Critical Inquiry 17 (4):875-877 (1991)

I suppose I should be grateful to Charles Bernheimer for setting me back on the path of righteousness from which I appear to have so grievously strayed. But I think Bernheimer and I are in deep disagreement about the purposes of literary criticism, and this may make me, in his perspective, a hopeless case. Bernheimer reads my article, “Storied Bodies, or Nana at Last Unveil’d,” as intending “to empower women by putting their sexuality at the generative origin of story” . He ascribes to me the motive of “offering feminists a gift” . He even suggests, in a particularly offensive move: “This offer, I would guess, provides the generative energy for Brooks’s critical story” . I can do without such attributions of motive. My intent, far less ambitious, was to describe some attitudes toward the nude female body that I found in novels and paintings of the later nineteenth century. I don’t believe that criticism need be harnessed to the “empowerment” of anyone in particular, nor that it need denounce what Bernheimer identifies as “patriarchal oppression” , “misogynist strategies” , and the “hegemonic privileges” of the male gaze everywhere they are to be found . Does criticism really need to burden itself with this litany of clichés? Do they tell us anything new? Peter Brooks is Tripp Professor of Humanities and director of the Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University. He is nearing completion of a book tentatively entitled Storied Bodies
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DOI 10.1086/448617
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