Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Around 1991

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Around 1991

Article excerpt

Some time after Elisabeth and I had agreed I would talk here about feminism, she wrote back; given how the conference was taking shape, she wanted me to pick a date, a year, to hinge my talk on. The first date that occurred to me was the mid-seventies, the heyday of what we in this country called French feminism. In 1975, Catherine Clement and Helene Cixous published La Jeune Nee; the same year Cixous published Le Rire de la meduse in L'Arc 61, an issue devoted to "Simone de Beauvoir et la lutte des femmes." Luce Irigaray published Speculum de l'autre femme in 1974 and in 1977, Ce Sexe qui n'en est pas un ; Julia Kristeva published both La Revolution du langage poetique and Des Chinoises in 1974. I'll add: Jacques Derrida first published "La Question du style" in 1973, and it came out as the book Eperons: les styles de Nietzsche in 1976; Jacques Lacan published his twentieth seminar, Encore, in 1975.

1975, I thought, that would be my date. I could revisit all these texts I had written about long ago, see how "French feminism" looked thirty years later ... But Elisabeth said the conference was on Romance Studies, on things here, not in Paris. I looked at the Romanic Review for 1975: only one article devoted to a woman author (a review article on Kristeva's Revolution by Michel Beaujour), and not a single feminist article in the four issues for that year. I looked at 1976: not one single feminist article and none on female authors either. 1977: no female authors studied; no feminist articles. (1)

The second date I thought of was 1981, approximately the moment of French feminism's establishment in the United States. That is also when I would locate "the institutionalization" of feminist literary criticism, by which I mean its acceptance as a legitimate part of literary studies. (21) had made both of these points in a book entitled Around 1981. So it seemed to me, if I were looking for either French feminism here or feminist literary criticism here, I should look around 1981.

I might have done that, I guess. I could have focused on the sixty-second issue of Yale French Studies, published in 1981, entitled "French Texts, American Contexts," with, for example, articles by Marianne Hirsch (on La Princesse de Cleves), Ronnie Scharfman (on Simone Schwarz-Bart's Pluie et vent sur Telumee Miracle), Naomi Schor (on psychoanalytic feminist criticism), and Gayatri Spivak (on French feminism). While this was definitely a major landmark for feminism in US French studies, this was Yale--or actually Dartmouth, in any case, New England--and I wanted to focus on the presence of feminism here. Given our anniversarial occasion, I felt I really should talk about feminism not just in Romance studies, but in the Romanic Review.

Romanic around 1981? 1980: out of twenty-six articles, not a single feminist piece, and only one female author studied: Marie de France. 1981: although there are two pieces devoted to female authors, one to Nathalie Sarraute and one to Madame de Lafayette, not one of the thirty-two articles published that year is feminist. There was however a certain presence of feminism in the book reviews: English Showalter reviewed Nancy K. Miller's The Heroine's Text, and Miller reviewed Janet Todd's Women's Friendship in Literature. While together these constitute a noteworthy feminist appearance, book reviews are a marginal part of the journal; I didn't think I should settle for feminism at the back of the bus. 1982 did see one quasi-feminist article: an explication of Kristeva's critical theory by Evelyn Zepp which spends a bit of time on feminist aesthetics as one aspect of its presentation, about a sixth of the article: still not a resounding feminist inclusion.

Moved to focus on feminism here, I could have talked about "The Poetics of Gender," a major feminist conference held at the Maison Francaise in 1984 (published by Columbia University Press in 1986 as a volume edited by Nancy K. …

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