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Montaigne's Unruly Brood: Textual Engendering and the Challenge to Paternal Authority.

Regosin examines the central conceit and commonplace of literary paternity and textual engendering, its assumptions and implications, as exemplified in the Essais of Montaigne. Regosin uses this conceit and its examination to engage larger questions of writing, textuality, and reading. The analyses, informed by post-structuralism, reader-response theory, and gender criticism, continue in large measure the line of investigation into Renaissance writing opened by Cave's The Cornucopian Text (1979). Regosin's book is also indebted to a longer tradition of reading the Essais - one which he deepens - as a diverse and paradoxical text.

Of six chapters, four rework material published elsewhere as articles (1984-1992) and are, therefore, likely to be familiar to Montaigne scholars. Each chapter examines the paradoxes inherent in a particular aspect or aspects of the conceit of textual progeny. The first notes the ambivalent nature of the child (text) as faithful and unfaithful, of the father (author) as source or effect of the child (text), of meaning or intention as source or effect of the text. Chapter two addresses the question as it applies to Montaigne's "fille d'alliance," Marie de Gournay, including examples of her writing and editorial practices. This chapter offers an insightful response to an irresolvable problem of attribution by reading the addition to Essais II, 17, recognizing Marie de Gournay as Montaigne's heir, first as if written by Montaigne, then as if written by Marie de Gournay. Chapter three posits two types of reader (child), implied and obtrusive. Chapters four and five, "The Presumption of Writing" and "Monstrous Progeny," deal with the relationship of author (father) to text (child) and with the paradoxes of selfknowledge and self-representation. The final chapter, "Fathering the Text: The Woman in the Man," engages more explicitly gender coding in the Essais and finds that writer and writing share both masculine and feminine attributes, an androgyny (and monstrous hermaphroditic double) that ultimately challenges the patriarchal model of literary paternity.

Regosin's writing is generally marked by ease as well as acuity and clarity of analysis. Yet, it does occasionally indulge in condensed reiteration of post-structuralist truisms or of conclusions imported from other critics without the attendant argumentation and evidence. The overall argumentative strategy of the work poses some difficulties as well. Justification seems to stem at once from Montaigne's specific comments, with few exceptions, read literally and compared and contrasted and from a priori beliefs about reading and writing, which would obviate the need for the first type of justification. A clearer presentation would either state a priori principles and then study Montaigne's text as illustrative, or take Montaigne's comments as generative of reflection on other texts or on writing rather than abruptly moving back and forth between the two. Regosin's writing betrays a nostalgia for a more traditional type of reading. Indeed, for all the poststructuralist rhetoric, Regosin's reading is curiously literal - however much he may examine the statement of paradox or contradictions among statements in the Essais. Rarely does he attempt to engage in a rhetorical reading - contrasting thematic statement and rhetorical mode. He does approach this with the self-conscious hyperbole of self denigration and the monstrous statement, yet artful arrangement, of text.

However, part of the difficulty is that Montaigne's own comments seem to indicate an awareness of the paradoxes involved, which results in the coincidence of expression and meaning, however paradoxical that meaning may be. (The response may be in continued criticism or continued paradox, i.e., in continued text. Rather than the tautology of post-structuralist abstractions and the repeated frustration of mastery, the reader/writer's response may be in the pleasure or the "jouissance" of the text, making Montaigne closer to, say, Louise Labe.)

This book is, thus, useful for its drawing together of various trends in recent Montaigne criticism on women and gender, writing and reading, especially for nonspecialists, those preparing seminars or humanities courses, and students, with relatively little new material for the Montaigne specialist. It may most profitably be read along with such critics as Bauschatz, Kritzman, Cottrell, and Lyons, and such works as Ullrich Langer's Divine and Poetic Freedom in the Renaissance (1990) which offers a richer close reading of Montaignian texts set in the larger context of contemporary cultural discourses.

ELAINE M. ANCEKEWICZ Roger Williams University
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Author:Ancekewicz, Elaine M.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1998
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