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NWSA Journal 15.1 (2003) 186-190

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Sexuation_SIC3 edited by Renata Salecl. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000, 320 pp., $49.95 hardcover, $17.95 paper.
Gender edited by Anna Tripp. New York: Palgrave, 2001, 217 pp., $65.00 hardcover, $19.95 paper.
Fair Sex, Savage Dreams: Race, Psychoanalysis, Sexual Difference by Jean Walton. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001, 244 pp., $54.95 hardcover, $18.95 paper.

Some decades ago when I was reading texts by and about existentialist philosophers and existentialist psychologists, there was a statement to the effect, "If one thinks one is understanding the existentialists, one is wrong." That idea has stayed with me, not just as relevant to the original context, but with so many other connotations and connections: that ideas can be complicated; that we should beware thinking we know more than we know; that any interpretation, even if it works and seems right is not necessarily accurate, or not necessarily the only valid analysis; that we should be open, ready to question even that which we think we understand; that ideas can be presented to us in ways that are complicated (and perhaps more difficult than required).

The statement kept coming back to me while reading and reviewing these three texts, each of which addresses sex, gender, sexuality, and difference in diverse ways. As I read, I referenced back to the works of poststructuralist Jacques Lacan, Lacanian devoté/ées, critics of Lacan, and feminists' writings on psychoanalysis. I returned to the three books and saw/read them differently than I had the first time, and I grasped more fully the ideas presented and questioned, and the links of those ideas to aspects of people's lived lives. [End Page 186]

Renata Salecl's Sexuation includes an introduction, eleven articles by scholars across several disciplines, and a final article by Salecl. It is by far the most difficult to read of the three books—not surprising given its Lacanian slant—and in some articles as "extraordinarily painful" to read as some readers have found Lacan. There is considerable jargon here, and an assumption that readers know Lacan's theories. For those well versed in his ideas, this book will be welcome given the diverse topics, intentions, and fascinating analysis. There will be much less hospitality among those new to Lacan's work, hostile to Lacanians, or, in several essays, people who do not want to work at making sense of the text.

Readers will probably find at least one article that is interesting to them, given that the essays provide analysis of films, novels, the writings of Saint Paul, love, semblance, works of Sigmund Freud, opera, jealousy, fatherhood, and fantasies of beating. By sexuation, Salecl means the process of becoming sexed according to Lacan's reworking of Freud's ideas on encounters with the Other, e.g., through a psychoanalytic process, rather than by other routes such as biological (touched on in Anne Fausto-Sterling's article in the Anna Tripp book reviewed here) maturation (genetic, chromosomal, and hormonal influences) or via socio-cultural and psychological processes. As a person whose area is gender in psychological theory and research, and as a teacher of a lifespan developmental course, I would like some scholars to integrate these several aspects of sexuation in works accessible to many people, without need of background in biochemistry, psychology, or original and neo-Freudianism.

Anna Tripp's edited volume, Gender, is a collection of thirteen essays and an introduction. The topics range from Virginia Woolf's "Women and Fiction" excerpt from A Room of One's Own, which many of us have read and loved, to analyses of English culture through articles such as Lynne Segal's on 1950s English men, male anxiety, and attempts to deal with it; Jonathan Rutherford's piece, "Mr Nice (And Mr Nasty)," on 1990s male responses to racial and sexual differences; and Homi Bhabha's deconstruction of masculinity via consideration of the novel and nationalism. The book covers recent feminist materialism, queer theory, and feminist literary and political analysis including...


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