title.none: Burns on Jones on Burns

identifier.other: baj9928.9402.003 94.02.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X


publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1994


type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 94.02.03

Reviewed by:

I would like to thank the editors of the BMR for having chosen as a reviewer of my book, Bodytalk: When Women Speak in Old French Literature, someone as highly informed about issues of female voice as Nancy Jones (see the volume of essays she has co-edited with Leslie Dunn, Embodied Voices: Representing Female Vocality in Western Culture, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994). Jones's review of Bodytalk that appeared in the BMR represents accurately and in detail my book's concern with female subjectivity, sexual difference and the role of the body in constructing each of these. Jones also conveys accurately my position in the longstanding feminist debate about the dangers of reducing the complex phenomenon that we call "the female body" to a textualized feminine.

For those unfamiliar with this debate, it is given extended treatment in Alice Jardine's Gynesis: Configurations of Woman and Modernity (1985). But other arguments against that aspect of Derridean deconstruction which tends to overly metaphorize the concept of "woman" were articulated between 1982 and 1991 by a number of feminist theorists, among them Gayatri Spivak, Nancy K. Miller, Elizabeth Grosz, Jane Flax, Rosi Braidotti, and in a slightly different vein Naomi Schor. I did not invent the terms of this debate, although I have taken a position within it. I agree with those feminists who assert that 1)the post-structuralist affirmation of the metaphor of woman as subversive risks silencing a significant range of alternative female voices and that 2) the critical claim to a disruptive textualized feminine must be understood in the context of who makes that claim and from what position he or she speaks.

As for "bodytalk" and what it means, the concept is carefully detailed in the preface and introduction to my book. I encourage readers to consult the full argument. For the record, however, let me quote a few key segments:

"This book is about female bodies and what they say in Old French literary texts authored by men. My interest in the topic is not purely literary or theoretical but also personal and political. . . My project here is to provide the feminist reader of medieval literary texts with a strategy for interpreting the female body as it has been encoded (stereotyped, fetishized, fantasized) within Old French literary texts, by listening to what it says. That is, I attempt to hear, within the dominant discourses that construct female nature in the French Middle Ages. . . other voices that speak against and dissent from the dominant tradition.

"I have chosen to call this resistant doubled discourse 'bodytalk.' And in proposing that we listen for it, I do not mean to imply that such bodytalk exists de facto in the literary text. It is not something that medieval authors—consciously or not—make their characters do; rather bodytalk is something that we as feminist readers can choose to hear. . . This book explores then how female voices, fashioned by a male author to represent misogynous fantasies of female corporeality can also be heard to rewrite the tales in which they appear."

And there is more, for anyone interested in reading further.

(Editor's Note: The original BMMR review appeared as item 94.11.05 and may be retrieved from the BMMR gopher archive. For another comment on the same review, see 94.102.01.)