of their overly complex and awkward construction, remain nearly unreadable. While one cannot but deplore the fact that Goulemot was not more successful in expanding his arguments and organizing them into a coherent whole, one must also cele­ brate their strength as commentary on individual aspects of erotic literature. Forbidden Texts is unquestionably original, insightful and important but not entirely satisfying. C h r i s t o p h e r R iv e r s M ount Holyoke College Janet Beizer. V e n t r i l o q u i z e d B o d ie s: T h e N a r r a t i v e U se s o f H y s t e r i a in F r a n c e (1850-1900). Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 1994. Pp. xiii + 295. Writing with clarity and elegance, Janet Beizer provides her reader with a masterful series of readings of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Colet’s La Servante, Du Camp’s Les Con­ vulsions de Paris, Rachilde’s Monsieur Vénus, and a discussion of hysteria in Zola’s Rougon-Macquart. In Beizer’s study, the objectives of medical science are set in relation to the libidinal investments of fiction, narrative creativity is interpreted through biographical disclosures, and perceived historical reality is framed in terms of political and ideological values. Through a vast array of materials, Beizer pursues her argument with unflinching purpose, and thus produces a work of exemplary analytical force and superb coherence of thought. Beizer is “ less interested in what hysterics themselves expressed (for such a per­ spective romanticizes a condition in fact suffered as expressive blockage and constraints) than in the ways in which they serve the expressive powers of others and the reasons for which the nineteenth-century concept of hysteria was metaphorically useful and even necessary to that era’s narrative discourse.” Under the gaze of the medical researcher or in the imagination of the writer, the undecipherable bodily movements of the hysteric, like her incomprehensible speech, appear as a “ sound-image,” at once visual screen and sound­ track, the signifier which serves as the site for the projection and introjection of self and other, and thus as the locus of intersubjectivity. For Beizer, the figure of the hysteric as understood and depicted in the nineteenth century comes to embody the scientific, cultural, and social values of the century itself, and those who speak or write about hysteria tell us 106 Su m m e r 1995 B o o k R eview s less about...