Monday, March 21, 2011

“In 1981 Yale French Studies finally published a feminist issue, number 62, Feminist Readings: French Text/American Contexts. The volume is an interesting collection of work which successfully combines engaged feminist analysis with sophisticated literary and psychoanalytic theory. But the beginning, the first sentence, disturbs me. YFS 62 (as I will henceforth refer to it) opens thus: “This is a very unusual issue of Yale French Studies, in that its guest editor is a seven-headed monster from Dartmouth."

     A striking, somewhat troubling image. Of course the notion of a monster from Dartmouth is quite funny. As swiftly as it appears, the monster is domesticated...The seven-headed monster literally refers to the seven Dartmouth faculty women who edit YFS 62. The monster is a figure for the seven individuals working together as one body. The next two pages give a glowingly positive description of this collaboration, of collectivity as method. Since the image appears in the introduction, signed by the editors, it constitutes a self-portrait—an ironic one. The editors are saying: Look, we are horrifying, we are monstrous, we are inhumanly ugly. This turns out to be an ironic way of saying: Look, we are “very unusual,” we are beautiful, we are extraordinary.

     ...there are many possible ways of being monstrous, but the same type of abnormality that figures in the editor’s introduction also figures [throughout]—the monstrosity of a being whose boundaries are inadequately differentiated, thus calling into question the fundamental opposition of self and other. Such a being is terrifying because of the stake any self as self has in its own autonomy in its individuation, in its integrity.”

--Jane Gallop, The Monster in the Mirror: The Feminist Critic’s Psychoanalysis