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Skirting the Issue
Essays in Literary Theory
Mary Lydon

"Mary Lydon's essays are unique in their ability to absorb a profound understanding of Derrida, Lacan, Barthes, and other French theorists into the very fabric of her critical readings. In these brilliant essays on Proust and Beckett, on Duras and Duchamp, and on feminist subjects, theory is always at the service of the most sensitive elucidation of difficult material. An original and delightful collection!"—Marjorie Perloff, Stanford University

What is the relation of criticism to literature? What does it mean to call oneself a woman? What does a (feminine) coming to writing—"la venue a l'ecriture," in Cixous's phrase—imply? How may feminist strategies of reading appropriate the literary theory developed in France since the 1960s? What is involved in reading "like a woman?" These are some of the questions Mary Lydon explores in Skirting the Issue.

Identifying with a series of French literary theorists, she adopts their manner rather than their putative "method" as she responds to selected French artists and writers of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The result is a suite of readings that show what has come to be known as "French theory" in operation: readings that are à la Derrida, Lacan, Barthes, Foucault—"after" them in the sense that a drawing might be described as "after Leonardo"—rather than a rehearsal of their thought. Operative rather than explicative, Lydon's approach illuminates writers and theorists alike while challenging the validity of trying to keep the two categories sharply distinct. Arguing, after Barthes, that the same desire to write animates both, she makes literature theoretical, theory literary, and the reader excited to be in the presence of the two in dialogue. Because of this, Skirting the Issue, which is as witty and elegant as it is lucid, will interest all students of modern literature and thought.

Mary Lydon is professor of French and Italian at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.


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Sketch of a woman reading a book

May 1995

LC: 94-027062 PQ
272 pp. 6 x 9
35 halftones


The 1995 cloth edition, ISBN 978-0-299-14460-9, is still available.

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ISBN 978-0-299-14464-7

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