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Journal of Modern Literature 25.3-4 (2002) 114-126



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Revisiting Modernism with Kristeva:
DeBeauvoir, Truffaut, and Renoir

Carol Bové
Westminster College (PA)


Simone DeBeauvoir's She Came to Stay (L'Invitée, 1943), François Truffaut's Jules and Jim (Jules et Jim, 1962) and Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game (La Règle du jeu, 1939) examine the problem that monogamy poses for the female in mid-twentieth-century France. 1 The heroine in each work (Françoise, Catherine, and Christine) tries to free herself from monogamy's constraints in an effort to give expression to the physical and emotional life threatened by her relationship to a man. The texts stage three different versions of a struggle to transform a dangerous monogamous relationship into a more open and satisfying one.

Considering the texts in light of Julia Kristeva's reworking of Freud lays bare the psychological implications of these works. A re-interpretation in this light also demonstrates the validity and usefulness of her theory. Studying the male/female oppositions underlying personal and public relationships in these works reveals their critical reference to the collaboration with fascism in 1939 in France.

The social order prevailing in France just before World War II is the cultural context for these artists: an increasingly repressive government under Edouard Daladier, deriving from Enlightenment philosophy, collaborates with the Nazis and produces the Munich accords mentioned in She Came to Stay. Middle class mores, molded early on by French Catholicism and its male God, demand that the woman be monogamous and preferably married, or, more rarely, that she become marginalized, for example, as a courtesan.

From a broad historical perspective, these Modernist texts reveal contemporary forms of domination in a period of imperialist regimes in Europe, the United States and the former Soviet Union, both capitalist and socialist political forms deriving from Enlightenment philosophy, as Zygmunt [End Page 114] Bauman explains. 2 The Industrial Revolution, increasing depersonalization, and uniformity had contributed to oppressive conditions in many countries during this period. Informed by psychoanalysis, the texts uncover the domination of women and the repression of unconscious desire often associated with the female. Kristeva's theory allows us to examine the gendered patterns of opposition within the female protagonist in DeBeauvoir, Renoir, and Truffaut. These works, like Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, resist the hierarchies structuring sexuality in France. Others — Gide's The Immoralist comes to mind — are also part of a body of texts exploring gendered psychic patterns and constituting a critique of domination.

For Kristeva, who has not written on DeBeauvoir, Truffaut, or Renoir at any length, the authority figure underlying the social contract — language being the primary manifestation of the contract — is rational and male. 3 She is speaking not of the individuals wielding power in a given society, although they may frequently be male, but rather of the symbolic associations made with them as figures of reason in Western cultures. Freud had long ago discussed these associations, for example, in terms of the substitute father of group psychology. 4

Like Freud, Kristeva recognizes the Father's power as expressed by and in language. Freud's notion of the "father of individual pre-history" 5 underlies her concept of the subject. More generally, she sees language as a substantial influence on the subject and as the primary mode of the subject's existence: it is language that makes the subject knowable. Jacques Lacan's theory of the role of language and of the Father in great detail — along with many other concepts implicit in Freud — is her starting point. As a result of Lacan's extensive and influential psychoanalytic theory since the 1950s, Kristeva's approach to texts and to patients possesses a legitimacy and context which it would not otherwise possess. Lacan's concepts of the Symbolic Order, the Name of the Father, and the Phallus underlie her discussion of the speaking subject as a psychic formation that can communicate with others and influence social relations. 6

While the male is associated with authority and reason, the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1464
Print ISSN
0022-281X
Pages
pp. 114-126
Launched on MUSE
2003-09-16
Open Access
No
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