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Reading Claude Simon; Gender, Ideology, Representation Winifred Woodhull R EADERS OF CLAUDE SIMON have, by and large, ignored questions of gender as they inform both his writing and their own critical strategies. Perhaps structuralist critics’inattention to these questions can be explained by what is now acknowledged as their failure to put the human subject into question: insofar as their conception of the text as a closed, autonomous entity preserves the notion of the selfpossessed , unified subject—a subject by definition masculine—it effec­ tively blocks serious reflections on the gender dynamics in Simon’s writ­ ing. The effacement of gender issues in deconstructive interpretations is another matter, however, since the latter claim to demonstrate that uninvestigated assumptions regarding the constitution of the subject underlie every system or order, whether social, linguistic or meta­ physical; Simon’s writing is said to show that a given order acquires its apparent coherence only by repressing or excluding elements that conflict with it. Considering that, since the mid-1970s, French feminists have been drawing attention to the repression of femininity in the Western philo­ sophical and psychoanalytic traditions and showing how literature some­ times eludes the censorship they impose, it seems odd that nearly all readings of Simon’s texts have overlooked gender-related exclusions. A related issue is poststructuralist theory’s tendency to code as “feminine” literature’s undoing of identity, representation, and truth. Recent work by American feminist critics has shown that the association of femininity with writing practices that are presumed to be critical of the prevailing symbolic and social order is problematic for women because it undercuts attempts to affirm female subjective agency as a necessary ele­ ment in feminist politics. This phenomenon, which Alice Jardine has termed gynesis,1 has been taken up by Nancy K. Miller in her essay “Arachnologies: The Woman, the Text, and the Critic.” Citing Roland Barthes’ displacement of the “work” by the “text” and, in particular, his metaphor of the text as “tissue”—that is, a “perpetual interweav­ ing” in which “the subject unmakes himself”2—Miller argues, with Jardine, that “the discourse of the male weavers rhetorically stages ‘woman’ without in any way addressing women,” and that “the lanVOL . XXVII, No. 4 5 L ’E sprit C réateur guage of textiles tends to engender in the dominant discursive strategies of much contemporary literary criticism a metaphorics of femininity deeply marked by Freud’s account of women and weaving.”3One cannot help wondering whether this uncritical réinscription of femininity does not preserve the very masculine prerogatives that are ostensibly being challenged. It may be that male critics’ rejoicing over the textual undoing of the centered subject in novels such as Simon’s, like their confident affirmation of negativity, absence, and death as forces which continually unsettle the foundations of all order, is tied to the fact that they are sure to emerge from the reading process with their privileges intact. I will show how certain key readings of Simon’s La Route des Flandres (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1960) reinforce the gender hierarchy in our culture by unselfconsciously universalizing masculine experience or overestimating the critical force of the aspects of Simon’s fiction that blur the outlines of identity (including gender identity) and undermine all orders and hierarchies. My point here is to emphasize the complex and conflictual nature of feminism’s relation to contemporary fiction and theories of text production, and to engage with Simon’s writing without neutralizing that relation, that is, without dismissing feminism as an anachronism irrelevant to the interpretation of postmodern texts, but also without ignoring the unsettling effects of postmodernity on feminist interpretation. It is generally agreed that La Route des Flandres, which relates the defeat of the French army in 1940, articulates the disintegration of various dimensions of a social order. No military chart can adequately represent the debacle; no coherent historical narrative can definitively account for the relation between the death of the aristocratic cavalry officer de Reixach and that of his ancestor in the Revolutionary period; no transcendent system can resolve the contradictions or fill in the gaps in Georges’s memories, fantasies, and speculations regarding the ancestor’s death or that...


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