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HUMANITIES 301 times is repetitive and the prose occasionally pedantic, the underlying message is delivered with force and clarity: It is urgent to resolve the issues of political relationship that beset us before the next referendum. (MICHAEL ASCH) Julia Emberley. The Cultural Politics of Fur McGill-Queen's University Press. xx, 250. $22.95 Julia Emberley's The Cultural Politics ofFur is an ambitious work. It attempts to bring together a variety of cultural texts and approaches in order to examine how the representation of fur in the 19805 antifur lobby and in the fashion industry has participated in what Emberley calls a 'libidinal economy.' The libidinal economy, she argues, depends on the feminization ofnature as mute and dangerous inexchange relationships involving desire and its commodification5. As the representation ofnature within a series of cultural networks, 'fur' becomes a commodity that depends on the significationofwhite, bourgeois women as consumers who can then stand in for fur itself as a beautifut lethal, costly signifier of wealth and violence. The figure of what Emberley calls 'the fur-clad woman' works this way regardless ofpolitical orientation in the 1980s debates about the fur industry. This is why, for Emberley, it is vital to critique the position of 'woman' in this aspect of environmentalist rhetoric and link it to the idea of the fetish in a genealogy of fashion, film, and early pornographic literature. This is also why Emberley contends that the circulation of meanings about 'fur' in the libidinal economy has, in the case of the antifur lobby, largely worked to obscure and seriously to compromise the role of fur, and of women's roles as fur producers, in the Inuit trapping economy in the Canadian North, which depends on fur sales to Europe for revenue. Emberley's argument is most compelling when she sticks to concrete moments or texts in order to discuss how fur has come to operate in sets of symbolic exchanges. Her discussion of the Lynx strategy in chapter I, for example, indicates how the highly successful Lynx billboard campaign replicated the sexist discourses of fashion in order to convince female consumers not to buy fur coats. Emberley critiques Lynx's decision to equate the muteness of 'nature' with the stupidity of the fur-clad woman as a strategy which serves to blame women for so-called bad choices. In a libidinal economy 'bad' choices, such as the choice to wear a fur coat in order to access its symbolic power, are often the only choices available for privileged women to make within patriarchy. 'Symbolic agency can be as debilitating as it is strategic' because in the end symbolic power cannot be, for bourgeois women, a substitute for economic power. Similar discussions about the genesis of the fur-clad woman as sexual fetish in Masoch's late 302 LETTERS IN CANADA 1998 nineteenth-century novel Venus in Furs and the role of fur in sexualized exchanges found in G.W. Pabst's German film The Joyless Street of 1925 combine sophisticated psychoanalytic readings of fur and sexuality with politically grounded observations about commodification and the subjugation of women. This work is somewhat marred by Emberley's tendency to want to do many other things that do not add to her project. The chapters on the history of fashion as an instrument of social stratification in medieval and Renaissance Europe and the relationship of artistic depictions of fur garments to the history of art and engraving could easily have been condensed, since Emberley's points here about the relationship of fashion to commodification and class stratification are relatively easy to make. The large number of digressions mean that Emberley's discussion in chapter 6 of Inuit fur fashions and the photographs of Dorothy Chocolate must be relatively brief. This is a problem, since Emberley stresses the eliding of Inuit women's work in fur early on and presumably does not wish to repeat the same tendency. . The Cultural Politics of Fur is a sophisticated attempt to look at nonessentialist connections between feminism and identity politics to see how questions of fashion and its representations should be connected to materialist analyses of commodification and imperialist economy. With a less ambitious scope...


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pp. 301-302
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