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L ’E sprit C réateur Dina Sherzer. R e p re s e n ta tio n in C o n te m p o ra ry F re n c h F ic tio n . Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986. Pp. 205. Dina Sherzer examines a major category of French fiction of the last 30 years: those fic­ tions which are experimental in respect to form and polyvalent in respect to meaning. Her focus is not on specific authors, but rather on certain modes of textual organization and thematic concerns which characterize this period and these works. Four such modes are identified and examined in the four chapters which form the body of the study: serial con­ structs, multimedia montages, reflexivities, and postmodern feminist fictions. Sherzer calls these categories “ modes of representation,” defining representation in art not as a mirror image of pre-existing reality, but as “ a construction that has a reference in that it represents something for the reader/observer; however, it may have no referent in that it does not necessarily reproduce anything actual in the real world” (p. 2). By examining their modes of representation, Sherzer aims at a “thick description” of the texts she studies. The term is borrowed from the ethnographer Clifford Geertz, and signals a method of study which takes into account the multivalence of the object in ques­ tion as well as its insertion into a complex network of relationships with other such objects. Thus Sherzer examines recent French fiction in light of both its transtextual connections and its “harmonics” with other cultural domains: art, music, oral tradition, and science. Herein lies the strength and value of the book; by opening up the study of these often her­ metic works to include their larger context, it goes beyond the formalist critical discourse these kinds of texts have in the past elicited, and thus avoids sounding outdated as such a study might today, some 20 or 30 years after the “golden age” of French innovative fiction. In her introduction Sherzer characterizes the texts she will examine as belonging to and exemplifying “ what is called the postmodern era” (p. 2). A series of terms is listed to characterize Postmodernism: “ randomness, pluralism, heterogeneity, multiplicity, disper­ sion, and indeterminacy rather than univocity, totality, wholeness, hierarchy, and polarity” (p. 3). A footnote acknowledges that Postmodernism is and has been the subject of wide debate, and lists four representative texts. While I agree on the whole with Sherzer’s use of the term in relation to the texts in question, I think that, given the centrality of Post­ modernism to her thesis, a fuller discussion of the term is in order. Some of the questions raised recently are: can we talk about a Postmodern “era” ? If so, has it ended? Within each of the categories of representation she identifies, Sherzer discusses three works. The analyses are competent, systematic, and concise. The chapter on postmodern feminist fiction strikes me as both the most interesting and the most problematic. First, I am puzzled that Sherzer sees “les petites filles” as the major protagonists in Monique Wittig’s Les Guerilleres. The “elles” who are the subject of this fiction include females of all ages, but most of the acts are attributable to the female warriors of the title. To read Les Guerillires as a fable about little girls is to blunt its impact as a fiction about a future war between the sexes. The outcome of this war is not, as Sherzer would have it, the creation of a “ new life independent of men,” but rather a utopia that includes both males and females. One of the strongest sections of Sherzer’s book is her conclusions about writing and sexual difference. Here she rejects the notion that, among the works she examines, the texts by women are essentially different from those by men; for Sherzer, all the texts exhibit a constellation of postmodern traits. She lucidly counters the kind of criticism that would “essentialize” women’s writing as somehow linked to female biology, focusing instead on the differing sexual politics of the male and female writers in question. Where many of the men fetishize the female body, the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 106-107
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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