Seductions: studies in reading and culture
"One of the deadliest of seductions for feminists is their seduction by theorists, by theories." With this boldly polemical stroke, Jane Miller begins her exploration stealthily, cumulatively, and with a deft and compelling intelligence. In looking at the complex relation of women to culture and literature, and to theory and politics, and in recalling her own coming to feminism, she asks how women experience themselves within ideas and traditions which simultaneously include and exclude them, take their presence for granted, and deny it.
Seduction as a category binds together the ambivalence--the pleasure and the invisible coercions--of male/female relations, while at the same time transgressing the implicit imperative in patriarchal societies to confine eroticism and its politics to the closet. Seductions consists of five loosely connected, almost autonomous chapters, which nevertheless trace a historical progression from the eighteenth century to the present. Miller borrows Antonio Gramsci's idea of "hegemony," using it to contextualize her readings of two famous literary seductions, as told through Richardson's Clarissa and Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. The second chapter focuses on Raymond Williams' novels and criticism, using them to chart the larger exclusions of feminism by Marxism. The author enlists Carolyn Steedman's Landscape for a Good Woman in an attempt to survey Williams' telling silences. The third chapter reconstructs and analyzes the life and career of Clara Collet, Miller's great-aunt, close friend of George Gissing, civil servant, and expert on women's education and work. Through Collet, Miller bestows individual color on the pressures inflicted on professional women to assume male perspectives and procedures. The fourth chapter is superb. Bracketed by discussions of Charlotte Bronte's Villette and Toni Morrison's Beloved, it questions influential treatments of colonialism and orientalism which use women as a metaphor without listening for the testimony of real women. It is a moving plea to set the category of "women" alongside more privileged categories of class and race. The final chapter counterpoints the internal contradictions in the "polyphonic" theories of Bakhtin and Volosinov with an account of women's distrust of other women in Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye. By ending with an evocation of women's self-dislike, Miller emphasizes the chilling ways in which cultural exclusions and degradations of women are internalized and replicated by complicitous victims.
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