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Review

Reviewed Work(s): Politics of the Self: Postmodernism and German Literature and Film by
Richard McCormick; Femmes Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalysis by Mary
Ann Doane; Women and Soap Opera: A Study of Prime Time Soaps by Christine Geraghty;
In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity by Frank Krutnik
Review by: Caryl Flinn
Source: Signs, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Spring, 1994), pp. 786-791
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3174784
Accessed: 28-12-2018 13:43 UTC

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Flinn BOOK REVIEWS

Politics of the Self: Postmodernism and German Litera


Richard McCormick. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Unive

Femmes Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalys


Doane. New York and London: Routledge, 1991.

Women and Soap Opera: A Study of Prime Time Soaps


Geraghty. London: Polity Press, 1991.

In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity. By F


York and London: Routledge, 1991.

Caryl Flinn University of Toronto

I N A R E V I E W of four books as diverse as these, it is impossi


not to compare and to contrast: biggest surprise, In a Lonely Street
most theoretically rigorous, Femmes Fatales; best cover, same.
each text is quite different in aim, method, and skill, and eac
succeeds, to greater and lesser degrees, in fulfilling what it sets out to
The book that best meets its own goals, insofar as they are announce
is Frank Krutnik's In a Lonely Street. Krutnik joins many others w
have found in film noir texts that challenge not only Hollywood's
ventional style of narrative production (obfuscating Hollywood's u
stylistic clarity, for instance) but that also disrupt some of its cherishe
ideological messages (e.g., the desirability of family life). In the 1970s a
1980s, film noir supplied considerable fuel for film theory's hermeneu
machine of "reading against the grain," in which classical (and hence, th
belief went, ideologically conservative) Hollywood texts were analy
for ruptures in their surface-stylistic irregularities and excesses
were believed to articulate underlying ideological surfeits and subv
sions. Noir's extravagantly self-conscious style and its foregroundin
extrafamilial sexuality and sexually active women were believed to i
cate deeper cultural anxieties in wartime and postwar United Stat
Krutnik rightly points out that most critics were something less t
successful at explaining how and why film noir-and the subversio
purportedly engaged-emerged at the time it did. Film, quite simpl
no social mirror. And although Krutnik notes that while film noir
have been the "primary vehicle for revealing tensions" of the time (64)
adds that plenty of other movies were produced during the era that
absolutely nothing in this regard, stylistically or ideologically. In the e
though, Krutnik is not much better in explaining why noir emerge

786 SIGNS Spring 1994

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BOOK REVIEWS Flinn

that time, although he makes a number of good po


contextualize it.
One of In a Lonely Street's greatest contributions s
thor's ability to cut through the voluminous litera
which the author knows intimately and summarizes
loosely bordered genre into what he calls the "tough thr
enables him to focus on the genre's masculine obses
thriller, according to Krutnik, places its male charac
into an impossible, hopelessly fragmented, and imp
against masculinity's idealized images and conceptio
ings of a number of well-known noirs show the oft
narcissistic, masculine self-absorption. Krutnik also
foundly homosocial and homoerotic component of
analysis of Dead Reckoning is riveting in this regard
Krutnik's careful review of film noir's existing cri
films makes this a fine book for those unfamiliar with noir and the
criticism it has generated. The book will prove especially useful to those
interested in masculinity and its psychoanalytic and ideological supports.
Readers acquainted with film noir may want to skip some of Krutnik's
overviews of the material (and, equally, his explanation of psychoanalytic
concepts like oedipalization, though often good, will be old hat to many).
Overall, Krutnik's writing is effective and his arguments careful. Best is
his insistence that noir's characteristics do not "belong" to film noir per
se but, rather, that they interact and are constructed across boundaries of
all sorts-just as masculinity itself is constructed, reconstructed, and, in
the films noirs under study, splintered for all it is worth.
Joining a host of recent books on postwar German film and literature,
Richard McCormick's Politics of the Self is among the first to concentrate
on gender, even though it takes awhile for him to warm up to this focus.
McCormick examines the Neue Subjektivitdt (New Subjectivity), which
he views as a reaction against the 1960s' appeals to large-scale change
and to abstracted "objective" theory (e.g., the struggles against capital-
ism and imperialism). By the mid-1970s, the New Subjectivity high-
lighted the importance of local change, the personal, the subjective. The
emergence of this aesthetic and social movement-for its influence is by
no means restricted to literature, as McCormick's work forcefully
demonstrates-dovetails with the rise of the women's movement in Ger-
many. Feminism helped concretize and localize the often bigger-than-life,
abstract global protests of the 1960s and made strides in gaining repro-
ductive rights, child care, and so on.
McCormick offers close readings of four novels, scripts, and films
that exemplify some of the shifts that occurred after the 1960s. He pays
admirable attention to their social, political, and cultural contexts,

Spring 1994 SIGNS 787

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Flinn BOOK REVIEWS

contexts whose importance is constantly averred b


by literary scholars. Somewhat weaker is McCorm
postmodernism and feminism announced in his su
the Postmodern in New German Literature and Film
easy task to come to terms with postmodernism, an
introduction suggests some of the debate surround
time, some of the postmodernist concepts here seem
cial or undeveloped, and this presents a few proble
impressive work.
Similarly, McCormick's use of feminist theory do
the range one would expect from the book's ambi
feminist sources in his bibliography with its German
reference-seemingly without irony-to Wilhelm M
seminal Bildungsroman" (149). Now, if McCormick
dislodge the masculinist enterprises of German roman
tiges in postwar literature), the irony of referring
seminal would be clear. But he does not. Likewise,
eschews the standard term Vaterliteratur to describe
oedipal literature of the 1970s "written by people b
1940s" that "dealt with the authors' relationships
usually their fathers-and the behavior of their par
(181). Elsewhere, as he acknowledges, "The role tha
been at issue in much West German literature in the latter half of the
1970s. The mother's role had been largely neglected" (186). (McCormick
goes on to redress the balance by examining subsequent, maternal films
The Subjective Factor and Germany Pale Mother.) McCormick's book
should be required reading for anyone interested in German history and
culture of the last twenty-five years. It is a good piece of scholarship that,
in spite of the reservations I have indicated, makes a strong contribution
to the field, especially by connecting aesthetic productions to the social,
historical, and political conditions that make such productions possible.
Christine Geraghty is best known for her pioneering work on British
soap operas, although Women and Soap Opera was produced with both
British and American audiences in mind. Cover photographs feature June
Brown of "Eastenders" and Joan Collins of "Dynasty," and the book
takes pains to balance British and American references. In the end, how-
ever, the British reader seems at a greater advantage: one chapter is
devoted exclusively to British soaps; four British shows ("Eastenders,"
"Coronation St.," "Brookside," and "Crossroads") are surveyed, as com-
pared to two ("Dynasty" and "Dallas") from the United States. Yet
Geraghty draws terrific comparisons, remarking that American prime-
time soaps were very much engaged in maintaining patriarchal control,
whereas British prime-timers were less centered around male-controlled

788 SIGNS Spring 1994

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BOOK REVIEWS Flinn

families and presented women as the guardians of f


threat of its undoing, as with their American coun
compelling are Geraghty's remarks on class, some
ignore when examining shows that thrived during
era. ("In the US programmes," she astutely observe
nated by the simple tactic of ignoring it" [121].)
Soaps differ from other popular narrative forms-eve
the same kind of subject matter, as Geraghty notes
by "invit[ing] the audience both to enter intimately i
and to stand back" in a "double action of engagem
(10). I would have liked Geraghty to pursue the spe
ship in more detail, but this would have been another
ambitions and methodologies. Geraghty's work exe
of" approach to women and cinema so important i
feminist film criticism, carefully detailing the depict
people of color and of lesbians and gay men and pa
tion to the ways in which class influences the soaps' a
Geraghty is unaware of the other, more theoretical sc
soap spectatorship (e.g., C. Brunsdon, T. Modleski),
tion of their work-and the theoretical issues behin
brief. I was surprised, for instance, by her rather
Modleski; her dismissal of psychoanalysis is even more
prominence in feminist scholarship on popular wo
Geraghty makes some interesting points on the
appear in shows of the 1980s (race, sexual preferenc
"If I have been critical of the way in which these '
handled, it is because I believe that soap operas ha
accommodate change, to make it interesting, accep
able, which they have not always used bravely or
strong, lucid voice, this commitment to women an
long loved by women that most appeals to me. An
and commitment are by no means uncritical. In t
whether soaps, finally, give women "space or ghet
I saved reading Mary Ann Doane's Femmes Fatale
payoff was so great in a book where ten of its tw
previously published is remarkable, but then Doan
remarkable levels. Femmes Fatales includes Doane'
"Women's Stake: Filming the Female Body," "Fem
latter's 1988 follow-up article, as well as a few lesse
"Femmes Fatales" of the collection's title is somewh
since the essays do not discuss the femme fatale so m
terms of her frequent cinematic and theoretical ap
over Desire," "Gilda: Epistemology as Striptease," "

Spring 1994 SIGNS 789

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Flinn BOOK REVIEWS

Lady," and "Remembering Women," Doane brill


femininity and the female body have been forced into
cinematic apparatus, standing in for its lacks and it
fate of that same feminine body in critical discou
psychoanalysis, and narrative is often much the sa
The collection's two new essays deal with race ("
and sublimation ("Sublimation and the Psychoa
thetic"). In the former, Doane admits the difficulty o
can a white woman know about racial difference or
social regime is constituted as the denial or evacuation
when whiteness aspires to signify that it is color-less,
all?" (247). Doane's uncharacteristic discomfort wi
reveals itself, if less directly, in a few remarks conce
ity. Without elaborating the kinds of circumstance
lowing possible, she writes of the "significant hist
white woman profited from her place in the prote
white male" (244), a remark that accurately describ
joyed by the Lana Turner character in Sirk's Imita
cannot begin to address the social and discursive po
income, battered, or otherwise disadvantaged whi
bell hooks has pointed out, whites in general have
dismissing racial identity," I was puzzled to find whit
much of the burden in an essay that concentrates not
white feminists but on the "gender-troubled" disco
male writers like Fanon and Freud.1
Doane is much more at home in her chapter on subli
by remarking how little has been written on the conc
in psychoanalysis that appears uninvolved with sex, th
way of dealing with sexual energy" (250) by convertin
"productive" or "useful." Exploring Freud's unabas
sublimation unsullied, Doane shows how he asso
(which results, of course, in creative and intellectu
as in the concept of labor and production more gen
links sexual and psychical pathologies with women
age of the prostitute to problematize Freud's attem
from sexuality and to preserve an uncontaminated,
sublimation. With the prostitute, of course, sexual
passed, transcended, or replaced by labor-sex in fac
requisite. Demonstrating her keen awareness of the
basis of psychoanalytic claims, Doane argues that h

1 bell hooks, Ain't I a Woman: Black Women in Feminism (B


1981), 138.

790 SIGNS Spring 1994

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BOOK REVIEWS Bair

tution
tution becomes
becomesmeaningful
meaningful
only under
only certain
underhistorical
certainand hi
eco
conditions-specifically,
conditions-specifically, those of
those
the late
ofnineteenth
the late and
nineteent
early tw
century,
century, when
when
"the "the
prostitute
prostitute
ostentatiously
ostentatiously
exhibited the exhibit
commodi
tion
tionofof thethe
humanhuman
body, body,
the point
thewhere
point
the where
body andthe exchang
bod
coincided"
coincided" (263).
(263).
This endeavor
This endeavor
has been extended
has been byextended
the cinema,
its
itsfocus
focuson oncharacters
characters
and depth,
andanddepth,
by cinema
and criticism
by cinem (inc
psychoanalysis),
psychoanalysis), whenwhen
it approaches
it approaches
texts or characters
texts or symptom
chara
or
orin insearch
searchof some
of some
sort ofsort
psychobiographic
of psychobiographic
evidence. evi
Doane's
Doane's conclusion
conclusionto thisto
essay
thisdoes
essay
not attempt
does not to reinflate
attem
concept
concept of of
sublimation.
sublimation.
"Instead,"
"Instead,"
she argues,she"its argues,
significance
"it
entirely
entirely fromfrom
its collapse
its collapse
as a concept-its
as a concept-its
failure to delineate
failurec
categories
categories at aat
specific
a specific
moment
moment
in time" (265).
in time"
Ironically,
(265).
thisIronic
gentle
of
ofpsychoanalysis's
psychoanalysis's failurefailure
concludes
concludes
a book thatauses
bookpsychoan
that
theory
theory to to
its its
mostmost
successful
successful
and forceful
andadvantage.
forceful Hats
advant
off t
Ann
AnnDoane,
Doane, and and
to thetoother
the "femmes
other "femmes
vitales" whovitales"
make media
whost
rewarding.

Hidden Anxieties: Male Sexuality, 1900-1950. By Lesley A. Hall.


Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991.

Hate Crimes: Confronting Violence against Lesbians and Gay Men. Edited by
Gregory M. Herek and Kevin T. Berrill. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage
Publications, 1992.

Against Nature: Essays on History, Sexuality and Identity. By Jeffrey Weeks.


London: Rivers Oram Press, 1991.

Henry Bair Lewis and Clark College

^S TTUDIES IN THE HISTORY of sexuality and s


minorities have in recent years opened major avenues for u
standing the roles that sexuality in its variants has played i
past. The best of these studies, done with attention to ge
questions and some theoretical sophistication, allow us to comp
aspects of history not otherwise accessible. They demonstrate how
all of us have learned from the civil rights movement and the w
movement about how to discover previously unwritten histories and
to see both the commonalities and particularities of oppression
works here indicate fruitful links between such studies and urgent i
of policy; the links between past and present-specifically the p
that has to do with AIDS and homophobia-emerge all too clearly

Spring 1994 SIGNS 791

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