Book Reviews

Adrianne Kalfopoulou, A Discussion of the Ideology of the American Dream in the Culture's Female Discourses: The Untidy House

Adrianne Kalfopoulou, A Discussion of the Ideology of the American Dream in the Culture's Female Discourses: The Untidy House. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2000.

Discussing a broad reach of narrative texts ranging from Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter to Toni Morrison's Beloved, Adrianne Kalfopoulou traces the outlines of female cultural disaccommodation and silencing in the last one hundred years of American literary production. She homes in on the totalizing criticism of Perry Miller and Sacvan Bercovitch and demonstrates how American cultural studies have customarily endorsed "Americanization" as a process of integration and reconciliation and con-veniently overlooked the violation implicit in such containment.

The boundaries of her investigation are far apart and well chosen. Kalfopoulou begins with an astute reading of Hawthornes's Scarlet Letter in which she investigates the position of female subjectivity. She demonstrates how, functionally, Hester Prynne steps out of the ideological and rhetorical paradigms despite her apparent affirmation of conventional womanhood at the end of the text. Although ultimately silenced, Hester manages to put gendered singularity, "creative, sexual potential" on the map of cultural representation with indelible ink. While Hawthorne's text argues for the containment of sexuality in favor of the preservation of a necessary social order, it simultaneously disrupts itself and admits the seditious potential of female sexuality.

Kalfopoulou then analyzes later texts, convincingly illustrating her claim that the impossibility of speaking within a dominant linguistic structure creates a context for subverting the values of that very structure. Towards the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, under the influence of Modernist exploration and redefinition of cultural and textual boundaries, subjectivity moves center stage once more.

Kalfopoulou uses texts by authors such as Stein, Paley or Hurston to show how female writers attempted to transcend dominant contexts linguistically, historically and racially.After discussing texts by Hisaye Yamamoto ("Seventeen Syllables"), Thalia Selz ("The Education of a Queen"), Maxine Hong Kingston (The Woman Warrior) and Gayl Jones (Corregidora) in the light of a textual mother/daughter relationship Kalfopoulou turns to a detailed analysis of Morrison's Beloved and Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping which concludes her study.

Both, Morrison and Robinson take cultural and familial lineage one step beyond the narrative of damage, she argues, to let the experience of difference dislodge governing realities entirely. In both novels the embodiment of memory skirts the prevalent symbolic borders (and orders) to become an enunciation of the damage done by historical structures. The same private sorrow which kept Hawthorne's Hester from becoming a prophetess empowers recent American women writers to speak their difference, thus successfully establishing their presence on their own terms next to the familiar male textual authorities.

Central to Kalfopoulou's argument is the metaphor of the house (or rather the untidy house, as the subtitle of her study suggests) which she uses to visualize the struggle of women authors (she is a published poet herself) and their female characters within this orderly but essentially stifling environment.

Kalfopoulou's study delivers exactly what it promises: an evaluation of the bearings on women of the ideologies informing one of the central myths of American culture, the American Dream. With the sole exception of the fact that différance, unaccountably, is systematically misspelled as dif-fèrance, this is an excellent piece of work, offering a dense, well-argued and persuasive overview of the development of female narrative counter-discourses.

Kalfopoulou not only gives a tongue to silenced female voices, she also adroitly identifies the ways in which these voices make themselves heard - even if only in the articulation of the impossibility of their speaking. Her readings - careful in the best Nietzschean sense - shed a bright light on the various forms of counter-discourse, their ontology, operation and their effects. All of this is achieved with the help of an impressive, well-selected array of texts.

Kalfopoulou's language, is clear, tight and rich, her style elegant and strikingly precise. In fine, her Discussion offers remarkable insights into the history and recent developments of female narratives of cultural exclusion.

Prof. Dr. Martin Heusser
Chair, Englisches Seminar
Universitaet Zuerich