Lynn Enterline. The Rhetoric of the Body: From Ovid To Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000. xi+272 pp. ISBN 0 52 162450 9.
Gary Kuchar
McMaster University

Kuchar, Gary. "Review of Lynn Enterline, The Rhetoric of the Body: From Ovid To Shakespeare." Early Modern Literary Studies 7.3 (January, 2002): 9.1-5 <URL:

  1. In his 1953 Discours de Rome, Jacques Lacan insisted that his audience of psychoanalysts read Ernest Jones' essay "The Theory of Symbolism" in order to begin thinking about the relationship between language and the body. In his essay, which is an extension of Freud's theories regarding the body's role in the constitution of the ego, Jones observes that the primary symbols which myth and literature use for expressing the self derive largely from the body and its culturally circumscribed desires. Developing Freud's and Jones' work, Lacan argues that the body is written over by language while at the same time it is the condition for speech itself: "a body is speech arising as such" ("Le Symptôme" 47). From this perspective, the body can betray the intentions of a speaking subject--through hysterical symptoms and the like--at the same time it serves as the ground of intention itself. Few poets in the Western tradition articulate the complex relations between speech and the body more tellingly, and more tragically, than Ovid. Fewer have had a greater impact on how subsequent poets imagine the corporeal and inwardly conflicted dimension of the human voice. Through its careful and often inspired analyses of Ovid and three of his heirs, Lynn Enterline's The Rhetoric of the Body From Ovid To Shakespeare not only deepens our sense of how Ovid informs the articulation of subjectivity in the English and Italian Renaissances, no small accomplishment itself, but also contributes to psychoanalytic perspectives on the stressed relations between the body, language, and the self. In this respect, Enterline's analyses of Ovidian rhetoric exemplify how deeply relevant the "linguistic turn" of Lacanian psychoanalysis is to literary history, just as it demonstrates how literary history illuminates the divided and fragile subject of psychoanalytic theory. If the book has a weakness worth commenting upon, it is in its occasionally loose theoretical structure. The argument of the book seems to slip between Lacanian and Althusserian versions of interpellation and resistance without making explicit how the differences between these theories are being negotiated within specific readings.

  2. Enterline's book tracks the way that certain key tropes for the voice in Ovid's works re-occur in Petrarch, Marston, and Shakespeare at moments when the self becomes alienated from its own speech. Such moments record a crisis in poetic authority while simultaneously bringing into relief the contradictions inherent in "what counts as the difference between male and female experience" (2). What is at stake in the various Ovidian scenes analyzed in the book is thus the (in)coherence of a subject constituted in and through the complex intersections of language, violence, sexuality, and gender. Each of these categories are implicated in and derive from the body, especially the many violated and dismembered bodies that populate the Ovidian landscape. Thus each of Enterline's readings return to what is perhaps the most pressing feminist challenge posed by Ovid's Metamorphoses: how to read rape. While Enterline expands on the thematics of rape as interpreted by Joel Fineman, Nancy Vickers and others, her most important contribution is to have explored the conjunction between rhetoric and sexuality in greater detail and with more sophistication than has previously been the case. In particular, she demonstrates how the "frequent juxtaposition of poetic language and violence" in Ovid's work coincides with an "incessant turn of attention to the beauty of a mediating screen of poetic form" (10). According to Enterline, this process of mediation enables what Louis Althusser calls an "internal distance" from the ideology to which "a text alludes and with which it is constantly fed" (Enterline 33, Althusser 222.). This Althusserian principle carries a considerable amount of the arguments' weight, enabling Enterline to demonstrate how Ovid's text, no less than Freud's, "is more a critique of the systematic violence and subordination embedded in patriarchal culture than mere repetition or perpetuation of it" ( 33).

  3. While one cannot help but be highly impressed by Enterline's challenging and sophisticated readings of how Ovidian texts permit an "internal distance" from their own ideology, the tension between this Althusserian notion of resistance and the book's broader psychoanalytic framework remains more or less unthought in strictly theoretical terms. From a purely methodological standpoint, that is, Enterline obscures the fact that the notion of "internal distance" derives from a theory of ideology that does not take into account the way that "ideology implies, manipulates, produces a pre-ideological enjoyment structured in fantasy" ( Žižek, 125). This failure to make explicit how she understands Althusser's notion of resistance in relation to Žižek's Lacanian theory of ideology, with its own (and arguably quite) distinct view of resistance through over-identification, would be less problematic if Enterline's own readings were not so deeply based on the psychoanalytic view that ideology works to conceal the traumatic nature of "sexuation" or interpellation according to gender codes. In her reading of the Pygmalion myth for instance, she points out how Pygamlion and Myrrha "employ the language of substitutes in order to avoid saying what is prohibited," namely the incestuous impulses that constitute the "real" of Pygmalion's desire (96). From this perspective, Ovidian rhetoric works to conceal the very desire that organizes it. However, it remains unclear, at a theoretical level, how Althusser's concept of "internal distance" fits within this psychoanalytic framework. This is not to imply that it doesn't, but only to point out that the question, and I think it's an important one for both Enterline's reading of Renaissance literature and for psychoanalytic thought more generally, is left open.

  4. One of the most compelling themes of Enterline's readings, and one that I hope she pursues further, is the role that "identification" plays in relation to interpellation, Renaissance rhetoric and its accompanying theories of imitation, as well as the nature of reading literary texts more generally. For despite the importance of "identification" to both literary experience and psychoanalytic theory, critics have barely begun to think through how identification works within literary contexts. In her reading of Shakespeare's Lucrece, however, Enterline offers not only an exceptional (and quite daring) reading of the poem itself, but she also provides a serious meditation on the complex ways that identification can work in relation to apostrophe, that elusive figure of address which, as Jonathan Culler has suggested, has not yet received genuine semiotic analysis ("Apostrophe" 135). More specifically, Enterline considers how the rhetoric of instrumentation in Lucrece discloses the way that the poem can be read in terms of the narrator's fantasy, a fantasy that is rhetorically structured around figures of address. Reading for the narrator's unconscious identifications through the rhetoric of instrumentation, Enterline compellingly argues that the poem plays out, on the one hand, the speaker's illicit desire for Tarquin--a desire that is mediated by an unconscious identification with Lucrece--and on the other his desire for Lucrece's "fame." In this respect, she argues that what Lucrece "has and doesn't have, what she wants and doesn't want is crucial to the narrator's rhetorical and unconscious mimetic strategies" (185). Her reading of how the narrator's desire is structured by his rhetorical relations to Lucrece unsettles the notion of homosociality that has come to dominate interpretations of this and other Renaissance texts, thereby challenging the view of Lucrece as "mere instrument." Indeed, in Enterline's interpretation Lucrece emerges as a subject, one who is not only able to speak of female suffering with more than "empty breath," but whose desire structures the narrative's unconscious motivations. Enterline's careful attention to the complex ways in which particular figures of speech are displaced, condensed, repeated, and re-made within and between texts exemplifies what it now means to read for the unconscious of a text. If anything is missing from her far-reaching analyses it is a sense of how recurring figures of speech effect the desire and response of readers. Indeed, if Enterline is right to suggest that Ovidian rhetoric, along with psychoanalytic theory, unsettles any rigid gender differentiation, then one might ask how such slippage between male and female, self and other, informs the possibilities of response to Ovidian texts.

  5. Enterline's attention to the way that figures such as apostrophe and themes such as animation are woven through Renaissance literary history demonstrates the complex forms of intertexuality operating in Petrarch and Elizabethan Ovidianism. Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book's relatively broad scope is the way it permits a view of how Renaissance texts constitute re-readings of Ovidian rhetoric as well as re-tellings of Ovidian narrative. In Enterline's hands, Petrarch, Marston and Shakespeare emerge as sophisticated theorists of language as well as poets working within and against a tradition that closely aligns language and eroticism, rhetoric and subjectivity. Focusing on these relations through a set of sophisticated readings, each of which moves between feminist, psychoanalytic, literary historical and rhetorical concerns, Enterline's work should, at the very least, occasion renewed reflection on how a range of rhetorical figures inform Renaissance articulations of subjectivity. More optimistically yet, her work may participate in furthering the interpretative power of key psychoanalytic ideas such as identification, fetishism, and the relation between language and trauma.

Works Cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2002-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).