“Au “non” des femmes”, by Jennifer Tamas: include Andromaque in #metoo


“Andromaque” by Jean Racine, directed by Muriel Mayette (2010).

“To the ‘no’ of women. Liberate our classics from the male gaze”, by Jennifer Tamas, Seuil, “The color of ideas”, 330 p., €23, digital €17.

Before offering the French public a new look at their cultural heritage, Jennifer Tamas, a professor at Rutgers University (New Jersey), led an even more ambitious undertaking: she introduced French society from the Ancien Régime and its literature to an audience of American students. And this is precisely what explains the method that she describes as“inductive”, implemented in his new book, To the “no” of women. Because to approach the classical texts,Andromacheby Racine (1667), to Dangerous Liaisonsby Choderlos de Laclos (1782), the French researcher chose to “starting from the present to go back to the past”.

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This approach, Jennifer Tamas, whom “Le Monde des livres” met during a visit to Paris, explains it by ” personal reasons » as well as by “intellectual reasons”. Because she herself experienced the difficulties raised by a teaching that does not take into account “living culture” students, she makes it a point of honor to “from those who are opposite [d’elle] ». This is all the more necessary, according to her, as the “classics” discussed here are not classic in the United States. But also that New Jersey students have many prejudices about “this society which precedes the Revolution and which is based on privileges”.

But Jennifer Tamas does not just understand these prejudices; above all, it wants to recognize their legitimacy: “What we call wokism, I find fascinating, because it quite simply allows us to think from where we are speaking. » What the students know and know is thus taken into account by the teacher in her approach to the texts. An approach that shows that many contemporary questions are already staged in classic texts. “The question of how to free oneself from male domination is everywhere, among these authors or these heroines who seek, for example, to question marriage or motherhood”explains the researcher.


Machistic and deleterious interpretations

It’s reading Vanessa Springora’s book, The consent (Grasset, 2020), which has determined Jennifer Tamas to write her book. Intrigued by the many references to classical literature, she becomes aware of how this author finds herself unfairly deprived of her own knowledge, almost made responsible for her destiny, by the macho and deleterious interpretations of these texts. Jennifer Tamas precisely wishes to correct the “simplifying errors and selective memory”, she wrote. More than anything, she wants “Invite to re-read the classics”. Because the latter actually suffer from as much prejudice from the French as from the Americans. Jennifer Tamas is convinced of this: it is indeed the critical or extracurricular reception that is made of it that is to blame. Not only does historical reality differ from what we imagine and “women of the Ancien Régime had real political and even economic influence”but above all the texts are not full, far from it, of women ” victims “ or of “submissive prey”.

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