The French Review 59.6 (1986): 967-968.
JARDINE, ALICE A. Gynesis: Configurations of Woman and Modernity. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985. Pp. 281. $29.95.
[Reprinted with the permission of The French Review]
The task that Alice Jardine undertakes in this lucid analysis of contemporary Franco-American critical debate is nothing less than a mediation of the sharp, often antagonistic differences that separate the American feminists' version of "woman as sexual identity" from the French (women) theorists' view of "woman as process" (p. 41). As a tool for bridging the Franco-American theoretical gap, Jardine proposes as her study's generative concept the neologism "gynesis-the putting into discourse of 'woman' as that process diagnosed in France as intrinsic to the condition of modernity; indeed, the valorization of the feminine, woman, and her obligatory, that is, historical connotations, as somehow intrinsic to new and necessary modes of thinking, writing, speaking" (p. 25). The Franco- American feminist dialogue proposed by Jardine consists in examining how "woman," i.e., the metaphorized concept of "the 'feminine' as cultural and libidinal constructions" (p. 37), appears in the important "configurations" of "modernity."
Jardine organizes this immensely challenging study to reveal the "Intersections" (section 1) of "woman" with "modernity" through the process of gynesis: after positing the divergent American and French versions of the "woman-in-effect" (chapter 1), Jardine suggests three forms of intersection that characterize this divergence: the French mise en question of the speaking subject, of representation, and of the status of truth in contemporary thought (chapter 2, "Feminist Tracks"). These are modalities of inquiry that have contributed to the contemporary "Crises in Legitimation" (chapter 3), and have resulted in "newly contoured fictional spaces, hypothetical and unmeasurable, spaces freely coded as feminine" (p. 69), i.e., gynesis at work in the disciplinary "narratives" considered by Jardine, philosophy, religion, and history. Closing the first section with the suggestion that the "spaces for further research" (chapter 4) lie in understanding the new emphasis on "woman" that emerges through the "male paranoia" of modernity's current exponents, Jardine then traces the conceptual itineraries of particular male theorists in two ways: first, she carefully examines their "Interfacings"(section II) in the three crucial "topologies" of modernity, the breakdown of the speaking subject (chapter 5), the dismantling of "representation" (chapter 6), and the resultant destabilization of any question of "Truth" in and for modernity (chapter 7). Second, Jardine directly addresses specific male "Intertexts" (section III) by allowing the operation of gynesis to emerge through abundant textual examples in works by Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, and Gilles Deleuze/Félix Guattari. In the final section, Jardine leaves the dizzying sphere of theoretical "fiction" to analyze the "Interferences" of gynesis in American and French modes of literary narrative, here revealing the contrast of the processes of gynesis between chosen contemporary male American and French writers (particularly between Philippe Sollers, Thomas Pynchon, and John Hawkes).
Gynesis will be of particular interest to readers of the French Review since Alice Jardine operates a skillful negotiation of problems that, all too often, are left undefined, specifically the inter-cultural distinctions inherent to the relationship between the problematical concept of feminism and contemporary theory. Furthermore, throughout her detailed examination of these complex and urgent issues, Alice Jardine excels above all as an educator; through precise organization, clear explanations, and frequent examples, she succeeds in rendering accessible a difficult conceptual web that encompasses, avowed or not, the current critical discussion in the humanities and social sciences. Readers previously unfamiliar with section III's Jacques-talk and D + G-speak will perhaps find this gynesis-in-action less penetrable than the remarkable sections I and II, but the literary analyses in section IV are ample reward for perseverance. In any case, this process of theoretical excavation is a necessary first step in Jardine's larger project of exploring French theorists of post-(anti-)feminism. Gynesis is finally most impressive not only because of the analysis that Alice Jardine achieves, but also because of the necessary questions that she postulates as the bases for projects yet to come in the Franco-American theoretical dialogue that will decide the future of gynesis.
Charles J. Stivale
Wayne State University