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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1193

Toril Moi 1953-

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Norwegian critic, essayist, editor, and biographer.

The following entry presents an overview of Moi's career through 2001.

A controversial voice among contemporary feminist academics, Moi is best known as the author of the provocative Sexual/Textual Politics (1985), which coined the term “Anglo-American feminism.” The book surveys the development of feminist cultural theory and posits two distinct literary discourses—Anglo-American and French—characterizing the French as the more intellectually rigorous and politically relevant of the two schools. In subsequent works that reflect this perspective, Moi continued to expand her analytical theories as well as editing the writings of such notable French feminists as Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray. She also published Simone de Beauvoir (1994), a critical biography of the feminist theorist. However, in the essay collection What Is a Woman? (1999), which owes much to Beauvoir's seminal theories, Moi revisits and revises some of her earlier arguments originally put forth in Sexual/Textual Politics. Although Moi's literary debut garnered a severe response from American feminist academics, many commentators have applauded Moi's efforts to rehabilitate the reputation of Beauvoir despite most feminists' lingering reservations about the relevance of Beauvoir's thought to contemporary gender issues.

Biographical Information

Born in Norway in 1953, Moi attended the University of Bergen, earning her doctorate degree in 1980. In 1983 she began her academic career at Oxford University in England where she researched and lectured on issues concerning sexuality, sex, gender, and the body, culminating in the publication of Sexual/Textual Politics. Moi returned to the University of Bergen in 1985, serving as the director of the Centre for Feminist Research in the Humanities and as an adjunct professor of comparative literature until 1988. While at Bergen, Moi focused on the intersections between literature and philosophy, editing the essay collections The Kristeva Reader (1986) and French Feminist Thought (1987). In 1989 Moi joined the faculty of the literature and romance studies department at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. During the 1990s, Moi extensively researched Beauvoir's life and career, calling the French critic the most important feminist of the twentieth century. Consequently, Moi published her findings in Feminist Theory and Simone de Beauvoir (1990) and Simone de Beauvoir. After the publication of What Is a Woman?, Moi received a 2001 Guggenheim fellowship and a 2002-03 fellowship at Harvard University, where she began researching Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.

Major Works

Moi's theoretical interests include feminist theory, psychoanalytic theory, French phenomenology, and linguistic philosophy. Sexual/Textual Politics provides an overview of twentieth-century feminist literary theory and groups its development into two distinct schools. Divided into two sections, the book contrasts the underlying “methods, principles, and politics” that inform Anglo-American and French feminism. The first section of Sexual/Textual Politics surveys Anglo-American feminism, which is characterized by the works of such theorists as Elaine Showalter, Sandra Gilbert, Susan Gubar, Kate Millet, and Annette Kolodny, as well as prominent feminists of the African American and lesbian communities. According to Moi, Anglo-American feminism articulates an empirical and essential conception of the female self, which is characteristic of liberal humanism. Moi argues that Anglo-American feminism adopts the same assumptions and methods of Western critical practice and, therefore, does not effectively engage the politics of the patriarchal culture. The second section of Sexual/Textual Politics surveys French feminist discourse and critical practice as...

(The entire section contains 1193 words.)

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Principal Works