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Reviewed by:
  • Every Inch a Woman
  • Sophie Mayer
Carellin Brooks . Every Inch a Woman. University of British Columbia Press. xvi, 206. $32.95

For Carellin Brooks, the female phallus (not) seen by Freud's male child is key to reading the politically empowering perversions of gender that shape modernity, from psychoanalysis itself to postmodern porn. Assaying a wide range of texts from Krafft-Ebing to Kathy Acker, Brooks follows her excavation of Freud's titillating game of hide-the-phallus by engaging in provocative genre-fucking, reading Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body as Henry Miller-esque Casanova confessional, and Terry Castle's theoretical text The Apparitional Lesbian as elegy.

Her choice of texts is apposite and wide-ranging, and her reading practice is attentive: appropriate, given that the textual phallus is her focus. Her underlying claim that all phalluses are imaginary/textual is borne out by the trajectory of her study from the mother whose phallus is a projection of the male infant, through 'inverts,' butches, and the fantastic phallic women of speculative fiction, climaxing with an 'Avalanche of Dildoes,' those tricky subjects of the 1990s lesbian feminist discourse that is Brooks's key milieu. She follows the arguments of theorists such as June Reich that the dildo parodies phallic power, unsettling its claims to stability and impermeability through its detachable, interchangeable, and ludic status. Simultaneously, she reads porn and/as theory in order to destabilize the phallic Logos of high art and institutional discourse.

Having removed the strap-on, Brooks turns in her conclusion to the 'apparitional' figuration of her text, the femme, whose textual erotic she classifies as liberatory in that it 'recognizes and honours need as a [End Page 161] definer of humanity.' This unexpected switch from celebrating the phallic to lauding the femme as phallus-free zone is one of Brooks's many perverse strategies. Some, such as situating sexological case studies in the same rhetorical register as porn, are productive; others – stemming from the same focus on textuality – are less so. While her cross-grained reading of Winterson's phallic narrator is intellectually engaging, the comparison with Miller is unconvincing: reading perversely erases Winterson's ironies, and more gravely, it erases the text's historical, national, and social specificities.

Despite the introduction's claim to a social history of modernity predicated on a telling icon, there is no clear historical narrative, or indeed compelling connection between the representations. Miller's and Brassaï's Paris is paired uncritically with the post-Stonewall New York of Acker and Sarah Schulman. Her close analyzes are thus fully legible only to those knowledgeable about lesbian history, who can compare Castle's Ed as a 1950s butch to Brassaï's butches of the boites. This undifferentiated textual surface, in which all phalloi are one, fails to establish the female phallus as a dominant cultural conceit, because potential historical and textual relations remain unarticulated. This restriction is compounded by the dismissive brevity of references to the more prevalent visual representations of phallic women, from the stylized erotic of the cover, familiar from advertising, to quasi-medical illustrations of women using testosterone.

Transgendered bodies are conspicuous by their absence in Brooks's text – or rather, by their disavowal. As she concludes by disavowing the phallic woman in favour of a (w)hole-centred femme-ininity, so she opens by dismissing a newspaper feature on gender-queer experimenters with the argument that androgyny always favours masculinity. Transwomen such as brilliant polemicist Kate Bornstein are concealed in the footnotes in favour of the repeated exposure of a few stray sentences from Freud, Krafft-Ebing, and Lacan. This recitation of masculinist cultural texts, rather than undermining their power, overpowers the representative feminist theorists and leaves Brooks subject to the same critiques she levels at Freud: that he keeps returning to, and shoring up, the little boy's (that is, the phallus's) point of view rather than the mother's.

Brooks also replicates Freud's psychosexuality, in which the body is constituted in the mind, leaving her text problematically devoid of bodies. Despite her engagement with both Judith Butler and Elizabeth Grosz, Brooks avoids the resurgence of feminist and queer body theory, preferring...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 161-163
Launched on MUSE
2008-06-04
Open Access
No
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