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Reviewed by:
  • French Women Philosophers: A Contemporary Reader
  • Penelope Deutscher
French Women Philosophers: A Contemporary Reader. Edited by Christina Howells London — New York, Routledge, 1994. 453 pp. Pb £19.99.

With twenty-eight contributors covering the areas of ethics, alterity, psychoanalysis, epistemology, legal and political theory, Christina Howells has put together an anthology of remarkable range and size. It eclipses the competing anthologies (Moi's French Feminist Thought and Oliver and Walsh's Contemporary French Feminism) by including major undertranslated (for instance, Kriegel, Schneider, Cassin) and underdiscussed (for instance, Loraux) figures. Its strongest contribution is made by its most awkward inclusions: clusters of women philosophers who have no particular relevance to or interest in feminist theory. Explaining that her aim is to 'capture their diversity', Howells barely comments on the important question provoked by her project: why do we need an anthology of French women philosophers? Many of the well-known among the twenty-eight contributors contribute to feminist philosophy (Irigaray, Le Dœuff, and — less known to anglophone audiences — Fraisse, d'Eaubonne, Agacinski, Collin). They represent the spectrum of feminist philosophers sympathetic and hostile to philosophies of sexual difference. Cixous and Kofman respectively represent écriture féminine and deconstructive readings of women and femininity in the history of philosophy; while Kristeva, Schneider and David-Ménard represent psychoanalytic theorists concerned with problems of sexual difference who, like Kofman and Cixous, would not self-describe as feminist. These debates have already been included in the existing anthologies in French feminism. But the anthology includes other French philosophers whose work has touched importantly on gender: Cassin, the Heideggerian classicist and translation theorist, noted for her epic studies of sophism in L'Effet sophistique and of contradictory female figures in ancient Greece; the physicist Balibar who has written, as does Charraud, on whether there is sexual difference in science. Along with important figures only recently available in English translation (the philosopher and anthropologist Héritier, the materialist feminist and genealogist of racism Guillaumin; Chalier, author of an important study of femininity and women in Levinas; Loraux, renowned for her remarkable work on contradictory representations of femininity and masculinity in Ancient Greece) these figures break the issue tiredly dominating previous commentary on French women philosophers: equality versus difference. Instead, we are offered a banquet of new philosophical methodologies for studying gender in the history of philosophy. The remaining contributors play the least straightforward role in the anthology: they include major women philosophers (Proust, Canto-Sperber, Dastur, Revault d'Allonnes, Kriegel) — a grouping which could also have included Catherine Malabou and Claude Imbert (phenomenology); Marie-José Mondzain (aesthetics); Sandra Laugier and Françoise Armengaud (history of analytic philosophy). [End Page 158] In highlighting such prominent and little known figures, Howell's anthology astutely identifies the sore point. All those included in French Women Philosophers have experienced this phenomenon of reception: the healthy translation of those engaged in feminist debates, but failure to translate or attend to some of the most innovative projects available in France today when produced by women philosophers whose projects do not engage with the philosophy of gender. Why are Jullien and Bouveresse widely available in English translation but not the remarkable projects of figures such as Cassin, Kriegel and Claude Imbert?

Penelope Deutscher
Northwestern University


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pp. 158-159
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