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120 reviews novels make us feel that Arabs are not just some abstraction in the world's equation, but another version of ourselves. JUDITH CAESAR Theroigne de Mericourt: A Melancholic Woman During the French Revolution, by Elisabeth Roudinesco. Trans, by Martin Thorn. London and New York: Verso, 1991. $34.95 (hard cover). Elisabeth Roudinesco's Theroigne de Mericourt should be compelling reading for scholars and theorists of European culture and history (from the French Revolution onwards)—and for biography readers generally. As new mutations of biography work out their generic niche between academic and popular writing, the discursive cross-fertilizations accomplished by Roudinesco's Theroigne will enrich the generic pool. While establishing the first archivally sound record of Theroigne's life, Roudinesco samples this record with the histories of the French Revolution, the emergence of modem feminisms, and the "Birth of the Clinic." The compellingly rhythmed subject of Roudinesco's text is an ongoing discursive conflict in which the stories of Theroigne, of the Revolution, of woman, and of madness are continually contested and reinvented. Roudinesco's Theroigne comes to life in "The Conquest of Liberty" as an agent of Revolution and early feminism. Her institutionalization and death, as a patient in Salpetrière (under the gaze of Pien's revisionary pupil. Esquirol) are sub-chapters in the "History of Madness." In "The Historiography of Theroigne," her subsequent incarnations and institutionalizations (in the text of history, drama, psychology) are rewritten. Biography in Roudinesco's version is an ongoing negotiation between its subject as an assemblage of sites from which discursive conflict is generated, through which it is processed, across which it is propagated, and into which it is deposited; Roudinesco's success lies in relativizing each of these sites. The book that takes the name of Theroigne is overdetermined to succeed where its subject, broken by the trials of agency and patience, had failed. Unlike Theroigne, Theroigne will not be publicly whipped for its partisanship by hired hitwomen : it protects itself by flashing the generic signifier of Individual Experience, from (for example) the Camille Paglias of the world. But Roudinesco's status as a private investigator also enables her to deploy an array of feminist credentials in order to gain access to the kinds of knowldge she needs. While Theroigne was reputed to have ridden about flamboyantly with a brace of pistols, Theroigne is careful not to bristle with the psychoanalytic and discursive theories that empower its analysis. By allowing the provisionality of the catagories by which she passes out the syntax of early feminisms ("theoretical, original, warrior, radical"), Roudinesco is able, without sacrificing historical specificity, to articulate a troubled plurality that speaks to contemporary feminisms. Unlike Theroigne, Theroigne will not be trashed by the Royalist press: it protects itself, by its archival and scholarly rigor (and honest day's work), from the swipes of any but the most desperate dinosaurs of Big History, just as it is safe, too, from all but the most rapacious patriots of theory, who should also know enough to recognize it as their own. reviews 121 Because the book itself teaches so well that the privilege of a non-polemical tone (the choice not to take up a single cross) is always precarious and constantly in jeopardy, it is perhaps less susceptible to being judged as a "safe" book for its quiet negotiations between its various audiences and theoretical investments. In recounting how Theroigne attempted to negotiate between irreconcilable factions and was compelled to take up positons that—in the turbulance of her time—marked her for the asylum, Theroigne insinuates itself productively among its own discursive factions. By thematizing the constructions and reductions of Theroigne—as political partisan, as myth, as case study—Theroigne is able to exceed each of them and to remain in the conversation as Theroigne herself could not. The reader is challenged to take up the biography as an open question of how the crosses of subjectivity and gender stigmatize, sublate, reify and deify their carriers. Roudinesco reads Theroigne'e legacy with celebration and mourning—and, in its wake, with the renewed commitment of her subject to live out and to outlive the turbulance of her discursive history. IRA...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 120-121
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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