WOMEN: The Longest Revolution by Juliet Mitchell

WOMEN: The Longest Revolution

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Works in progress, with consequent strengths and weaknesses. Mitchell's intellectual breadth extends from Marxist feminism (Woman's Estate) to psychoanalysis (Psychoanalysis and Feminism) to literary criticism. Aside from the seminal 1966 title essay, the majority of the essays and lectures included here from the 1970s and 1980s are intellectual exercises rather than firmed-up analyses. Some paths, Mitchell readily admits, were dead-ends (e.g., her 1974 efforts to use psychoanalysis to explain Levi-Straussian kinship structures or ""as the incipient science of the ideology of patriarchy""). Still, there is enough to reward those seriously interested in feminist theory. Though known as a socialist feminist, she reviews the history of liberal equalitarianism in a South African lecture, stressing the importance of equal fights. Her literary criticism emphasizes the social setting of such diverse novels as Wuthering Heights (Cathy is ""the agent of separation because her life and her life choices confirm the disruptions which society provokes""), What Maisie Knew (a psychoanalytic ""Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl""), and Moll Flanders (""The Rise of Capitalist Woman""). Her reading of French feminists leads her to tie the image of the feminine as ""carnival"" to Freudian discussions of feminine hysteria, seeing in both a lack of substance that contrasts with the image of the mother. (""Motherhood purports to fill in the absence which femininity covers over and which hysteria tries not to acknowledge."") In all forms of criticism, she is interested in the process of women's becoming; in the question of the subject's ""becoming what?"" If our history has been that of bourgeois capitalism, she believes that ""in deconstructing that history, we can only construct other histories. What are we in the process of becoming?"" A difficult collection, and uneven--but Mitchell continues to reveal herself as one of the most sophisticated and least intellectually isolated of the feminist theorists. The slog will be worth it to some.

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 1984
Publisher: Pantheon