restricted access Resident Alien: Feminist Cultural Criticism by Janet Wolff (review)
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110Rocky Mountain Review JANET WOLFF. Resident Alien: Feminist Cultural Criticism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995. 156 p. rtesident Alien: Feminist Cultural Criticism, Janet Wolffs third book of criticism, consists of eight chapters originally written as essays during a period of travel between "spring of 1990 and the winter of 1993-4" (vii). Wolff states her aim in this text as a desire "to look at women as outsiders, and consider the growing evidence that becoming a stranger (for example, by going abroad) is a crucial liberating step in self-discovery" (2). This thesis adequately ties together the subsequent essays, but readers hoping for a grand argument regarding the female as stranger might not be satisfied with Wolffs leanings toward "personal criticism" and her leanings away from any unified form of cultural criticism. Quite straightforwardly she admits her inclination toward personal criticism—in the forms of autobiography and memoir—as the most important "forms of access in cultural histories" (3). The resulting body of work covered in Resident Alien provides both personal and scholarly travels and insights into marginality and modes of writing (chapter 1), personal experience and cultural history (chapter 2), feminism and cultural analysis (chapter 3), the semiotics of music (chapter 4), feminism, theory, and choreography (chapter 5), the artist and the flaneur (chapter 6), metaphors of travel (chapter 7), and the idea of America in 1950s popular culture (chapter 8) with the "enabling fact" (11) of travel as guide. These chapters prove outstanding in the breadth of coverage of culture, the only drawback being their brevity. Janet Wolff achieves several significant goals in this text: (1) she articulates the need for an important balance to occur between theory and "lived experience" in cultural studies, (2) she addresses the current scholarly concern with alterity as an expression of "too much outsiderness," (3) she argues the importance of memoir to the study of culture, (4) she differentiates between subversive readerships and subversive texts, and (5) she demythologizes the ways in which we discuss the "inherent freedom" of dance as an art form. In each chapter, she looks at culture through a different lens, and arguably, from a different place. The lenses through which she enables us to see include writing, music, literary theory, dance, sculpture, poetry , and travel, but always her aim is to blend a personal and scholarly appraisal of culture and thereby to enact a feminist cultural criticism. In discussing the important balance that must occur between relaying theory and lived experience in order to achieve a feminist cultural perspective , Wolff asserts her position in the second chapter, "Eddie Cochran, Donna Anna and the Dark Sister: Personal Experience and Cultural History," that "cultural studies is not just about theories or texts: it deals with lived experiences, and with the intersections of social structures, systems of representation, and subjectivities—intersections which are, of course, relations of mutual constitution. Here it does matter if the interpretation does not fit experience" (35). In order to achieve just such a balance, she calls attention to the need for a "transformation of method" in how we approach scholarship. Specifically she calls attention to feminist literary Book Reviews111 critics who have been arguing that the personal must be woven into the academic (49). She also aligns herself with Theodor Adorno's "theory of mediations " that will afford academics better opportunities to "transform a deadening and depersonalized academic discourse" (54). Wolff argues well but briefly in each instance. The brevity often prevents the blend of theory and practice from playing out in a lingering and luxurious way. Wolff seems to be hurrying through her travels. In noting a cultural excess of outsiderness, Wolff writes in her third chapter, "Memoirs and Micrologies: Walter Benjamin, Feminism and Cultural Analysis," that there is "a new romanticism of exile in play today, which has to do with the politics of post-coloniality. Nobody, of course, wants to be identified with the centre, with that oppressive, dominant, static position, and the result has partly been the proliferation of claims to alterity " (47). Wolff makes it clear that glorification of everyone as exile does not provide the rigor required in the study of cultural specificity, and she clearly bemoans this...