What Is a Woman?: And Other Essays

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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, 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"What [Moi] wants is a radical spring-clean of feminist thinking. Let's go back and start again, we have nothing to lose but our mind-forged manacles....[Her] energy is positive and provocative."--The London Review of Books

"[Rewards readers] with a cutting-edge view of contemporary feminist critique."--Kirkus Reviews

"Forthright and subtle, patient and experimental, learned and generous, Toril Moi in What is a Woman? rehearses, rethinks, and extends her distinguished contributions to feminist theory and interpretation over the past two decades. For a philosopher of my temperament a particular gratitude is in order for this lavish present."--Stanley Cavell, Harvard University (Emeritus)

"Rather than rehearsing the now somewhat tired arguments about feminist theory and poststructuralism, Toril Moi offers a refreshing and original reading of Simone de Beauvoir, juxtaposing this to important reconsiderations of Pierre Bourdieu and Sigmund Freud. One of the world's most important feminist theorists herself, Moi insists on clarity of expression and a style of reading that patiently plumbs the depth of difficult issues rather than rushing to denunciation or dismissal. Her example will inspire scholars for years to come."--Lynn Hunt, UCLA

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780198186755
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 8/28/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 544
  • Sales rank: 1,320,778
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Toril Moi is Professor of Literature and Romance Studies at Duke University and author of the influential and best-selling Sexual/Textual Politics, (ed) The Kristeva Reader, and (ed) French Feminist Thought. Also Simone de Beauvoir: The making of the Intellectual Woman

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Table of Contents

A Note on the Text
Pt. I A Feminism of Freedom: Simone de Beauvoir
1 What Is a Woman? Sex, Gender, and the Body in Feminist Theory 3
2 'I Am a Woman': The Personal and the Philosophical 121
Pt. II Appropriating Theory: Bourdieu and Freud
3 Appropriating Bourdieu: Feminist Theory and Pierre Bourdieu's Sociology of Culture 264
4 The Challenge of the Particular Case: Bourdieu's Sociology of Culture and Literary Criticism 300
5 The Missing Mother: Rene Girard's Oedipal Rivalries 312
6 Representation of Patriarchy: Sexuality and Epistemology in Freud's Dora 329
7 Patriarchal Thought and the Drive for Knowledge 348
8 Is Anatomy Destiny? Freud and Biological Determinism 369
Pt. III Desire and Knowledge: Reading Texts of Love
9 Desire in Language: Andreas Capellanus and the Controversy of Courtly Love 400
10 'She Died Because She Came Too Late ...': Knowledge, Doubles, and Death in Thomas's Tristan 422
11 Intentions and Effects: Rhetoric and Identification in Simone de Beauvoir's 'The Woman Destroyed' 451
Works Cited 477
Index 499
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