For the second edition of her landmark study of Simone de Beauvoir, Toril Moi provides a major new introduction discussing current developments in Beauvoir studies as well as the recent publication of papers and letters by Beauvoir, including her letters to her lovers Jacques-Laurent Bost and Nelson Agren, and her student diaries from 1926-7.
What is a woman? And what does it mean to be a feminist today? In her first full-scale engagement with feminist theory since her internationally renowned Sexual/Textual Politics (1985), Toril Moi challenges the dominant trends in contemporary feminist and cultural thought, arguing for a feminism of freedom inspired by Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. Written in a clear and engaging style What is a Woman? brings together two brand new book-length theoretical interventions, Moi's work on Freud and Bourdieu, and (...) her studies of desire and knowledge in literature. In the controversial title-essay, Toril Moi radically rethinks current debates about sex, gender, and the body - challenging the commonly held belief that the sex/gender distinction is fundamental to all feminist theory. Moi rejects every attempt to define masculinity and femininity, including efforts to define femininity as that which 'cannot be defined. In the second new book-length essay, 'I am a Woman', Toril Moi reworks the relationship between the personal and the philosophical, pursuing ways to write theory that do not neglect the claims of the personal. Setting up an encounter between contemporary theory and Simone de Beauvoir, Moi radically rethinks the need, and difficulty, of finding one's own philosophical voice by placing it in new theoretical contexts. A sustained refusal to lay down theoretical or political requirements for femininity, and a powerful argument for a feminism of freedom, What is a Woman? is a deeply original contribution to feminist theory. (shrink)
This radically original book argues for the power of ordinary language philosophy—a tradition inaugurated by Ludwig Wittgenstein and J. L. Austin, and extended by Stanley Cavell—to transform literary studies. In engaging and lucid prose, Toril Moi demonstrates this philosophy’s unique ability to lay bare the connections between words and the world, dispel the notion of literature as a monolithic concept, and teach readers how to learn from a literary text. Moi first introduces Wittgenstein’s vision of language and theory, which refuses (...) to reduce language to a matter of naming or representation, considers theory’s desire for generality doomed to failure, and brings out the philosophical power of the particular case. Contrasting ordinary language philosophy with dominant strands of Saussurean and post-Saussurean thought, she highlights the former’s originality, critical power, and potential for creative use. Finally, she challenges the belief that good critics always read below the surface, proposing instead an innovative view of texts as expression and action, and of reading as an act of acknowledgment. Intervening in cutting-edge debates while bringing Wittgenstein, Austin, and Cavell to new readers, Revolution of the Ordinary will appeal beyond literary studies to anyone looking for a philosophically serious account of why words matter. (shrink)
This essay first tries to answer two questions: Why did the question of the woman writer disappear from the feminist theoretical agenda around 1990? Why do we need to reconsider it now? I then begin to develop a new analysis of the question of the woman writer by turning to the statement `I am not a woman writer'. By treating it as a speech act and analysing it in the light of Simone de Beauvoir's understanding of sexism, I show that (...) it is a response to a particular kind of provocation, namely an attempt to force the woman writer to conform to some norm for femininity. I also show that Beauvoir's theory illuminates Virginia Woolf's strategies in A Room of One's Own before, finally, asking why we still should want women to write. (shrink)
I must confess that I found [Calvin] Bedient’s account of Kristeva’s theories quite shocking. Since, on the whole, critical essays rarely upset me, my own reaction was quite puzzling to me. What is there in Bedient’s prose to unsettle me so? It certainly can’t be his style or tone: he has produced a perfectly even-tempered essay. Refraining from imputing selfish or dishonest motives to the theorist he wants to disagree with, Bedient never argues ad feminam, and takes much trouble lucidly (...) to explain why he disagrees with Kristeva. There is every reason to commend him for his honest style of argumentation. There can be no doubt that his essay is produced purely by his concern to take issue with a theory he truly believes to be incapable of accounting for the way in which poetry—and particularly modern poetry—actually works.What causes my unease must therefore be something else. It may of course be the fact that Bedient’s account of Kristeva’s theory of language in Revolution of Poetic Language is wrong. His is not a somewhat skewed, or slanted, or one-sided presentation of her views, but—as far as I can see—a total misreading. Briefly put, Bedient’s mistake consists in taking Kristeva’s account of the sentence process in language for a complete theory of poetic language. He does not seem to have noticed Kristeva’s account of the symbolic, her repeated insistence that language—the signifying process—is the product of a dialectical interaction between the symbolic and the semiotic, or even her definition of the “thetic.” Toril Moi, professor of comparative literature at the University of Bergen and professor at Duke University, is the editor of The Kristeva Reader and the author of Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory . Her most recent book is Feminist Theory and Simone de Beauvoir. (shrink)