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The Psyche of Feminism: Sand, Colette, Sarraute

Catherine M. Peebles

The Psyche of Feminism argues that a feminist ethics, in order to be both feminist and ethical, needs to embrace psychoanalysis.

After reviewing the relation between feminism and psychoanalysis and arguing for the centrality of psychoanalysis to feminist thought, the study offers an analysis of two attempts by George Sand to reimagine the sexual relationship (Lettres à Marcie [Letters to Marcie], Lélia), where the emphasis is on political injustice and the impossibility of women’s desires. Moving from rights and desires to the question of pleasures, Peebles then takes up a relatively little-read work by Colette, Le pur et l’impur (The Pure and the Impure), in which the narrator suggests that pleasure and its corporeal language hold the key to any understanding of masculinity and femininity. We are then led to the risky question of “neutrality” put forward by Nathalie Sarraute (Tu ne t’aimes pas [You don’t love yourself]), whose work forces a psychoanalytic feminism to face the question: what if sexual difference itself is a ruse? Does the notion of a human neutrality condemn us either to a bygone humanism or to psychosis?

The final chapter of the work synthesizes these analyses and argues for a fundamental feminist rethinking of the ideal of equality, an ideal that figures significantly and uneasily in each of the works this book treats.

"[The Pysche of Feminism] weaves its readings of novels by three women into a history of psychoanalytic, especially post-Freudian, thought. . . . The work will certainly interest those who are already convinced of the validity of psychoanalysis and the importance of psychoanalysis to feminist thought." —Pamela A. Genova, author of André Gide dans le labyrinthe de la mythotextualité

"Peebles's conclusion endorses the Sarrautean move beyond a 'feminine subject' as a valuable contribution to the psyche of feminism, which continually dissolves and is reborn. The study thus ends with a new twist to the long-running debate about the kind of subjectivity (equal or different?) that would best serve contemporary feminism. Readers looking for a detailed study of Sand, Colette and Sarraute ... will at least be given some illuminating new readings of these authors. Those, on the other hand, looking for a sustained and engaged development of (Irigarayan) psycholanalytic feminist literary criticism will find much to think about." —Olga Gómez, French Studies

For the full review, see French Studies 59.4 (2005): 581.

"One of the most daunting challenges for feminist theory has always been the problem of conceiving a feminine subject that is not defined in terms of a relation to man. As Peebles effectively demonstrates, it is a dilemma best elucidated in light of insights provided by psychoanalytic theory. ... I found the argument eloquent, intriguing, and stimulating." —Karlis Racevskis, French Review

For the full review, see French Review 79.6 (2006): 1370-71.

Catherine M. Peebles, University of New Hampshire, has written on French literature and film, psychoanalytic theory, and feminist theory. Currently she is working on a project tentatively entitled Anxiety, Equality, and the Will to Power.

2003. Vol. 28. xvi, 232 pp. Paper $32.95