Sanos on Sexing Political Culture

Sanos on Sexing Political Culture
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  Sexing Political Culture in the History of France , edited by AlisonM. Moore. Amherst, New York, Cambria Press, 2012. viii, 372 pp.$119.99 US (cloth). “To invoke gender or sexual desire, perversion, or difference, is to suggest some-thing of one’s bodily experience, of one’s intimate relationships … and of one’sinner longings,” writes Alison M. Moore in the introduction to Sexing Political Culture , and such experiences, relationships, and longings are embedded and imag-ined in particular social, cultural, and political contexts. To this end, Moore has put together an impressive overview of the most recent work in the field of gender and sexuality in French history. In order to situate these essays, Moore reminds usthat, “[f]emale bodies have stood as perpetually redeployable symbols of theFrench republic throughout its history,” whether as the feminized incarnation of the nation or in the ways political discourses tied together ideals and norms of masculinity, race, and citizenship (p. 2). Each essay highlights the ways over time,in which in different shapes and forms, gender and sexuality have functioned as political categories of meaning. Building upon the exemplary body of scholarship beyond French history (on German Nazism, British imperialism), the collectiondemonstrates how and why “gendered and sexual metaphors” have not just beenthe stuff of language but resided at the “center of … political culture” (p. 6). Theobject of these thirteen essays is thus to explore political culture writ large. Re-freshingly, that methodological commitment means the collection eschews focus-ing on events or traditional political narratives, and instead explores the circulation, permutation, reproduction, and subversion of ideas, practices, and norms. Sexing Political Culture offers a series of fascinating vignettes on differenthistorical instantiations of gender and sexuality across time. The essays fall intothree broad categories: examining female historical actors and female cultural fig-ures, the policing of gender norms in law, political culture, and representations,and the central role of gender in political discourse. We learn from Christine Bardabout the ways trousers were always a contested object and how they were appro- priated by women over time (Chapter Four). Clothing also had symbolic meaningfor those exceptional “female flyers” in overalls who, as Guillaume de Syondemonstrates, challenged the norms of a masculine profession even if their pres-ence had little larger socio-political impact (Chapter Nine). The actress Sarah Bern-hardt was another exceptional figure: her performance of the iconic patriotic figureof Jeanne d’Arc crystallized “both the limits and the fluidity of fin-de-siècle gender ideals” at a time of emerging mass and print culture, virulent anti-Semitism, andnationalist Catholicism (Chapter Five, p. 114). Debates also abounded in the Ren-aissance, according to Katherine Crawford, as French writers came across the Ital-ian figure of the “androgyne” and translated that image to fit notions of Frenchgender and sexual norms, though in often contradictory ways (Chapter Three). Gender and sex mattered no less when it came to defining how people should behave. This is the focus of Marie-Paule Ha’s analysis of what she terms the “colo-nial feminine mystique,” a discourse explicitly focused on French women, who 490 Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d’histoire XLVIII, winter/hiver 2013  jounal 48-3 final_Layout 1 04/03/2014 10:47 AM Page 490  were instructed to act as proper colonial wives and mothers, and contributed to the performance and transmission of French ideals in racialized colonial worlds (Chap-ter Six). The interplay of race and gender has similarly been at work in contempo-rary postcolonial France as “beurettes” challenged French politics and the “hijab” became an obsessive object of concern for leaders and critics anxious about mul-ticultural France (Chapter Fourteen). How to reconcile lived realities and idealsconcerned Early Modern demonologists whose vision of witchcraft often contra-dicted accused men and women’s explanations of their gendered and sexual trans-gressions (Chapter Two).Politics is a discourse of bodies and communities, and sex provides a languageto anchor its ideas: this is what Yasmine Debarge shows when she discusses howone of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960s films offered “sex war as a metaphor of the ColdWar” (Chapter Thirteen). Several other essays illuminate the force of gender as political metaphor in modern French culture. As Moore demonstrates, the field of “sexual science” provided the language and images that helped explain the fateand future of the nation at the end of the nineteenth century. While the “feminizedfigure” of the Republic (  Marianne ) became for antirepublican conservatives a de-graded whore-like image (  La Gueuse ), perversion became the mark of decadencein a secularizing society. Images of deficient masculinities and deviant sexualitiesdefined who was properly French and who was not (Chapter Seven). In the inter-war period, Richard Sonn shows that anarchists “played a prominent role in Frenchdiscourse about sexuality,” as they argued for greater sexual freedom for both menand woman and that love could be a powerful radical social force (Chapter Eight; p. 181). At the same time, the relation between “proper” masculinity and citizen-ship obsessed many: while fascists derided Communist involvement in the SpanishCivil war as immature adolescent masculinity, anti-fascists also turned to gender to dismiss their political opponents. Paul Schue shows how Jacques Doriot’s PPFembraced a rhetoric of virility as the only response to political events (Chapter Ten). Mark Meyers focuses on the complex and “counterintuitive” vision of mas-culinity articulated by anti-fascist writers: drawing on crowd psychology, they ar-gued that, contrary to fascists’ claims of virility, fascist masculinity was a feminizedand illusory form of masculinity, often bordering on homosexuality. This inabilityto maintain difference and hierarchy with crowds and masses marked their politicsas “fraudulent” and dangerous (Chapter Eleven; p. 260). After 1945, Fabrice Virgiliexplains how the urgent need to rebuild France was a powerfully gendered affair:overcoming the humiliation of French manhood lay behind the head-shaving of women and the emphasis on virility in politics at the very moment when womenwere given the right to vote (Chapter Twelve).Moore warns us against seeing history as the endless repetition of some uni-versal biological rule and against giving up on explaining the endurance of gender and sexuality as categories of meaning in social and political affairs (pp. 10-11).The strength of most essays lies indeed in their emphasis on the often ambivalent,ambiguous, and contradictory ways norms, ideals, and practices unfolded. WhileMoore insists on “genealogy” rather than simple “continuity,” and on a “long” 491 Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d’histoire XLVIII, winter/hiver 2013  jounal 48-3 final_Layout 1 04/03/2014 10:47 AM Page 491  history of France, many of the essays concern twentieth-century France. This ishardly surprising, considering the emergence of a vibrant scholarship on modernFrance. In fact, this emphasis both testifies to and models the productive ways inwhich taking seriously the work of gender and sexuality can revise earlier historicalnarratives and assumptions. One may regret there is not more on the colonial and post-colonial figurationsof gender and sexuality, especially within the context of enduring Orientalist fan-tasies of Indochina, the Algerian war of Independence, or even the world of Antil-lean Francophone writers. Still, that regret only suggests how this collection could be extended further. With short and well-written pieces, this collection is especiallyeffective in allowing expert and non-specialist readers alike to delve into a varietyof topics, objects, and methods. Sexing Political Culture  provides an insightfuloverview of the kind of scholarship of gender and sexuality that has emerged inthe last decade, and stands as an invaluable resource for historians seeking to bringsuch scholarship to their undergraduate classes. Sandrine Sanos Texas A & M University — Corpus Christi Early Modern Great Britain and Europe/Début de la Grande Bretagne et de l’Europe Modernes  Evening’s Empire: A History of the Night in Early Modern Europe , par Craig Koslofsky. Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press,2011. xvi, 431 pp. $ 24,87 EU (broché). C’est une véritable pérégrination dans l’univers nocturne de la première modernitéque nous propose ce livre édifiant. En effet, si l’historiographie en histoire socialeest riche pour la période moderne, peu de livre propose une histoire transversalese concentrant sur un seul phénomène comme ici la nuit. C’est peut être une évi-dence, mais il est frappant de constater combien l’invention de l’éclairage publicvers les années 1660 a pu influer le cours de la société occidentale. Si la périodequi précède cette révolution joue du chiaroscurro des pièces à demi éclairées par la chandelle, elle reste néanmoins marquée par les ténèbres et les terreurs qui endécoulent. Ainsi  Les Lumières , avant d’être un phénomène intellectuel, est d’abord prosaïquement un éclairage du monde social qui se « nocturnalise » (pour repren-dre un néologisme de l’auteur) progressivement à partir de la fin du dix-septièmesiècle. La transformation de la nuit et des rythmes de sommeil de plusieurs couchessocioculturelles est admirablement exposée dans cet ouvrage à commencer par l’aristocratie qui fait de l’éclairage artificiel un outil politique, notamment à la cour  492 Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d’histoire XLVIII, winter/hiver 2013  jounal 48-3 final_Layout 1 04/03/2014 10:47 AM Page 492
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