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John Zaixin Zhang

 
 
 

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Frith on Women, Writing and Language  

2010-03-29 01:48:00|  分类: 女性主义 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Frith, Gill. “Women, Writing and Language: Making the Silences Speak.” Eds. Victoria Robinson and Diane Richardson. Introducing Women’s Studies: Feminist Theory and Practice. 2nd ed. Houndmills: MacMillan, 1997. 98-124.

Opening the chamber: gynocriticism

101

       “A Literatue of Their Own is one of the ‘clasics’ of feminist ‘gynocriticism’, a term coined by Showalter herself to define an approach concerned with the woman as writer, and including ‘the psychodynamics of female creativity; linguistics and the problem of a female language; the trajectory of the individual or collective female literary career; literary history; and of course, studies of particular writers and works’ (Showalter, 1979, p. 25).”

102

“The value of gynocriticism should not be underestimated. By uncovering the rich legacy of a neglected female ‘subculture’ and emphasising its thematic coherence, it provided ammunition and substance for establishing the study of women’s writing, not only in higher education, but in schools, extra-mural classes and informal reading groups. Gynocriticism has been much criticised for its ‘essentialism’ (Moi, 1985; Mills and Pearce, 1989), but it is notiable that both Showalter and Moers question the idea of a ‘female imagination’, seing the female tradition rather as a ‘delicate network of …. Influences and conventions, including the operations of the market-place’ (Showalter, 1978, p. 12). Showalter emphasises the condition in which women’s writing has been produced and received, placing Jane Eyre historically, within what she sees as a unified but ‘dirupted’, and specifically British, female literary tradition. Jane Eyre belongs to what Showalter calls the ‘feminine’ phase of British women’s writing, in which the female ‘subculture’ is secret, ritualised, characterised by internalisation and self-censorship; women, united by the physical facts of the female life-cycle (menstruation, childbirth) but unable to express them openly, developed a covert symbolic language to explore the range of female experience.”

       “Gynocriticism opens the secret chamber, but does not tell us how to arrange the furniture. Resistant to ‘theory’, preferring to rely on ‘evidence’, it provides no coherent framework for interpreting the rich and suggestive material it uncovers about women’s lives and work. Showalter and Moers both draw upon Freud in interpreting the recurrent motifs in women’s writing, but such psychoanalytic borrowings are random rather than systematic… The position of the writer or reader outside the white heterosexual, middle-class ‘mainstream’ can too easily be ignored or subsumed under the enveloping banner of ‘female expereince’.”

 

Secrets of nature discovered: radical feminist criticism

103

       “Radical feminism has been summarised as founded in the belief that ‘the original and basic class division is between the sexes, and that the motive force of history is the striving of men for power and domination over women, the dialectic of sex’ (Heidi Hartmann, quoted in Palmer, 1989, p. 43); see also Bell and Klein, 1996).”

104

       “Perhaps the most significant contribution made by radical feminism has been on the question of lagnauge. In Man-Made Lnaguage (1980), Dale Spender argued that women constitute a ‘muted group’ in society because meaning has been controlled by men (but see Cameron, 1992). Language reflects male experience and perpetuates male power; ‘feminine’ words are negatively marked (think of the different connotations carried by dog/bitch, master/mistress, bachelor/spinster)…. [Adrienne Rich] aims to repossess meaning for women by creating a language of the collective ‘female body’, by defining ‘a female consciousness which is political, aesthetic and erotic’ (Rich, 1980d, p. 18) and finding ways of ‘converting our physicality into both knowledge and power’ (Rich, 1977, p. 284). Such an unashamed affirmation of the links between female biology and female creativity contrasts interestingly with the work of Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, for whom the female body is a haunted house.”

 

Echoes in the chamber: The madwoman in the attic

105

       “As the title fo their book implies, Bertha is the central figure in Sandra Gulbert and Susan Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic (1979).”

       “… Bertha is Jane’s ‘truest and darkest double’, her ‘ferocious secret self’ (Guibert and Gubar, 1979, p. 360)… They [Gilbert and Gubar] suggest that Bertha is not only like Jane, but acts for Jane: when she attacks Rochester, tears the wedding veil, burns down Thornfield, she is acting as the agent of Jane’s secret desires. The idea that Bertha is Jane’s alter ego was not new: all of the readings discussed so far see Bertha as an expression of Jane’s repressed passion and anger. The difference is that Gilbert and Gubar see Bertha as representative of the restrictions experienced by the woman writer. Their famous opening sentence – ‘Is a pen a metaphorical penis?’ (p. 3) – sets the terms of their argument. Creativity has traditionally been defined not only as male, but as generated by the male body. Women have been ‘framed’ by male texts which represent the creative woman as a monstrous transgression of biology, and thus suffer from a debilitating ‘anxiety of authorship’. Like Showalter, Gilbert and Gubar see the house as a trope for the female body, but argue that it represents women’s anxiety about enclosure within the patriarchal text: the ‘house’ of literature is a prison, and ‘womb’ is a metaphor for tomb. Trapped by biology and ideology, ill-at-ease in the patriarchal literary tradition but unable to speak directly as women, female authors resort to covert strategies. They come to terms with their feelings of fragmentation by conjuring up the figure of the mad or monstrous woman who, acting as ‘the author’s double, an image of her own anxiety and rage’ (p. 78) seeks the power of self-articulation.”

106

       “Gilbert and Gubar have been criticised, with some justification, for their representation of the woman writer as a spellbound victim. Paradoxically, though, the appeal of their argument is that, despite the emphasis on stifled creativity, the story they tell is an oddly comforting one. Women have been put down, but they have fought back. The writer-heroine, tied t othe railway track, is crushed in body, constrained in mind, but free in spirit: she escapes the chugging wheels of patriarchal tyranny by declaring her resistance, if not exactly aloud, at least in ways that the reader can decode.”

 

Truth and the author: post-structuralism

107

       In an influential 1968 essay (“The Death of the Author”), “Roland Bathes argued that ‘To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing’ (Barthes, 1977, p. 147).” A productive and revolutionary reading will “refuse to assign ‘a ‘secret’, an ultimate meaning, to the text’ (p. 147) and will aim to disentangle its codes rather than decipher its message.”

       “Such an argument has challenged the validity of two of the central proccupations of the ‘Anglo-American’ approaches discussed so far in this chapter: to research the lives and works of individual authors, and to uncover the ‘secrets’ of female experience which lie beneath the surface of the text. The idea of ‘the death of the author’ has had an ambiguous impact upon feminist criticism, which, having laboured to find and restore the female author, has felt a less presing need to kill her off. Taken to its logical conclusion, Barthes’s essay renders the author’s gender irrelevant. Feminist critics have continued, for the most part, to focus upon writing by women and to see the writier’s gender as significant, but the influence of ‘post-[108]structuralism’ has resulted in a new kind of analysis, which sees the text not as an authentic expression of experience, but as a site for ‘the discursive construction of the meaning of gender’ (Weedon, 1987, p. 138).”

108

       “A central influence is ‘semiotics’: the study of disourse as a system of ‘signs’ which have no direct correspondence with the real world. The implication of the analysis of literary texts is that the meaning of terms is not derived from external reality, but is determined by the place of those terms within the structure of the text and by their relationship to other signs. (For example, ‘female’ takes on its meaning through the ways in which it is played against the term ‘male’ within a specific text.)”

       “Post-structuralism develops these ideas to argue that: (a) meaning is neither fixed nor controlled by individual readers or writiers: it is culturally defined, learned, and plural; and (b) human subjectivity is shifting and fragmented: the idea of the subject as a unified and free whole is the product of liberal-humanist ideology. For feminists, perhaps the most important point is that subjectivity is seen as changing and contradictory: gendered identity is not static and natural, but formed within language and open to change. Post-structuralist feminist analyses reject the idea of an authentic female voice or experience, but see the study of women’s writing as a means of understanding patriarchy, mapping ‘the possible subject positions open to women’ (Weedon, 1987, p. 157). Meaning and culture, precisely because they are unstable and cannot be finally ‘owned’, are the site of political struggle and potential resistance.”

 

Taking up French: women, language and French feminism

116

       “Within Lacanian theory the acquisition of gendered identity corresponds with, and is inseparable from, the acquisition of language. Entry into the ‘symbolic order’ of language and culture is an essential precondition of becoming ‘human’, able to communicate with other humans, but the symbolic order is a gendered order, which inscribes and confirms male dominance. Women remain marginal within culture, placed ‘in a special relation to language which becomes theirs as a consequence of becoming human, and at the same time not theirs as a consequence of becoming female’ (Kaplan, 1986a, p. 82). French feminism extends and revises this model to identify ‘feminine’ writing – l’écriture féminine expresses both the free-floating pleasures of pre-linguistic, ungendered infancy, and the multiple, diffuse nature of female jouissance (orgasmic pleasure). Whereas ‘masculine’ language is linear, finite, structured, rational and unified, ‘femine’ language is fluid, decentred, playful, fragmented and open-ended. L’écriture feminine is seen as revolutionary because it poses a potential challenge to the patriarchal order by subverting masculine logic and disrupting dominant linguistic structures. I say a ‘potential’ challenge [117] because, after early childhood, the feminine is located in the unconscious; it cannot be fully expressed but only glimpsed, occasionally, in certain texts.”

117

       “The impact of French feminism has been controversial (Moi, 1985; Jones, 1986). One problem is that to identify a particular kind of language with the ‘feminine’ is to risk perpetuating patriarchal notions of gender difference: order, logic, and control over language are ‘masculine’; the irrational, the marginal, the contradictory are ‘feminine’.”

       ‘To place women ‘outside language’ in our theories is to deny ourselves something of crucial importance: the power to shape new meanings for a different and better world’ (Cameron, 1992, p. 227).

       “French feminism privileges a particular style and form of writing, the avant-garde; it is the experimental, fragmented, open-ended text which approximates most closely to l’écriture feminine.”

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