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Anne Dufourmantelle

Preface by Charlotte Casiraghi

(Denoël, 304 pages, 2007; New edition 2018)


Women have been sacrificed in the name of nearly everything—morality, religion, politics, love, and motherhood—but they have also chosen to sacrifice themselves in order to defy the law, to be free to love, or simply to exist. In this provocative book, first published in 2007, the psychoanalyst and philosopher Anne Dufourmantelle brings her unique sensibilities to comment on the relationship between women and sacrifice, and why it remains a relevant topic today.

 Dufourmantelle starts with broader observations on the nature of sacrifice and the common association of women with sacrifice. She organizes her inquiry around the familiar trilogy of the young woman, the lover, and the mother, and revisits their most emblematic incarnations in Western literature, legends, and myths. Antigone, Iphigenia, Joan of Arc, Isolde, Heloïse, Anna Karenina, and Medea are icons because their acts of sacrifice turned their lives into tragic destinies imbued with lasting social and cultural significance.

 Yet sacrifice is not always heroic. It can lodge itself in the anonymity of what Dufourmantelle calls “white lives,” lives that leave no trace in our collective memory: the woman next door, the mother who routinely claims to have sacrificed everything for her child, the anorexic teenager, the young immigrant who prostitutes herself, the desperate lover. Dufourmantelle audaciously places heroic and “white” lives side by side to trace back the deep roots of women’s enduring relationship with sacrifice. Finally she turns to artists and writers such as Virginia Woolf to explore the theme of sacrifice and female creativity.

 Anne Dufourmantelle’s writing demands that we keep our minds open as we enter the unexpected and illuminating places she takes us. She stresses the urgency to identify contemporary expressions of female sacrifice, reminding us that “we are all beings haunted by what we ignore.” And if we ignore female sacrifice, we risk being overcome by its destructive force.

Anne Dufourmantelle, philosopher and psychoanalyst, taught at New York University and the European Graduate School. Her books in English include In Praise of Risk (Fordham, 2019), Power of Gentleness: Meditations on the Risk of Being (Fordham, 2018), and Blind Date: Sex and Philosophy (University of Illinois Press, 2007). She co-wrote Fighting Theory (University of Illinois Press, 2010) with Avital Ronnell, and Of Hospitality: Cultural Memory in the Present (Stanford University Press, 2000) with Jacques Derrida. Anne Dufourmantelle passed away in the summer of 2017 at the age of fifty-three.

Charlotte Casiraghi is the president of Rencontres Philosophiques de Monaco and the author of L’Archipel des passions with Robert Maggiori (Seuil, 2018). Her preface pays deeply moving homage to Anne Dufourmantelle, her close friend and mentor.