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MFS Modern Fiction Studies 49.4 (2003) 878-880
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Janice Doane and Devon Hodges. Telling Incest: Narratives of Dangerous Remembering from Stein to Sapphire. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2001. 164 pp.
Trauma texts and studies of recent decades have engendered questions about the dilemmas of remembering and narrating a painful past. Telling Incest is a valuable contribution to these inquiries, employing feminist, rhetorical, and cultural analysis to delineate types of incest narratives. This study investigates contexts and controversies, wherein shifts in public attitudes affected by sociocultural movements, race and trauma, among others, in turn influence the creation and reception of women's incest stories.
Doane and Hodges establish the arguments and goals for their study by disputing some recent theoretical formulations of incest narratives. For example, Ian Hacking's Rewriting the Soul (1995) focuses not on victims' experiences, but on powerful public discourses that produce a "semantic contagion" of incest, which he suggests may perpetuate the act itself. In contrast to Hacking's approach, Doane and Hodges argue that these acts precede their narration and [End Page 878] that rather than silencing incest stories, they analyze the "social contexts for telling incest" to help readers ascertain texts' authenticity. For example, Gertrude Stein's The Making of Americans (1925) reflects a context of shame through a narrative of oblique references, denials and silence, prefiguring future incest stories.
Chapter 2 examines how Ralph Ellison and Toni Morrison have revised African-American incest narratives. They complicate assumptions of pathology among the poor and black by linking the actions of incestuous fathers to white patriarchy and its social, economic, and cultural dominance. For Doane and Hodges, Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye (1970) is groundbreaking in "locating social injustice in individual psychological states" (44).
Women's activism influences Louise Armstrong's Kiss Daddy Goodnight (1978) and Judith Herman's Father-Daughter Incest (1981), which utilize feminist analysis of incest as a "vehicle of social critique" (48). Herman articulates a clear linkage between "patriarchy, incest and women's social subjugation and psychological distress" (61). By demystifying daughters' silence and the assumed safety of the middle class family, Doane and Hodges hope to encourage women to resist patriarchal authority, seek therapy, and create solidarity with other survivors.
Many "canonical" incest texts from the 1980s and 1990s respond to the recovery movement. Doane and Hodges argue that Alice Walker's 1982 novel The Color Purple and Ellen Bass and Laura Davis's self-help text The Courage to Heal (1988) downplay the difficult process of recovery and lingering traumatic effects, favoring empowering resolutions. Jane Smiley's novel A Thousand Acres (1991), however, challenges the notion of an individual's complete recovery from the past and links the patriarch's exploitation of his daughters to economic and environmental exploitation.
A chapter on "false memory" texts enumerates objections to the concept of recovered memory. Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters's Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy and Sexual Hysteria (1994) and Donald Spence's Narrative Truth and Historical Truth (1982) question the reliability of memory in narrative reconstructions and caution against therapists influenced by "psychotherapeutic fashions." Most critical attention is paid to the work of psychologists Elizabeth Loftus and Carol Tavris. Loftus, a prominent memory researcher, demonstrates the frequent inaccuracy of long-term memory in The Myth of Repressed Memory (1994) and elsewhere. Carol Tavris also raises legitimate questions about memory in The Mismeasure of Woman (1992), but in media debates has dismissed incest stories as depicting passivity detrimental to women's progress. Both writers' connections with the False Memory Syndrome Foundation raise questions [End Page 879] about whether their research is used objectively or serves the denials of self-interested perpetrators who attempt to suppress recovered memory accounts as unscientific products of irrational female minds.
Doane and Hodges conclude that incest survivor memoirs featuring recovered memories are more rare than supposed by the media and refute the perception of these stories as self-pitying and unambivalent. Accounts like Elly Danica's Don't (1990) and Sylvia Fraser's My Father's House (1987) illustrate...