Roxana and Other Feminist (Hi)stories
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Roxana and Other Feminist (Hi)stories
The Queer Turn in Feminism: Identities, Sexualities, and the Theater of Gender by Anne Emmanuelle Berger, translated by Catherine Porter. New York: Fordham University Press, 2014. 240 pages. $29.00 paperback, $110 hardcover.

While many U.S. scholars have turned their attention away from gender and queer theory, those working in other parts of the world—such as France or Spain—have only recently recognized and welcomed these discursive frameworks. The fact that Anne Emmanuelle Berger is active in both American and French academic contexts allows her to examine the “dislocated scene” of gender and queer theory and to perform a series of analytical gestures that provide novel insights into current feminist and postfeminist debates. Berger thus manages to challenge the reductive narratives and assumptions that are unfortunately still reiterated in most of the discourses on “gender,” “queer,” and “feminism” in the West.

One of these analytical gestures is Berger’s insistence that gender and queer theory should be understood as heterogeneous and productively inconsistent fields. This approach underlines arguments presented in the second chapter (11–82) in which she traces a genealogy of the “theatre of gender” and the “‘queering’ of feminist thought.” More specifically, Berger challenges [End Page 281] the narrative that “gender theory” arose in the United States in the 1980s as a provocation by the so-called French thought of the 1970s and has subsequently returned to Europe after its “American invention.” According to Berger, the conception of gender as performance most famously articulated by Judith Butler does not stem solely from the latter’s rereadings of Foucault’s analytics of power. Rather, gender has been theorized as performance since the 1950s both in the United States (by John Money and later by Robert Stoller, Esther Newton, and Erving Goffman) and in France by Jacques Lacan, who drew on Joan Riviere’s notion of the feminine masquerade.

Throughout the second chapter, Berger also contests the conventional and chronological distinction between gender and queer theory. First, she argues that American gender theory has always been “queer.” This is because, as she illustrates with her readings, gender theory evolved in close proximity to what normative discourses call “sexual deviance” and because without “drag” (i.e., the theatricality of gender) there is no possibility of erotic relation and sexuality. Second, Berger contends that gay and lesbian studies cannot do without gender and its (feminist) theory. She supports this claim with her analysis of “Sexual Traffic,” the famous interview between Butler and Gayle Rubin, in which Rubin rejects gender as both a tool and an object of her analysis and leans instead toward a “postfeminist” study of sex and sexuality.1 As Berger shows, gender, however, continues to haunt Rubin’s wishfully gender-free discourse.

The decision to challenge dominant narratives also characterizes the third chapter of the book, “Paradoxes of Visibility in/and Contemporary Identity Politics.” Here, Berger discusses how the couples of “gender and performance” and “gender and queer theory,” as introduced and analyzed in the previous chapter, relate to current identity politics. Berger identifies what she calls the “demand for visibility” to be a major feature of the struggles of “minority identities and sexualities” and their analytical appropriations (83–106). She further claims that the “demand for visibility” cannot be explained solely as an attempt to complete the typical program of “Enlightenment.” Rather, the desire to be “visible” is inscribed in the theatrical structure of gender as well as its theoretization. According to Berger, this “demand for visibility” is also perpetuated by its “avatar,” queer theory. “Queer” questioning of gender does not simply imply a way out of the “paradigm of visibility”: “As soon as there is theatre, there are roles, and as soon as there are roles, gender tends to reconstitute itself visibly, even in a queer fashion” (88). [End Page 282]

The second key feature of The Queer Turn in Feminism is that it not only unfolds the instability and inconsistency of dominant narratives and theoretical discourses; it also points toward the “constitutive instability” of central terms within feminist thought toward which Berger remains rigorously attentive (122). The productive potential of this approach takes...