Anke Gilleir, "Strategic Imaginations: Women and the Gender of Sovereignty in European Culture" (Leuven UP, 2020)

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This episode of New Books in History features an interview with Anke Gilleir, professor of Modern German Literature at KU Leuven, about her new edited volume, Strategic Imaginations: Women and the Gender of Sovereignty in European Culture (Leuven University Press, 2020).

Dr. Gilleir has a longstanding interest in under appreciated female intellectuals, starting with her dissertation cum first monograph on Johanna Schopenhauer, read alongside Pierre Bourdieu, exploring particularly mechanisms of power and the symbolic importance of those mechanisms. She has also addressed similar themes with Therese Huber, Caroline Pichler, Rosa Luxemburg, and Margarete Sussman. As part of this ongoing concern with how women interact with political power, she came to edit this delightful volume. Though the cases studies represent a real breadth temporally, spatially, and even in subject and source material, all the essays work together very well to make a very tight argument.

Political sovereignty has been a major theme in European thought from the very beginning of intellectual reflection on community. Philosophy and political theory, historiography, theology, and literature and the arts have, often in dialogue with one another, sought to represent or recalibrate notions of rule. Yet whatever covenant was imagined, sovereign rule has consistently been figured as a male prerogative

While in-depth studies of historical women rulers have proliferated in the past decades, these have not systematically explored how all women rulers throughout the entirety of European culture have had to operate in a context that could not think power as female – except in grotesque terms.

Strategic Imaginations demonstrates that this constitutive tension can only be brought out by studying women’s political rule in a comparative and longue durée manner. The book offers a collection of essays that brings together studies of female sovereignty from the Polish-Lithuanian to the British Commonwealth, and from the Middle Ages to the genesis of modern democracy. It addresses historical figures and takes stock of the rich yet unsettling imagination of female rule in philosophy, literature and art history. For all the variety of geographical, social, and historical contexts it engages, the book reveals surprising resonances between the strategies women rulers used and the images and practices they adopted in the context of an all-pervasive skepticism toward female rule.

Jana Byars is the Academic Director of Netherlands: International Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender.

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