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Carla Freccero. Queer/Early/Modern.

Durham: Duke University Press, 2006. x + 182 pp. index. bibl. $74.95. (cl), $21.95 (pbk). ISBN: 0-8223-3678-2 (cl), 0-8223-3690-1 (pbk).

For scholars working on gender in early modern texts, this book is both a useful synthesis of some of the most significant texts in postmodern-gender-queer theory and an original use of these texts to elaborate subtle, complex, and flexible readings of early modern texts. A significant portion of the argument of this book is based on psychoanalytic theories of identity formation and, in particular, the central role of melancholy in this process. But Freccero also uses Foucault's particular approaches to history to counter theories of homosexuality that present a clear division between early modern and modern sexuality. She also touches upon Marguerite de Navarre's revisions of sixteenth-century French political theory in the Heptameron, suggesting that these phallocratic theories are already queer in their presentations of the metaphors of the family and reproduction, and that Marguerite further queers these metaphors by presenting a feminine alternative to male autogenesis.

The book is not limited to these arguments, but brings in a number of issues that impinge on them, such as the problematic nature of exogamy and endogamy in the early modern period, and the problem of knowledge and its production in the practice of both history and theory. Freccero balances the need for a masterfully crafted argument with an understanding that this mastery itself must be elusive for the texts to be respected in their differences from, and connections to, our own culture. At times, mastery of the theoretical discourses seems to overwhelm the singularity and diversity of the early modern texts. The suggestion of a haunting of modern and postmodern culture by the early modern is most compelling: the early modern remains on the edges of our experience, pushed away and dismissed as primitive in the way other cultures are often denigrated. Often in this book, the early modern texts remain at the margins of the argument, reemerging for a few pages to demonstrate how such a reading might deploy itself in their presence. Given that this book is part of a series focused primarily on queer theory, this emphasis is understandable. But the brief readings of Boccaccio, Louise Labe, Marguerite de Navarre, and Jean de Lery, in particular, make me wish for a supplement to the current work, one that presents the early modern texts more completely, with more sustained versions of the superb analyses. In a way, Freccero performs the very act of "haunting" that she describes, as the early modern texts hover at the edges of our consciousness when we read Queer/Early/Modern, briefly present and then disappearing. The passages of and on Jean de Lery's work are breathtaking in their beauty, and in the elegance of the argument. The final chapter, on "Queer Spectrality," pulls all of the carefully-elaborated possibilities together in a complex argument about identity politics in postmodern and early modern texts.

The chief value of this book is its respect for these texts' own complexity, a balancing of the sense of immediacy and distance that they evoke in their readers. Freccero's discussion of the meanings of the word queer also allows for more flexibility in approaches to these early modern texts. In her juxtaposition of early modern and contemporary texts, she demonstrates the strangeness to ourselves present in our own culture. The discussion of Lery, then, serves as a perfectly symmetrical counterpart to that of contemporary rock songs, suggesting the strangeness of European culture to itself in the late sixteenth century, and the uncanny familiarity of the foreign with which Lery prefers to identity himself. This familiar strangeness, the labile quality of gender roles that forms part of this oscillation between identification and difference, evokes a wide range of early modern texts that remain to be explored with the subtlety Freccero brings to bear on more familiar texts. The questions Freccero raises and the arguments she offers open the door to more careful and inclusive readings of long-neglected texts that haunt our own culture, and to a radical revision of our attitudes towards the past.


Cornell University
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Author:Long, Kathleen
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2006
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