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Reviewed by:
  • Heroic Desire: Lesbian Identity and Cultural Space
  • Judith Fetterley
Heroic Desire: Lesbian Identity and Cultural Space. Sally R. Munt. New York: New York Univ. Press. 1998. vii, 184 pp. $55.00.

In Heroic Desire: Lesbian Identity and Cultural Space, Sally R. Munt identifies her project as ultimately “concerned to offer the reader the political possibilities of lesbian space, to inquire how we can embody space with our desires.” Her inquiry defines the heroic as a form of resistance, for such possibilities express “a relentless demand for presence” in a culture whose relentless homophobia seeks to efface, constrict, obliterate lesbian desire. In seeking to recover the heroic as a cultural strategy that can “evangelize” lesbianism (the word “evangelize” reflects at once the author’s early experience as an evangelical Christian and her current cultural ambitions), Munt argues for “another look at identity politics,” claiming that this foundational plank of Lesbian and Gay Liberation still retains political validity as an effective counterideology to current homophobic discourse. Yet she makes clear that this return is not simply the resurrection of a naive essentialism but, rather, is inflected by the critique of postmodern theory and thus “involves [End Page 602] the invention of a new kind of self which can decentre individualism in favor of a pluralistic, multivalent self.” Munt situates her work in a space that can best be called post-Queer and post-postmodern, one increasingly occupied by turn-of-the-century theorists seeking to avail themselves of the political energy of the liberation movements of the sixties and seventies and the intellectual energy of the critiques of those movements produced in the eighties and nineties. Munt chooses to recover the heroic because of its efficacy in eliciting desire; desire, in turn, provides the energy and creates the space for the invention of the multivalent self. Since lesbian readers of the lesbian heroic both “want the hero” and “want to be the hero,” in such acts of reading “the phallic economy of either/or is superseded” and the space that opens as a result is “profoundly dialogic” and both inter- and intra- subjectively heteroglossic. Having established the mechanism and significance of heroic desire as a lesbian cultural practice, Munt then explores its articulation in what she calls the “orienting fictions” of the flâneur (for example, Frenchy in Lee Lynch’s “The Swashbuckler”), the outlaw (for example, amazons and avengers), the butch, and the Lesbian Nation. This is not a book for the theoretically fainthearted. Written in dense, sometimes impenetrable language, it is a text difficult to summarize beyond the generalities offered above. Indeed, one might well ask for whom this book is written, given the apparent contradiction between its political ambitions and its discursive register. Yet one suspects that Munt views her text as itself a work of heroic desire designed to reinvent the reader as a multivalent dialogic self. For its strength lies not in the development of any given argument but in the space it opens for thinking dialogically about a range of representational and reading practices—for example, the significance of narratives of heroic shame, such as Dorothy Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina and Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues, that enable readers to renegotiate individually and collectively the meaning of shame for lesbian identity and desire. Heroic Desire offers its readers multiple spaces and moments (Munt concludes with a provocative riff on the impossibility of theorizing space without also theorizing time) for the construction of the multivalent self; it is perhaps a book best read over time and in pieces.

Judith Fetterley
SUNY, Albany

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pp. 602-603
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2005
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