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This review is taken from PN Review 37, Volume 10 Number 5, March - April 1984.

BLANKS IN THE CROWDED TEXT Rosalind Coward, Patriarchal Precedents (Routledge & Kegan Paul) £4.95

Since Eldridge Cleaver and Richard Nixon have both been able to claim that 'you're either part of the solution or part of the problem', what is at stake must be how 'the problem' is to be defined. Rosalind Coward identifies it as 'a contradiction between men and women'. Yet attempts to theorize 'the problem' in such a way as to facilitate notions of 'solutions' can only exist within discourses that are structured by the problem - language is necessarily the language of the empowered. The academic feminist project is to change discourse through discourse, but ideology implicit within these discourses produces new problems, and seems to perplex the possibility of solutions.

In Reading Capital, Althusser describes the 'problematic' of any given discourse as being not only what that discourse is able to articulate, but also what it silences; what is rendered unspeakable. Rosalind Coward examines anthropology, Marxism and psychoanalysis between 1860 and 1930, and finds that what Althusser describes as 'blanks in the crowded text', areas of silence, are produced by these discourses in the ways that they set out to explain kinship, subordination and sexuality. In Patriarchal Precedents she gives a detailed account of this erasure, and tries to assess its significance for current feminist theory.

Through her discussion of these three discourses Coward shows how the way that the family has been theorized allows the specific nature of women's oppression to be forgotten. In anthropology women's oppression is ignored by the way in ...


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