Review of No Man's Land: The War of the Words

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Author: Kathleen Blake
Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Date: 2001
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Book review; Critical essay
Length: 1,726 words

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[(review date July 1989) In the following review of the first volume of No Man's Land, Blake contends Gubar and Gilbert ought more strongly to have stressed their argument that patriarchal forms are not embedded in language.]

Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar have followed up their Madwoman in the Attic with a "Daughter of Madwoman" as powerful as its progenitor. No Man's Land is the first volume in a projected three-volume series. It gives the grounding and grand scheme of literary history that recasts Modernism and Postmodernism as episodes in the gender agon initiated by the nineteenth-century rise of women and women writers. Gilbert and Gubar here extend their historical range to the twentieth century and treat male as well as female authors, exhibiting a greater historicism and theoretical self-awareness than in Madwoman. And while still with a basis in Freud, they present a critique of Freud and Freudian revisions, and their feminist manifestations.

Still frequently referring to Harold Bloom, whose Freud-based "anxiety of influence" helped them formulate their idea of the "anxiety of authorship" of nineteenth-century women writers, Gilbert and Gubar stress a twentieth-century rivalry that is not so much Oedipal as a sibling rivalry between the sexes in a period when women were moving beyond their initial anxiety about writing at all and into full-fledged contention with men. The first pair of chapters offers literary responses to the new aspirations and achievements of women in books by both men and women that represent a heightened battle of the sexes. The next pair of chapters covers the battle of the sexes over literary heritage, the last over claims to language itself.

In a still-Freudian fashion Gilbert and Gubar associate sexual and artistic energy and associate both with aggression and its release. But the aggressive outweighs the erotic. From the title on, No Man's Land concerns sexual war. Sometimes the terms of the erotic seem almost expendable, introduced in deference to Freudian theory.

But deference to Freud is not the hallmark of this book, for it gives us a Freud and Freudian theory "haunted by history." Gilbert and Gubar premise their work on the possibility of some meaningful access to historical knowledge and a corollary access to knowledge of authors. They hold that "challenges to history and authorship, radically antipatriarchal as they may seem, ultimately erase the reality of gendered human experience" (p. xiv).

They consider Freud's theories to be in large measure constructed as reaction-formations to the emergence of feminism and new claims and accomplishments by women. Freud knew what the femininity of the future might look like,...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100036837