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  • Luce Irigaray and Premodern Culture: Thresholds of History
  • Bernadette Diane Andrea (bio)
Theresa Krier and Elizabeth D. Harvey , editors. Luce Irigaray and Premodern Culture: Thresholds of HistoryRoutledge. v, 192. US $105.00

Luce Irigaray and Premodern Culture draws attention to a relatively unexamined aspect of this influential (feminist) philosopher's work: its resonance with the early modern, medieval, and classical legacies of [End Page 245] western Europe. The task the volume sets itself is twofold: to explore 'the historical roots of Irigaray's thought' and 'to appraise her work's capacity to transform our reading practices and our modes of knowing.' The challenges of this task include Irigaray's apparent disinterest in 'the specificities of history' and potentially anachronistic applications of her 'practices and protocols of reading.' The volume meets these historical and methodological challenges by explicating the emergence of the premodern in Irigaray's oeuvre and by articulating an Irigarayan method for interrogating this legacy.

Elizabeth D. Harvey and Theresa Krier's introductory essay, 'Future Anteriors: Luce Irigaray's Transmutations of the Past,' plays with the tense 'will have been,' to open the rest of the volume to various approaches to Irigaray and the premodern. Readers should therefore be prepared to analyse, rather than reify, their resistance to essays that may seem to have little to do with either theme. Krier's essay, 'Mère Marine: Narrative and Natality in Homer and Virgil,' deploys Irigarayan theory to interpret a lacuna in the canonical texts of the western European tradition. Ultimately, this essay yields a useful method for supplementing 'Irigarayan thinking' with 'literary thinking.' Crewe similarly reads through the gaps in Irigaray, particularly her gloss on Plotinus's question, 'What does Matter want?,' to reassert the significance of 'the human' for feminism. Situated in the midst of several essays on the early modern, Amy Hollywood's '"That Glorious Slit": Irigaray and the Medieval Devotion to Christ's Side Wound' delves into gendered alternatives from the Christian Middle Ages that 'Irigaray too quickly forecloses.' The bulk of the essays in the volume focus on the early modern, with the majority focusing on English literature. Barbara Estrin, in 'Coming into the Word: Desdemona's Story,' enacts an apt rhetorical analysis of Shakespeare through Irigaray. However, it is difficult to concur with Estrin's position of 'Othello's Absolute' vis-à-vis 'Desdemona's Relative' if one considers Irigaray's ongoing engagement with 'civil rights,' which for the later Irigaray involves not effacing the marginality of the feminized man (i.e., 'Black') under the hegemonic West (which can include women) (see Key Writings, 2004). Harvey's '"Mutuall Elements": Irigaray's Donne' similarly presents an incisive Irigarayan analysis, which nevertheless might have complicated Irigaray's fourfold (Western) schema of the elements with cross-cultural and transhistorical vectors. Likewise, Elizabeth Jane Bellamy's 'Spenser's Coastal Unconscious' works through a literally marginal moment in Spenser to revisit Irigaray's elemental tetralogy. Grant Williams's essay on 'Early Modern Blazons and the Rhetoric of Wonder: Turning towards an Ethics of Sexual Difference' and Ann Rosalind Jones's 'The Commodities Dance: Exchange and Escape in Irigaray's "Quand nos lèvres se parlent" and Catherine Des Roches' s "Dialogue d'Iris et Pasithée"' should be juxtaposed, as they reach strikingly different conclusions about a common device. Williams perhaps is too [End Page 246] optimistic in citing the early modern blazon as a paradigmatic vehicle for an Irigarayan rapprochement avant la lettre: an analysis of the hostile blazon of Mopsa in Sidney's Arcadia, as well as the complications of blazon in Mary (Sidney) Wroth's subsequent sonnet sequence, might temper some of his claims that the early modern blazon tends towards non-appropriative wonder. Jones's essay suggests such complications by engaging not only the male-authored blazon in the early modern period, but women writers' negotiation of their positioning as objects of exchange between men even as they sought to imagine themselves as subjects of a gendered economy that embraces mothers. Harry Berger's essay, inserted between these treatments of the early modern blazon, offers a meditation on gynephobia (as distinct from, though related to, misogyny), thus enabling a metacritical response to the...


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