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REVIEW ARTICLE DANGEROUS DISCOURSES: THEORIZING SEXUALITY, FRIENDSHIP AND GENDER Dennis Allen. Sexuality in Victorian Fiction. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1993. xxi + 160. Terry Castle. The Apparitional Lesbian. New York: Columbia UP, 1993. 307. $29.95 US (cloth). Victor Luftig. Seeing Together: Friendship Between the Sexes in English Writing from Mill to Woolf Stanford: Stanford UP, 1993. 308. $35.00 US (cloth). Silenced sex and sexuality? Foucault tells us in The History of Sexuality (1978) tiiat The society that emerged in die nineteenth century — bourgeois, capitalist, or industrial society, call it what you will, — did not confront sex with a fundamental refusal of recognition. On the contrary, it put into operation an entire machinery for producing true discourses concerning it. Not only did it speak of sex and compel everyone to do so; it also set out to formulate the uniform truth of sex----- Thus sex gradually became an object of great suspicion. (69) Since our understanding of Victorian erotic reserve has changed, our theoretical discussions of sex and sexuality have been anything but quiet. Many rightly suspicious theorists still perceive the sexual as a chaotic realm where not only ideological discourses of the "normal" or the "true" can be threatened but also a locus in discourse where even the binary conceptual structures of culture which dictate die socially acceptable forms of sexuality, friendship and gender, can be confronted. In Sexuality in Victorian Fiction, Allen argues effectively from texts by such authors as Freud, Darwin and Mayhew tiiat the Victorians 70Victorian Review viewed sexuality as savage, uncivilized and barbaric, something incompatible with their worldview and dieir view of diemselves. The erotic discretion of Victorian fiction derives from the Victorians awareness of its importance, but their refusal to treat it overtly. Accordingly, they developed strategies in die novel by which to imply, but not to represent directly, the chaos of sexuality. Allen's analyses are quite interesting in that they reveal a great deal about contemporary criticism as well as about Victorian novels. He begins his theorizing with Foucault's rejection of the repressive hypothesis and the belief replacing if that there was a vast enterprise during Victorian era that was designed to articulate the "truth" or "ineffability of the sexual," and the tendency of sex and sexuality to resist and disrupt attempts at representation. Within the Victorian novel, Allen sees this erotic inhibition coupled with the desire to articulate die sexual. The subtle construction of die sexual which we have come to associate with the Victorians is due to die difficulty of reconciling die anarchic nineteenth century constructions of sex and sexuality within larger ideological framework of culture. Allen's study relies on methodology derived from historicized work in cultural studies and psychoanalytic of Freud, Lacan and Bersani. It is interesting that he discusses what he sees as this ineffability of the sexual through an engagement with current constructionist versus essentialist debates; Allen sides widi die constructionist position of sex, sexuality, gender, identity etc. as perceptions that are bound to their reflection of Victorian cultural beliefs, but his work is also obviously and admittedly founded on a certain essentialism because he specifies a "nature" or essence for the sexual. He argues that such a conception seems to match Victorian anxieties about the sexual, but he situates the nature of die sexual outside of die historical context for two more reasons. Referring to Diana Fuss's Essentially Speaking (1989) which demonstrates that the binary opposition between constructionism and essentialism is always illusory, Allen argues that die articulation of die sexual as ineffable is essentialist and a reification of sexuality as a locus of undecidability. By specifying an essence, he acknowledges the difficulty that such categories are already reified and presumed to be transhistorical. His final reason for arguing the disruptive nature of the sexual and its resistance to narrativization is that he sees this strategic essentialism as the "most politically useful way" to constitute sex and sexuality. Allen acknowledges the difficulty of combining such categories, but tries to void diem of definitive content in order to allow for die interrogation of our own constructions of the Victorian sexual field. Review Article71 The texts which Allen discusses range from the beginning of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 69-73
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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