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Reconstructing the Feminine Speculum of the Other Woman by Luce Irigaray; Gillian C.

Gill; This Sex Which Is Not One by Luce Irigaray; Catherine Porter; Carolyn Burke Review by: Margaret Homans The Women's Review of Books, Vol. 3, No. 6 (Mar., 1986), pp. 12-13 Published by: Old City Publishing, Inc. Stable URL: . Accessed: 17/05/2013 06:56
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Reconstructing the Feminine

by Margaret Homans
Speculum of the Other Woman, by Luce Irigaray,translated by Gillian C. Gill. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985, 365 pp., $42.50 hardcover,$16.95 paper. This Sex Which Is Not One, by LuceIrigaray, translatedby CatherinePorterwith CarolynBurke. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985, 222 pp., $29.95 hardcover,$12.95 paper. censorship? foreclusion? repression?-of a valid signifier for her 'first' desire and for her sex/organs."As a result,"thefeminine must be decipheredas inter-dict [inter-ditl:within the signs or between them, between the realized meanings, betweenthe lines. . . "Tobe sure,female sexual desire does exist somewhere, but werethat outlawedand unspoken(interdicted) nothing to become something, it would disrupt male-dominated systems of representation that depend on the primacy and the masteryof the phallus. What is it that Freud and others outlaw? "That a woman might desire a woman 'like' herself, someone of the 'same' sex, that she might also have auto- and homosexual appetites, is simplyincomprehensibleto Freud,and indeed inadmissible." This is what Irigaray means, in the passage quoted above, by the dangerouspossibilitythat the earthmight turn upon herself: women's love for themselves would overturna conceptual system that de-

bourgeois,or somethingelse."2Feminists shouldreadIrigaray, not onlyforherdefense of daughters' love for their mothersand of women's loveforeachotherandourselves, but for her incisiveaccountof how strenuously and continuouslythese feelings must be wrested froma repression through whichthey mightbe lost.

myth of extraordinary beauty and power runsthrough theheart of Speculum. While Speculumis primarilya cri-


Irigaray'sSpeculum of the Other

oneof themostimportant Woman, texts of recent feminist wasfirstpubthought, lishedin French in 1974andhasonlyrecently ' The samepubbecomeavailable in English. lisherhassimultaneously brought out a translation of This Sex Which Is Not One, a

collectionof Irigaray's essaysandothershort pieces (originally published in 1977)that at onceclarify andexcitingly complicate andextendaspectsof Speculum. Thepublication of these two translationsis an event to be celebrated byfeminists of all persuasions. For sometimenow,otherFrench feminist writers of Irigaray's stature havebeenwellrepresented in English translation: majorworksandlarge essaycollections bySimone de Beauvoir, Julia Kristeva and Monique Wittigarewidelyread in this country,whilethe shorteressaysand selections by Heklne Cixousandmanyothers availablein the groundbreaking colleCtion,
New French Feminisms (University of Mas-

nowthatwehave, in excellent translaEnglish works to date tions,twoof hermostimportant that she will reachthe wider audienceshe merits andthatwe canreachan adequate unof herthoughtandof hercontriderstanding butionto feminism. of themonumental Theproject Speculum is to loosen the stranglehold that European metaphysics and its inheritor, Freudian psychoanalytic theory, havehadon the construction of femininity. The book analyzesand criticizes thosefundamental texts,fromFreud backto Plato,that defineWestern culture as based on the oppressionand repression of women.Subjectivity itselfdependson a hierarchized oppositionbetween subjectand object, with "woman" alwaysin the roleof the object,the matteror body againstwhichthe mindof "man" definesitself.As shewrites at the startof the central of Speculum, chapter entitled "AnyTheoryof the 'Subject' Has AlwaysBeenAppropriated by the 'Masculine',"
Subjectivity denied to woman: indisputably thisprovides the financial forevery backing irreducible constitution as an object: of representation, of discourse, of desire. [The morecrucial thanthe object]is ultimately subject, forhe cansustain himself onlyby backoff someobjectiveness, some bouncing objective. If thereis no more"earth" to press down/repress, to work,to represent, but alsoandalways to desire (forone'sown),no whichin theorydoesnot opaquematter knowherself, thenwhatpedestal remains fortheex-sistence of the"subject"? If the earthturned andmoreespecially turned the erection of thesubject uponherself, mightthereby be disconcerted andrisk losingits elevation andpenetration. For whatwouldtherebe to riseup fromand exercise hispower over? Andin? (p. 133)

tique,it alsoincludes an imaginative visionof a differently gendered world;for,as Irigaray writes, "howis one to desire withoutfiction?" Because it is in language itselfthatoppression occurs and that a new life might be constructed, images,metaphors, poetryand the soundsof language in allof herworks. matter Like Virginia Woolf, Irigaray sees that women'sprimaryfunctionin a male-dominatedculture has beento provide menwitha flatteringand reassuringmirror-image of themselves. InIrigaray's myth,a manstands in a roomwalled withmirrors, andfindseeking ingonlyimages of himself, of hisownsubjec-

sachusetts Press,1980),as well as in various periodicals,have more or less adequately represented those writers.Selections from Irigaray's work(several from ThisSex) have
been published in New French Feminisms, in

Signsand elsewhere, and theyhavehad their impact.Herwork,in theoriginal andin translation,hasbeenmostinfluential amongliteraryandfilmcritics, thosewhotake especially psychoanalysis seriously. ButIrigaray is not wellrepresented by fragments, and she has been misunderstood by manyreaders who haven't been able to read hermorefully.Hersis a thoughtso complex andso massive thatonly complete workswill is oftenso difficult that do,andyetherFrench evenfairlyfluentreaders balkat it. It is only

. ri. . ... ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~t-*~:~


Leslie W. Rabine

Reading Romantic
Text, History, Ideology
cloth 524.00

viewof howwomen Irigaray's mightdisconvv.........N . of subjectivity-what N cert this construction she means by "if the earth turned...upon herself'- is-quite andI'llturnto this complex, questionlateron. It'snot simplya matterof for themwomenappropriating subjectivity herown selves,fora woman"re-cbjectiviz4es] * ~~~~~~~~~~~~~4 A ~~~~~~~~~~~A selfwhenever sheclaimsto identify herself 'as' a masculine A 'subject' thatwouldresubject. searchitself as lost (maternal-feminine) 'obOras sheputsit in the"Questions" secject'?" tion of This Sex (a series of responsesto studentquestions aboutSpeculum whichallowherto clarify taken manyof the positions there),we should questionwhetherwomen (should)have an unconsciousof our own, at a demonstration for legalized with abortion,Paris,October1979.(Reprinted of conscious/uncon- LuceIrigaray sincethe verystructure from Le avee mire Luce Editions de la la by permission published by corps-ai-corps Irigaray, scious depends upon a repressionof that which western culture always defines as nle-ine ltune. Montre-al- 19Q1-b
feminine. pends upon women's subordination to men.


"Critics have tended to see in romantic love literature only the dominant masculine voice who imposes a totalizing structure on the narrative and makes the heroine into a reflection of himself by repressing an independent feminine subject. Yet this excluded feminine other the text in the form of a frgented excluded other ... .[Thel feminine historical, while buried by official history, has been incorporated into unconscious textual structures of narrative literature. In many of the romantic love narrative studie4 here, it expresses itself as a desire to heal the division of society into sexually separate spheres. Each chapter also studies in a particular text the process of ideological production which masks this other history." -the author The University of Michigan Nress
Dept. RM1 P.O. Box 1101 Ann Ari,)r. Michipan 48106

ne of the major themesof Irigaray's work,perhaps themostcontroversial, is her view that women and especially women's desires areexcluded fromdiscourse, whichis for her equivalent to consciouslife. Unlikemany femin}ists in the UnitedStates, Irigaray doesnotemphasize thecontributions andaccomplishments of historical womenbecause femnininity has been constructedso thoroughly by men. In her long chapteron Freud,"4The BlindSpot of an Old Dreamof Symmetry," Irigaray details howFreud defines and measures female sexcualityentirely through masculine terms(thelittlegirlis only a little boy with a truncatedpenis, and so forth)and leavres out the specificity of the femalebody.Forexample, Irigaray asks,why,if thereis a "'phallic phase," is thereno "vulvar stage" or "vaginal stage" or why,if theclitoris is considered an atrophied penis,aren't males similarlydisparagedfor having atrophied breasts? Whatis at issueis not so muchthatwomen haveno desiresof theirown, as that women haveno wayto represent theirsexuality, their desires, their pleasure. Lacking thephallus, the mastersignifier, a daughter, a son, has unllike no wayof representing or"miming'~ a return to her belovedand lost origin in the mother's body. The daughter suffers the "lack-

And this is a lovethat is always imagined in terms of language: "When OurLipsSpeak TotheessaythatclosesThisSex,punson gether," a doubling of lipsand labiato posita female sexuality thatcouldspeakitselfintoexistence, a female systemof representation that lies apartfromthe discourse that we know and that oppressesus. Irigaraycalls for- and writesnotes towards -such a new language

tivity: "A faithful, polished mirror,empty of altering reflections." But the Othei Woman of Irigaray'stitlethe woman as genuineother,outside these selfreflections- appears on the scene and provokes a defensive response: The"subject" mustdighis foundations extend the underground deeper, passages whichassured theedificeof his determination... He becomes a prisoner of effectsof thatknowno limit.Everywhere symmetry that might embody an unheard-of, but deeply of he runsintothewallsof his palace felt, sexuality. the floor of which is in case mirrors, any Itmaybeobjected thatIrigaray neednotacto crack beginning andbreak up. cepttheviewthatlanguage determines reality, (pp. 136-37)

the languageof Freudand of the especially philosophical tradition he follows.Butif she seemsan unnecessarily dutifuldaughter, it is worthnoting that publication of Speculum earned herexpulsion fromLacan's Ecolefreudienne and from her teachingjob at the of Vincennes. Moreimportant, no University one can disprove herassumptions aboutlanknowhowthoroughly we guage:wecannever are made by the conceptualsystemswe inobserve themfromouthabit,forwecannever in one of the side.And,as JaneGallopwrites mostcogentessays to dateon Irigaray, "belief in simplereferentiality is. . .ultimately politibecause it cannotrecognize callyconservative, that the realityto whichit appealsis a traditionalideological whether one construction, termsit phallomorphic, or metaphysical, or

What happens when the floor caves in, when the world through the looking-glass emerges? That room of mirrors, that had seemed so passive, is shown to be a concave mirrorthat, by focusing the light trainedon it (much as Archimedesused a mirrorto burnup the Roman navy), sends back a fire that burns the one who would gaze at his reflection: Perhaps through thisspecular surface which sustains discourse is foundnot thevoidof nothingness butthedazzleof multifaceted

We need only presson a little

further intothedepths, intothatso-called darkcavewhichserves as hiddenfoundationto theirspeculations. Fortherewhere weexpectto findtheopaqueandsilent matrix of a logosimmutable in thecertainty of its ownlight,firesandmirrors arebegin-

The Women's Review of Books / Vol, III, No. 6 / March, 1986.

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ning to radiate,sapping the evidence of (pp. 143-44) reason at its base!

Brilliantly turning their image for women back against men themselves, Irigarayshows how self-destructiveis their "oculocentrism," their wish only to look at women and to see in them only mirrors.She plays here on the two definitions of the word speculum: that wellknown medical instrument"to dilate the lips, the orifices ... so that the eyecan penetratethe interior" is also a curvedlens, with a reflecting and magnifying surface, that can become, in Irigaray's appropriation of the term, "this burning glass, which enflames all that falls into its cup."The male proclivity for defining women as mere objects of the gaze provides women s own mode of defense against itself. This "scintillating and incandescent concavity" does not, however, simply destroy. What appearsto the male gaze as a dangerous void, Irigarayreclaims for women's imaginings of ourselves.But it is a difficult process, so fully have we internalized male definitions. Continuing her myth, Irigaraydescribes her by merginghervoice explorationof that "cave" the woman myswith that of "la mysterique," tic/hystericwho throughout history has alone glimpsed- and tried in vain to articulatethose beauties and powers of the female soul and body that lie beyond the language ordinarilyavailablewithin westernculture:
For how does one chart a course in this ignorancethat can gain enlightenmentonly from the embraceof fire? No doubt we must. . wedge our bodies through slits in orderto move into the full light of the caves to be explored.. . . No "naturallight"is avalable to help us along this path that has alreadybeen erased and eroded in the confusion with those reflectingwalls of the which she had made her own in the "Csoul" cold reasonablenessof optics. The light is out in this night, a strangeawakeningis vaguely expectedwhile everyonesleeps... (p. 194)

Ultimately, the woman explorer, the "myst&e rique," overcomes the obstacles of her own ideological programming, and encounters a gorgeousness within, by acknowledging, as the self-reflecting male does not, the Other. Readers already familiar with "When Our Lips Speak Together"will recognize towards the end of this passage the germ of that prose lyric:
Fire flares up in the inexhaustibleabundance of her undergroundsource and is matched with an opposing but congruent flood that sweeps over the "I"in an excess of excess.... A living mirror,thus, am I (to) your resemblanceas you are mine. We are both singularand plural, one and ones, providedthat nothing tarnishesthe mirrors that fuse in the purity of their (pp. 195-97) exchange....

In this place, the opposition between subject and object burnsaway,leaving "dazzlingmultifaceted difference"} and genuine commulnion. Wedon't lsnowquite wherewe are,but it's an exhilaratingplace to be. In Speculum of the Other Woman,Inigaray uses her "burningglass"primarilyto demolish male theories with their own light; it is mainly Lips Speak in later works, such as "WhenO)ur Together" or "And the One Doesn't Stir without the Other"'3 that she takes on a more positive, visionary voice. Her principalmethod in Speculum is to repeat male texts in a context that reveals their repressiveness,using their own logic against them, turning,as in her symbol of the "burningglass,"9 the traditional female role of mirror into the source of her critical power. Sometimes, astonishingly, a chapter will consist of nothing but extracts fromthe philosopherin question, extractsthat indict him without the need for any commentary. In other chapters, she quotes and then analyzesextensively.It'san ingenious strategy. It placesthe onus back on the oppressor,where it belongs. Irigaray does not so much speak for women as show how others have falsely attemptedto do so, while, with her commentay inserted in the gaps between quotations, she mockingly anlddisruptivelymirrorsthe traditional marginalityof women. The history of philosophy seen from the point of view of Irigaray's "burning glass"' is strange indeed. The first section of the book takes 114 pages to quote Freud's short lecture-essay, "Femininity."Expanded thus enormously, inspected this minutely under Irigaray's well-polished lens, all the selfcontradictionsand the flawsof Freud'slogic especially of the theory of penis-envyreveal themselves. The last and equally long explores even more section, "Plato'sHystera,"9

argueriteDuras was born on April 4, 1914, in Gia Dinh, in what was then called the Cochin-China region of FrenchIndochina but is now in Vietnam. Now in her seventies, Duras was awarded a prestigious literaryprize,the Prix Goncourt, for The Lover. Her first novel was published in 1943; since that time she has continued to produce works of the first orderin an astonishing variety of art-forms. Throughout her life as a B ut let's go back to that scintillatingcave. writer and filmmaker, Duras has remained Is Irigarayan "essentialist,"as she has committed to the avant-garde,to an evolving been accused of being? In celebrating yet uncompromising sense of the importance the wondersof a female innerspace, is she just of both artisticindependenceand political enrepeating, if in a different key, the invidious gagement with the times in which she lives. In "anatomyis destiny"rhetoricshe attackswhen 1968, for instance, she was active on commitshe uncovers it in Freud? I believe that for tees created to form alliances among writers, Irigaraythat's the wrong question. students and workers. She has discussed the To begin with, she is vehement in her con- importance of women as writers and filmdemnation of those who would reduce the fe- makers, and articulatedher personal sense of male body to its facilitation of male pleasure the differencethat gender makes, on many ocand to its reproductivefunction: "And when casions. will they cease to equate woman's sexuality The Lover can most profitably be considwith her reproductiveorgans,to claim that her ered a work of autobiography, yet as in so sexuality has value only insofar as it gathers manyof Duras'stextsthe genredistinctionsare the heritage of her maternity?"More impor- blurred:for while the imaginaryis the primary tant, however,as Gallop points out, is her em- locus of her concern, there is a definable auphasis not on anatomy itself but on tobiographicalspace which encounters, I susmorphology, or the forms of the body as we pect, a fictional space as well. As such, it joins imagine them. Irigaray inveighs against the the large and growing body of texts by French reductiveand violent imaginingof femalegen- women writersthat extend and challenge our itals as a womb, a merelyreceptivevagina, and notions of both autobiographyand fiction, inperhaps an atrophied penis; and in reimagin- cluding Nathalie Sarraute's Childhood, as well ing the female sexual body as having sex or- as semi-autobiographical narratives in the gans just about everywhere, especially in French tradition of Madame de Sevigne, Gefocusing on the perpetuallyself-touchinglabia orge Sand, Colette, and their contemporary (which serveonly women's pleasure),she asks counterparts such as Luce Irigaray, Marie us to change the way we think about and thus Cardinal and Helene Cixous. the way we inhabit our bodies. The Lover is, then, the work of a mature What is clearest of all about both books is writerwho has publishedover40 yearsnumerthat Irigaray would never seek to define or ous novels and plays, scenarios and novellas, limit women's sexuality to any "essential" one who began at 55 to direct her own films, component: "Forthe sexof woman is not one." now numberingmore than a dozen. Its world That central image of Speculum, the mul- will be recognizable to readers familiar with tifacetedmirror,startsout in the form of a "so- Duras's previous work, for in it she takes up called dark cave,"deceptively like the hollow again material treated earlier, for example in space that men have all along imagined The Sea Wall(Barragecontre le Pacifique) in women to be. But ultimately Irigaray does 1950. It is in fact a reinventionand re-working awaywith the verynotion of a containablevol- of that novel's story of a daughter of French ume or of a single mirrorof which these arethe parents who leave the austerity of northern (reassemblable)fragments.Her text replicates Francefor the exotic promiseof teachingin the the processof wrestingthe infinite possibilities Frenchcolonies, only to find themselves once of the female body away from the restrictive again in poverty. That narrative recounts a androcentricimagination. "Togatherthem to- widowed mother's desperate and futile atgether in some unit(y) of specula(riza)tion, tempts to support her childrenby pathetically some summation arising out of their pleas- inadequatemeans, a woman betrayedby cyniures, has nothing-yet-to do with all that cal moneylenders and victimized by her own burns and gleams without end or limit in the madnessand the catastropheit engenders.In a blazing embrace of those fiery hollows."'She French television interview, Duras was asked insists that all possibilities remain open, that whether her own mother had really invested nothing be denied to the female imagination. her life savings in a tract of worthless land And if the body is unlimited,then nothing is to along the Vietnamese coast, and whether,like be feared from identifying women with our the mother in TheSea Wall,she too had played bodies. Irigaraydoes not so much answeras re- piano in a movie theatre. "'Oh no," exclaimed write the question of essentialism. Duras, "that'sinvented. . .you see, she had no A final word about the translations. As it one to talk to, so she tlked endlesslyto us, her should be clear from the passagesquoted here, children. She wasn't the musician in the Irigaray's prose, while it is alwaysvery precise, cinema, she herself was the cinema."' is also very difficult. She uses sentence fragRecreatedon filmiby Ren6CIementin 1957, ments, neologisms and puns, all of which fur- The Sea Wallpresents the same maternlalfigther complicate the translator's task. It is urefound laterin WholeDays in the Trees(Des thanks to the powers of her translators that Journdes entieres dans les arbres, 1954) and Irigaray's extraordinary lyricism-and the again, fourteen years later, in the play by the sinuous, muscular quality of her critical samnename. There, however, it is the elder prose -come across so well. In addition, brother,a sadistic thief feared and loathed by translating Specullum required immense his sister, who occupies center stage. Beloved learnednessabout psychoanalysisand philos- favoriteof the mother he trickedand pillaged, ophy, since (amnongother reasons) Irigaray this violent brothermay, Duras suggests, have doesn't cite her references. The sections of caused the death of the younger brother to ThisSexthat haveappearedpreviouslyin Eng- whom she was deeply attached. lish havre been retranslated,with an increaseinl accuracyand in the boldness with which they The Lover shifts the focus of this central preserveIrigaray'sidiosyncraticstyle. C] narrativeto the young girl'spoinltof view, and of Irigaray is indebted to an unpub- so permits the author the possibility of worklMy reading lishedIntroduction written by GillianC. Gill for ing through her own pre-Oedipalstory, for alhertranslation of Speculum, "The Burning Glass though it is primarily "about"its adolescent the samne family members reappear. of Theory: LuceIrigaray intheContext of Franco- narrator, American Feminism." The book is, among other things, an act of 2 J aneGal lop,"QuanZdNosLtvres S 'tcrivent: Irig a- liberation from the chains of guilt and rage ray's BodyPolitic," Romanic Review 74 (1983), 83. that had bound Duras all her life. She admits 3Translatedby CarolynBurke,Signs 6 (1980), as much in the same television interview:"4In 69-79; translated by Helene VivienneWenzel, writing The Lover I absolve everyone,includSigns 7, (1981),60-67, respectively. ing my brother."

minutely Plato's allegory of the cave, which Irigaraysuggests revealsa true womb-envy as the origin of the fictive penis-envyshe dissects in "The Blind Spot." In between these very long chapters are a series of short ones that, rather than blowing up, shrink their targets: chapters on Plato and on Plotinus simply extract and juxtapose damning quotations from various of their works, reducingthem to skeletal outlines of misogynist rhetoric,while chapters on Aristotle, Descartes, Kant and Hegel criticize with breathtaking efficiency those philosophers' dependence on an oppressive matter/woman- mind/man opposition. (She takes on Lacan with a similar method in the "Cosi Fan Tutti"chapter of This Sex.) Interspersedin this section arethe chapters,quotations from which constitute the "allegory" discussed above, that state Irigaray'sproject.





by Catherine Portuges
The Lover,by MargueriteDuras, translatedby BarbaraBray.New York:Pantheon Books, 1985, 128 pp., $11.95hardcover.(First published as LAmant by Editions de Minuit, Paris, 1984.) There is a hauntingly premonitory quality about The Lover, a sense of the writer'slife transmuted, through language, into destiny. Her face is both sign and signifier of that
destiny: Now I see that when I was very young, 18, 15, I alreadyhad a face that foretold the one I acquired through drink in middle age. Drink accomplished what God did not. It also servedto kill me; to kill. I acquiredthat drinker'sface before I drank. Drink only confirmed it. The space for it existed in me. I knew it the same as other people but, strangely,in advance. Just as the space existed in me for desire.At the age of 15 1 had the face of pleasure,and yet I had no knowledge of pleasure.There was no mistaking that face. Even my mother must have seen it. My brothersdid. That was how everythingstarted for me -with that flagrant, exhausted face, those rings around the eyes, in advance of time and experience. (p. 8)

r ueri

Duras M\arguerite
By now even casual readers have seen advertisements for The Lover,and havebeen struck by the exquisite photograph of Duras's eighteen-year-old face; it is a seductive and even glamorous one, the hair closely cropped, the eyes and mouth carefully made up. Describing it at fifteen -the age of the young narrator- Duras writes:
I'm using make-up already.I use Cr&me Tokalon, and try to camouflage the freckles on my cheeks, under the eyes. On top of the Creme Tokalon I put natural-colored powder- Houbigant. The powder is my mother's-she wears it to go to government receptions.That day I'vegot lipstick on too, dark red, cherry,as the fashion was then. (p. 16)

Yetthe book opens with this paragraph: Oneday-I wasalready old -in the
entranceof a public place a man came up to me. He introduced himself and said, 'I've known you for years. Everyonesays you were beautiful when you were young, but I want to tell you I think you'remore beautiful now than then. Rather than your face as a young woman, I preferyour face as it is


(p. 3)

Are we to take this as the writer'spreferenceas well? Happily, Duras does not afford us the luxury of choosing which among her many faces we prefer,nor does she leads us inexorably to a single presentationof her written self. Rather, she offers them simultaneously,constructedin such a waythat to read TheLoveris to viewthe writeras if througha family album, different from -but no less affecting thanthe portraitsoffered by Sarraute'sChildhood. have interpreted Duras's integration of those earlierand later versions of her face as a wish to see herlife as destiny.This longing, reworkedin multiple variantsthroughout her fiction and films, is further corroborated by the original title she had proposed for the book, La Photographie absolue (The Absolute Photograph), which conveys a fantasy of permanencein the face of the transitory,a desire for transcendence in the face of immanence, an instant fixed foreverfrom which all else unfolds, to which all returns.The scene of

The Women's Review of Books / Vol. III, No. 6 / March, 1986

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