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Table of contents :
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A WOMAN FOR ALL SEASONS
“AN ISLAND OF DISSIDENT THOUGHTS”
FEMINIST CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING AND THE PSYCHOTHERAPEUTIC SENSIBILITY OF THE 1960S
HERTA MÜLLER AND UNDOING THE TRAUMA IN CEAUSESCU’S ROMANIA
(RE)ENGENDERING THE PAST/RECOVERING WOMEN’S WRITINGS
(LITTLE) RED RIDING HOOD
UNDOING THE HISTORY OF THE ENGENDERED NATION IN THREE NARRATIVES OF CARIBBEAN FEMINISM
ENGLISH CULTURAL/GENDER STUDIES
LOITERING WITH INTENT
Episodes from a History of Undoing
Episodes from a History of Undoing: The Heritage of Female Subversiveness
Episodes from a History of Undoing: The Heritage of Female Subversiveness, Edited by Reghina Dascăl This book first published 2012 Cambridge Scholars Publishing 12 Back Chapman Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2XX, UK British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Copyright © 2012 by Reghina Dascăl and contributors All rights for this book reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. ISBN (10): 1-4438-3611-7, ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-3611-1
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Foreword ................................................................................................... vii Unwinding Narratives of Gender and the Weaving of Antistructures Margaret R. Higonnet Chapter One: Early Fashionings of Agency and Auctorial Self Elizabeth I: Creativity, Authorship, and Agency......................................... 3 Dana Percec A Woman for All Seasons: Christine de Pizan.......................................... 25 Reghina Dascăl Chapter Two: Feminist Consciousness Coming of Age “An Island of Dissident Thoughts”: Orwell versus Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf...................................................................................... 51 Nóra Séllei Feminist Consciousness-Raising and the Psychotherapeutic Sensibility of the 1960s: Rethinking the Connection .................................................. 65 VoichiĠa Năchescu Chapter Three: Re-reading and Re-writing the Past Herta Müller and Undoing the Trauma in Ceauúescu’s Romania.............. 85 Adriana Răducanu (Re)Engendering The Past/Recovering Women’s Writings: The Works of Feminist Criticism in Brazil ............................................. 107 Rita Terezinha Schmidt (Little) Red Riding Hood: A British-American History of Undoing....... 123 Andreea ùerban
Table of Contents
Chapter Four: Undoing Interlocking Systems of Oppression Power Plays: Two Black Feminist Playwrights (En)counter Intersectionality ....................................................................................... 137 Amber West Undoing the History of the Engendered Nation in Three Narratives of Caribbean Feminism ........................................................................... 153 Izabella Penier Chapter Five: Challenging the Curricular Canon English Cultural/Gender Studies: An Eastern European Perspective ...... 179 Nóra Séllei Loitering with Intent: Gender Studies and English Studies in the Romanian Academe....................................................................... 195 Reghina Dascăl Contributors............................................................................................. 209
FOREWORD UNWINDING NARRATIVES OF GENDER AND THE WEAVING OF ANTISTRUCTURES MARGARET R. HIGONNET UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT
The thread of this volume stretches back into the distant past, spun out of storytelling through generations of mothers. In a film by Trinh T. Minhha, a Kabyle folksinger unwinds her inherited story: “May my story be beautiful and unwind like a long thread” (quoted in Trinh 1989:148). As Trinh explains, “She who works at un-learning the dominant language of ‘civilized’ missionaries also has to learn how to un-write and write anew” (148). As the singer or griot in an oral tradition reminds us all, a double process is at work in every act of creation, which demands that we recall and make anew. To twist a thread–the activity of the woman who recounts the community’s past–is to gather strands and spin them together into a new, sustained whole against the weight of the whorl. To create requires resistance. A step later in the process, the shuttle of the weaver who creates a textile also runs in two directions, making and reversing; that is a pattern adopted by early writing, now called boustrephedon, by analogy to the path of oxen who pull a plough up and down a field, cutting up the clods, before the seeds can be sown. Resistance and reversals and cuts are structural themes knotted into ancient myths about women; these structures knit women’s efforts to write their own stories and histories together with their struggle to rewrite the social scripts that organize their lives. Thus while Homer’s Odysseus is famous as the teller of his own tale to his hosts the Phaeacians, his story is complemented by that of Penelope, who retains control over the plot of her own marital choice by weaving and unweaving a tapestry each day and night. Similarly, Ovid in Metamorphoses (VI, 424–674) recounts the tale of the swallow and nightingale that has become emblematic of women’s writing in feminist theory today, in the phrase “the voice of the shuttle,”
taken from a lost play by Sophocles. According to this tragic myth of women’s violation, resistance, and transformation, the repressed story of Philomela’s rape by her brother-in-law Tereus, who had cut off her tongue to prevent her from testifying, is nonetheless told to her sister Procne, when she uses the threads of her tapestry to replace her “stolen tongue.” Following their own violent act of revenge, the women and Tereus are transformed into birds in a metamorphosis that endows them with a new life and gives us the nightingale’s song of lamentation. In her influential essay on this myth as a prototype for women’s writing, Patricia Klindienst Joplin comments: “Imprisoned in the plot, just as Philomela is imprisoned by Tereus, is the antiplot. Just as Philomela is not killed but only hidden away, the possibility of antistructure is never destroyed by structure; it is only contained or controlled until structure becomes deadened or extreme in its hierarchical rigidity by virtue of all that it has sought to expel from itself. Then antistructure, what Victor Turner calls communitas, may erupt.” Their story finds echoes in “language stealers” like Christine de Pizan, who wrote in her adopted language of French, as Reghina Dascăl explains, to resist the master discourse. Just as Penelope’s name may signify she who undoes the spindle, the writers whom this volume addresses include those who undo in order to remake, who adapt and appropriate as they create anew. For the feminist, to undo essentialist and hierarchical conceptions of “Woman” and of a female “nature,” one must imagine possibilities beyond given structures and undo established frameworks of discourse and rhetorical forms. She must form new intervals and interstices, creating a void that enables creativity itself. Sometimes innovation involves the appropriation of masculinity as a role, a phenomenon of cross-writing that is traced by several of the essays in this volume. One path of resistance thus is the proliferation of forms of expression, a tactic to be found in Queen Elizabeth’s letters, speeches, and poems, through which she expressed the conflicts among her many roles. She thereby modeled an innovative multiplication of her implicitly gendered roles as governor of the church and “king” of England. What Dana Percec discovers here is a “puzzle” that Elizabeth has bequeathed about her own identity, which she crafted visually as well as verbally in order to retain power. Undoubtedly historians will continue to debate her agency as a writer who was surrounded by advisors who may have collaborated in producing her texts, as well as by those who appropriated her cultural messages for their own ends. Similarly, as Reghina Dascăl shows, Christine de Pizan engaged in “self-fashioning” by producing a range of poetic, polemic, biographic, and historical works addressed not only to the court but to a broader audience.
Episodes from a History of Undoing
To do so, Christine appropriated not only female subjects from Boccaccio’s De Claris Mulieribus but also the heroic roles of the male traveller and narrator from Dante and Virgil. As Ellen Moers pointed out in Literary Women, like Christine, nineteenth-century women such as Mary Robinson, Charlotte Smith, George Sand, George Eliot, or Louisa May Alcott often entered the new literary marketplace under pseudonyms, because like any man supporting a household they were driven to write for money, seeking patronage and an audience. Such performances are both playful and serious, since they throw open windows of opportunity where the doorways may be closed. Among the works by writers like Christine and Mary Robinson we also often find exemplary literary histories of remarkable, even “virile” women, whose virtues and strengths prepare readers to become extraordinary figures like the woman to whom Christine devoted her last book, The Tale of Joan of Arc. The gender ambiguities of women’s roles, so evident in Joan’s story, color the language of a succession of later writers such as Wollstonecraft, who introduces her Vindication of the Rights of Woman with the wish that women might “grow more and more masculine” (8), underscoring that “manly virtues” have to do with gendered education rather than with biological identity. Since gendered rhetoric may have profoundly misogynist economic repercussions, the performance of ambiguously gendered roles in the construction of authorship and narrative voices became almost obligatory in the nineteenth century. That point was forcefully confirmed by the controversial reception of the three Brontë sisters’ publications under pseudonyms. In her preface to The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), her scandalous novel about a woman artist who left her alcoholic husband, for example, Anne Brontë was compelled to argue that “if a book is a good one, it is so whatever the sex of the author may be” (5). The Brontë pseudonyms as “Bell” brothers permitted the sisters to publish in ringing voices, without censorship, “anything that would be proper and becoming for a man.” Critical to such rhetorical challenges to the gender of the writer is their authors’ recognition that political and social institutions shape identities, while the strongest tool of resistance in an author’s hand may be the witty subversion of the maxims on which those institutions are grounded, in order to authorize their own creations. An obvious reason for writers like Christine de Pizan or Mary Robinson to compile literary histories focused on women has been to counter the erasure of women from the historical record. In the last forty years, however, the foundation of many women’s presses has afforded revived access to their previously unavailable texts. Past historical erasures
were in part compounded by race, as Brazilian feminists like Rita Terezhina Schmidt have discovered. The imagined community of Brazilian writers was constructed by historians as “virile” (and white) until the “Woman and Literature” team recovered and reprinted “an enormous body of texts” in the three-volume Escritoras Brasileiras do século XIX, including the first abolitionist Brazilian novel Úrsula (1859), by Maria Firmina dos Reis, a mulatta whose text undercut the fiction of cross-racial harmony on which much of Brazilian political mythology has rested. Tellingly, her sentimental melodrama escapes from genre conventions to enact a gothic implosion of familial relationships. By splicing together antithetical narrative structures into an “antistructure,” dos Reis overturned both an ideological structure and conventional narrative closure. Hybrid narrative structures like that of Ursula have become central to our understanding of practices of resistance in relation to the forms or master plots that govern our imaginary. If Maria dos Reis uses a gothic structure in her fiction to evoke the destructive genealogy of racism, so too Nobel prize winner Hertha Müller draws on the gothic, as Adriana Răducanu explains, in order to distance herself from the traumatic circumstances of her adolescence and her struggle to become a professional writer in the face of institutional exclusions. In addition to creolization as a paradigm proposed by Gloria Anzaldúa for narrative splicing, decentering and innovation, another paradigm that feminist critics Linda Hutcheon and Julie Sanders have found useful is adaptation, a term that refers both to a process of double vision and to an artistic product that refers to a previous intertext. We can connect this formal concept of adaptation to the identity issues that are woven throughout this volume, especially in essays by Andreea ùerban, Amber West, and Izabella Penier. Carol Heilbrun argued in Reinventing Womanhood that women as social outsiders have double vision, especially those women who are doubly outsiders because they stand at an intersection of sexual, racial, and class identity. Not coincidentally, then, the Caribbean writers addressed by Izabella Penier live in exile, a perch from which they can revise a national, postcolonial bildungsroman that had been centered on the male revolutionary who escapes from his colonial feminization. Similarly, W. E. B. Dubois wrote in Souls of Black Folk that the Negro possesses a “double consciousness,” the gift of “second-sight in this American world—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others” (10-11). Such double consciousness enables writers to resist, as ùerban explains, the conventional schema of
Episodes from a History of Undoing
gender and culture that structure narrative forms. In turn, however, the experimental forms and ironic tropes embraced by self-conscious outsiders such as Adrienne Kennedy or Ntozake Shange have made their work “hard to categorize.” The non-verbal motifs of suicide (arguably one way to write upon one’s own body) and dance (as a way to share pain) become forms of dramatic resistance that elude conventional interpretative norms, as Amber West explains. Among twentieth-century thinkers who experimented with narrative form Virginia Woolf stands out, both because she subtly explored multiple and variable gender roles and because she exploded governing codes of closure. “Writing beyond the ending,” in Rachel Blau Duplessis’s phrase, enabled Woolf to adapt the experiments of Modernism to the aims of her own project. In Room of One’s Own (1929), Woolf told a story of the difficulty one encounters in reading a woman’s writing against the grain: she describes herself struggling to grasp a text by an imaginary Mary Carmichael, who “is tampering with the expected sequence. First she broke the sentence, now she has broken the sequence” (85). For this reason, Nóra Séllei rightly acclaims Woolf as “a more radical thinker” than George Orwell. For Woolf’s “asymmetrical construction of gender” deftly questions nation and patriotism, “undoing pivotal notions of history” through a brilliant deconstruction of distinctions among genres that exposes political truths as fictions and fictions as a tool of truth. In their closing essays, Nóra Séllei and Reghina Dascăl underscore the importance of institution-rebuilding for the historical tasks that this volume addresses. An institutional analysis of the intersecting forces governing academic promotion indeed overlaps with the kinds of analyses that have been applied in the volume’s essays to the production of resistant women’s literary texts, the narrative structuring of their texts, and the reception of this body of literature. At the same time, over centuries women writers have testified to the power of our tools for adapting, recovering, and renovating history. Already in her history of women and biographies, Christine de Pizan passed along a legacy of role models and alternative subjects to the writers who would follow—and who would compile their own genealogies. In the proliferation of gender roles to be performed both publicly and in their writing, women from Queen Elizabeth to Virginia Woolf and Angela Carter have destabilized our understanding of gender limits, thereby opening up liminal ambiguities and communitas. They have extended sisterhood across time through convent scriptoria that preserved manuscripts, or in recent centuries by establishing women’s or girls’ magazines and publishing houses. Those venues of publication nurture contemporary writers and keep writers of the
past from slipping into oblivion. We welcome this circulation of voices, whose whispers and witty twists continue our conversations across time, remaining indispensable for the transformation of the academies where we teach.
References Anzaldúa, G. (1999). Borderlands: La Frontera. San Francisco: Aunt Lute. DuPlessis, R. (1985). Writing beyond the Ending: Narrative Strategies of Twentieth-Century Women Writers. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Brontë, A. (1993). The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Oxford: Oxford University Press. . Du Bois, W. E. B. (1999). The Souls of Black Folk. H. Gates, Jr. and T. Oliver (Eds.), New York: Norton. . Heilbrun, C. (1979). Reinventing Womanhood. New York: Norton. Hutcheon, L. (2006). A Theory of Adaptation. New York: Routledge. Klindienst Joplin, P. (1984). The voice of the shuttle is ours. Stanford Literature Review 1: 25-53. Retrieved November 22, 2011 from http://www.english.ucsb.edu/faculty/ayliu/research/klindienst.html. Moers, E. (1985). Literary Women. New York: Oxford University Press. . Trinh, T. Minh-ha. (1989). Woman, Native, Other. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Wollstonecraft, M. (1988). A Vindiction of the Rights of Woman. Carol H. Poston (Ed.) 2nd edition. New York: Norton. Woolf, V. (1929). A Room of One’s Own. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
CHAPTER ONE: EARLY FASHIONINGS OF AGENCY AND AUCTORIAL SELF
ELIZABETH I: CREATIVITY, AUTHORSHIP, AND AGENCY DANA PERCEC
Introduction In the past two decades, feminist studies have redirected focus on Renaissance writings, making the neglected texts of women writers accessible to the general public. At the same time, a social and cultural interpretation of literary texts has caused a revision of the notion of literary value, and, consequently, the enlargement of the traditional canon. This new assessment has made the classical boundary between literary and nonliterary creation more flexible and new texts are now considered worthy of attention and study. Due to this tendency, the personality of Queen Elizabeth I, formerly known only as one of the greatest British monarchs and one of the most prominent historical figures of early modern Europe, has been enriched with a new side–that of Elizabeth Tudor, the author. Books devoted to the Protestant sovereign are no longer concerned only with her political role and historical biography, but also with her writings. Since the age of 10, until her death, Elizabeth wrote an impressive number of texts belonging to various genres: letters, translations, poems, prayers, and speeches. Cultural historians can, thus, evoke the 45 years of Elizabethan reign as a time when the queen was a prolific letter writer, an occasional poet, and the author of a number of speeches of remarkable power and beauty (Marcus, Mueller and Rose 2000:7). A precocious child, a finely educated humanist, a resourceful intellectual, Elizabeth Tudor is the author of a vast literary work, which reflects known and unknown aspects of her personality and biography, her relationship with the men of her time, her political and religious convictions, and the careful construction of the Queen’s self-representation (Resh Thomas 1998:3). The conclusion reached by critics (Archer, Goldring and Knight 2007, Pryor 2003, Resh Thomas 1998) reading Elizabeth’s productions is that there is an inseparable connection between her identity as a queen and her identity as an author. As a woman practicing statecraft in a patriarchal
Elizabeth I: Creativity, Authorship, And Agency
world, exercising supreme authority while remaining intensely feminine, Elizabeth projected her private image in writing, just as she orchestrated her public image in the works of art she commissioned (portraits, sonnets) or in the processions and festivities she enjoyed taking part in. Among the best known official myths she encouraged, Good Queen Bess, Gloriana and the Virgin Queen are recurrent. As Good Queen Bess, the sovereign promised to understand the plight of common people with compassion and to love her subjects unconditionally, demanding their loyalty in exchange, like a generous, though authoritarian, parent. Gloriana, Edmund Spenser’s concoction, was the goddess, dressed in silk and gold, adorned with rich jewelry and royal insignia–an official image of grandeur, which her court and ministers also supported, a compensation for her gender. As Virgin Queen, Elizabeth was the woman who refused to subject herself to any man, English or foreign, prince or simple courtier, and, thus, to subject her people to anyone else’s power and will. Married to England, despite the controversy about her chastity–begun during her lifetime and still continuing–she was her country’s maiden, celebrated both as the people’s darling and as the replacement of a devotional figure (the Protestant woman styled herself as the second maiden in heaven, offering an alternative to the Catholic Marian cult).
Political and Ideological Agency Historians have given careful consideration to Queen Elizabeth’s agency both in exercising her own idea of (feminocentric) statecraft and in offering the world a polyvalent image of herself. While some see her as a genuine new Jezebel, with a mind of her own, with a personality and temperament similar to those of her father, a stubborn woman who took no man’s orders, others argue that her policy and image were actually dictated by the statesmen who surrounded her–the Privy Council, her ministers, the most influential peers of the kingdom, her favourite courtiers and lovers. According to the second opinion, though she was a good orator and a vain woman, who enjoyed being admired and flattered, neither her famous speeches nor the portraits she commissioned were concocted by herself, but by those in charge of her public image. One of Queen Elizabeth’s constant preoccupations throughout her reign was her legitimacy as a ruler, a preoccupation reflected in the laws she passed and the art she commissioned. Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne takes place not only in a period when all her European counterparts were male, but also in a domestic climate of hostility towards feminine rule, created by John Knox’s vehement and influential work, The
Monstrous Regiment of Women. Written during Knox’s exile in the reign of the Catholic Mary Tudor, the text, basically a piece of Protestant propaganda, employs all the Christian, patriarchal, historical and philosophical weapons available to a scholar to demonstrate women’s inability to govern: “What wolde this writer [Aristotle] have said to that realme or nation, where a woman sitteth crowned in parliament amongest the middest of men” (in Chedgzoy, Hansen, Trill 1998:16). Knox demonstrates that a woman on the throne did not only subvert natural order, but also perverted the meanings of monarchy itself. A “softer” Protestant, Jean Calvin argues, in the same period, that, even if government by a woman is unnatural in itself, if this woman inherits the throne and governs by “custom and public consent” (in Chedgzoy, Hansen, Trill 1998:13), this should not be challenged by her subjects, since that particular government is ordained by God. In reply, Mary Tudor passed an Act of Parliament in 1554, declaring that “the Regal Power of this Realm, is in the Queen’s Majesty as fully and absolutely as ever it was in any of her most noble Progenitors, Kings of the Realm” (in Chedgzoy, Hansen, Trill 1998:13). This act illustrates it is legal discourse rather than religious imagery that ratifies her authority to govern. A successor to Mary Tudor, Elizabeth will have to face a double challenge: apart from being a female monarch, like Mary, she was also an heiress whose claims had often been denied by the Catholics, as a bastard daughter of Henry VIII. Her efforts, thus, to prove her legitimacy to her subjects would be much more impressive than Mary’s, and would take the form of iconography–a more persuasive medium for the masses–rather than the legal form it had during the life of her predecessor. The most efficient concept Elizabeth juggled with in order to legitimate a woman’s presence on the throne was the metaphor, fashionable in the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance, of the sovereign’s two bodies. A common analogy related to the hierarchical organization of the world, coming from the Greek philosophy and filtered by the medieval religious thinking, this implicit comparison is one between society or the state and the individual human body–the body politic. A “natural” society–given the organic structure of the state–is one which functions in a manner similar to the human body. The early Christian doctrine adds to this pattern that of the mystical body, the body of Christ that keeps the believers united. Later in the Middle Ages, the metaphor of the body politic, serving wonderfully the purposes of the feudal state, develops substantially. Theologians compare the human body to a city or a kingdom, supporting the political concept of the existence of the three estates: the clergy are the eyes and the soul, the knights are the hands and the way the body defends itself from
Elizabeth I: Creativity, Authorship, And Agency
external dangers, and the peasants are the feet that sustain the whole body, the whole system. Official sermons expand St. Paul’s comments on the body of Christ to explain the structure and importance of ecclesiastical institutions. The Church becomes the corpus mysticum et politicum of which the Pope is the head, while kings and emperors are only members, in the traditional dispute between these two juridical powers that limit and influence each other successively (Romanato, Lombardo and Culianu 2005). Saint Thomas Aquinas finds four points of identity which unify both natural and mystical bodies, and asserts that the supremacy of the spiritual authority corresponds to the soul’s rule of the body (1993). There are three responses to such claims: to proclaim the importance of some other organ, such as the heart, with which a king may be equated; to define the state as a body distinct from the body of the Church; or to deny the importance of the papacy by claiming that only Christ can be the head of the Church. In the late Middle Ages the second alternative, an extension of the idea of the mystical body, is a convenient illustration of the growing self-consciousness of the national states. When Henry VIII adopts the title “Supreme Head of the Church of England”, he adopts none of these alternatives, but comes up with a new, personal one. Rulers in other European countries, although not denying the Catholic faith like Henry Tudor of England, start disputing themselves the title “head” with the papacy in Rome, invoking it in order to enforce obedience on their lands. The doctrine of the body politic is intimately connected with that of the kings’ “two bodies” (Moreau 1991:54): his physical one, subject to natural laws, and his political one, symbol of an immortal power. In England, the first text (1159) about the analogy between the state and the human body is by John of Salisbury (Moreau 1991:56). After identifying the soul with the clergy, the author discusses in detail the other members of the body: head-prince, heart-senate, hands-soldiers, stomach-treasury, and feetfarmers. He emphasizes the need for spiritual unity in the state and proposes cures for various political diseases, including tyranny. At the beginning of the 17th century, another Englishman–Edward Forset in 1606–defines monarchy as “the best regime for the maintenance of health in the body” (in Moreau 1991:57). The unifying principle is the perfect balance between the different parts of the whole (“the due proportion of the same parts together”), because a body is not only a mere gathering of organs, but a series of well-defined functions supported by simple principles such as the predominance of unequal, but complementary roles. Just as there is a vegetal, animal, rational and spiritual level in the Great Chain of Being, there are four levels of existence in the human sphere. According to Forset:
In the Commonwealth (as in a bodie) some parts seeme chiefly vegetable, caring for nothing more than to maintaine their growth, by their sucking from all the vaines of the land, the nutriment and provisions of this life. Some live all sensually […] Othersome […] shape their lives after the powers rationall and intellectuall, disposing themselves by the rules of reason, to virtuous actions. (in Moreau 1991:58)
As each organ must stay in its proper place, so must each member of the society keep his degree. Those inferior in rank should not wish to have more important positions, nor should those in important positions abuse the members below them: “Nor head nor heart have any power to do wrong unto the body”, so tyranny is unanimously condemned as bad and dangerous for the life of the organism. The consensus among the social orders must be similar to the correct dosage of the four humours and the presence of the four main elements in a human organism. When the quantities are modified, the equilibrium is broken and the political regime changes. It becomes democratic if the more base and passive elements prevail, and oligarchic when controlled by the more worthy and active ones. But even if the political system does not change, the least disproportion may cause diseases. A demographic decline is compared to consumption, too much industry and trade for luxury objects becomes a form of paralysis, whereas a civil war is similar to an epidemic of plague. Similarly, Sir Thomas Smith in his De Republica Anglorum (1565) writes that, if the four humours coexist in the living organism, it is desirable that various types of government should also combine with one another in a proportion that would avoid despotism because, although the prince is the head and the authority, the Parliament “hath the power of the whole realm, both the head and the body” (in Moreau 1991:62). This is only natural since the Parliament is regarded as the “civil blood” without which no life can be conceived. Even Robert Burton (2004), in his well-known and influential 1621 Anatomy of Melancholy, preserves the correspondences between the physical and the social body, considering that, in the evolution of melancholy, the body’s instability reflects the general disease of the human society, the sickly body producing an incoherent discourse about the decline of the social organizations. This paper will focus on the way in which Queen Elizabeth used the symbolism of the monarch’s two bodies in her propaganda and on the way in which these political details are reflected or commented upon in William Shakespeare’s plays. It is well known that Shakespeare was extensively preoccupied with the overwhelming figure of Elizabeth Tudor, the woman who had–among other ambitions–that of proving that monarchy is not gendered masculine. Queen Elizabeth I shares with the
Elizabeth I: Creativity, Authorship, And Agency
Roman emperor Augustus, Charles the Great, or Louis XIV of France the rare privilege of having named the century she lived in. Although most of the data pertaining to her character and historical role are controversial (the Virgin Queen or a vicious hypocrite, a champion of Protestantism or a victim of Catholicism, etc.), it was her presence that made the 16th century a glamorous epoch–glamour ensured by personalities such as Shakespeare, Marlowe, Walter Raleigh, or Francis Drake. Without reading good Queen Bess’s personality in a feminist key, all historians agree that the English Jezebel managed to secure glory and self-esteem to England in an age of darkness and humiliation for other important European monarchies, especially France and Spain. Consolidating her public and political position in a period when women’s roles were exclusively domestic, Elizabeth carefully perfected the “Tudor Myth” initiated by her father, Henry VIII, in a manner equalled only by 20th century propaganda. Starting from the metaphor of the monarch’s two bodies, Elizabeth had her physical, feminine body obscured by the public, masculine body, her political travesty remaining a landmark of her rule. There is an impressive number of portraits that Queen Elizabeth commissioned and approved in her lifetime (a royal decree prohibited any work that did not present her realistically), which contribute to a better understanding of the way in which Shakespeare himself envisaged, for example, the regular crossdresser–as a woman who borrows manly attributes together with the new attire. In the early modern period, there was a certain anxiety about the possible change, alongside the political and economic changes already visible towards the end of the Renaissance and during the Reformation, of the traditional roles assigned to women by more than a thousand years of philosophical, medical and theological texts. However, travesty during the reign of Elizabeth carried a slightly different connotation, being an implicit comment on the Queen’s unique combination of feminine physical features and masculine intellectual and psychical attributes. A first example of the two bodies’ symbolism is a portrait by Nicholas Hilliard, one of the Queen’s official painters, The Ermine Portrait (1585), a portrait where Elizabeth combines, in her typical manner, insignia of royalty, masculinity and femininity. Near her left arm, one can notice a golden sword as well as a little ermine. They are both dual symbols. The sword is a martial symbol, traditionally associated with masculine royalty, but also a sign of chastity. The ermine is, in its turn, a royal symbol, the animal’s fur being a king’s most traditional garment, but also a symbol of purity. Legends (caught in an artistic frame by Petrarch in one of his sonnets or by Leonardo da Vinci in one of his sketches) feature an animal that would rather die than let itself exfoliated or defiled. The creature has a
positive, moral value and was used, therefore, to decorate the robes of high officials of the Church or magistrates. Elizabeth’s passion for virginal imagery is well-known as she had decided, soon after her coronation, that, by remaining single, she could be both king and queen, whereas in taking a husband, she would have to limit herself to being a queen. Although her maidenhood had political implications, it also helped her a lot in developing the almost mystical cult she would surround herself with in her later years on the throne. Paintings like The Phoenix Portrait–again by Nicholas Hilliard–remind the English people that their sovereign’s refusal to marry is not a whim, but a sacrifice for their sake, the queen destroying her own body in order to devote herself entirely to the English people and to the body politic, the extra body that only rulers had. At the same time, the phoenix–a brooch at the centre of Elizabeth’s breast–is a symbol of self-perpetuating nature, of regeneration and continuity, reminding its watchers of the Queen’s characteristic phrase, Semper eadem (“always the same”), despite all calamities. A much earlier painting, The Plimpton Sieve Portrait by George Gower, 1579, also speculates on the omnipresence of the Queen. The sieve, which appears in a series of portraits that Elizabeth ordered while she was still young, reminds the watcher of the monarch’s self-sacrifice for the sake of her country and her generosity (as the sieve suggests the gods’ kindness as to spread countless gifts for mortals on earth, according to the number of prayers and personal merits). Elizabeth’s being married (only) to England implies the fact that she gave up her personal life and remained a virgin in order to devote herself to state affairs. The sieve is a symbol for choice (selecting and separating what is good from what is bad or useless), in this case the Queen’s choice for the public sphere and her renunciation to the domestic one. Her virginity is, therefore, political, but also religious, as she used to represent herself as “the second maiden in Heaven”, replacing the Catholic cult of Virgin Mary with the Anglican cult of the Virgin Queen (Duchein 2001). The sieve is associated with chastity due to the ancient legend about the Roman vestal, who proved her virginity by carrying water in it. At the same time, the Italian quotation on the shield at the left of the queen’s body warns that she is beyond the woes of lovers. Another quotation, at her right, also in Italian, reads: “I see everything and much is lacking”, reminding of Elizabeth’s colonial mission: much has been already discovered but there is still much to discover, colonize, and assimilate. It is true that the issue of Elizabeth’s chastity was a subject of endless debate during her life and in the following centuries. Because of her
Elizabeth I: Creativity, Authorship, And Agency
refusal to have a husband, the queen became the target of drunkards’ obscene jokes in London’s taverns–places like Falstaff’s The Boar’s Head, where ordinary women such as Mistress Elbow suffer similar offense–or main topic of gossip in the circles of the aristocracy. Anyway, celibacy, especially for a woman, then especially for a queen, was a very unusual phenomenon for the 16th century. The Queen of England’s wedding, moreover, in the context of the European politics in that epoch, had a crucial significance. No wonder, then, that Elizabeth’s decision was often criticized by her contemporaries. At the same time, official testimonies of various ambassadors at the English court indicate the fact that the queen had a moral conduct and refused marriage not out of an irresistible need for sexual freedom or a physiological problem (there were rumours about a possible malfunction of Elizabeth’s genital organs). The Swedish ambassador writes to King Eric: “I saw in her all the signs of chastity and virtue and I would be ready to risk my own life as a guarantee of her maidenhood” (in Duchein 2001:302). The literary tradition of the Elizabethan period follows the visual one, with a series of paintings portraying the queen as an allegorical character. In France, Salic law made it impossible for a female monarch to inherit the throne. Elizabeth’s position on the English throne was possible, but it does not mean it was seen as less problematic by many contemporaries. Louis Adrian Montrose (in Berry 1994:61) explains Elizabeth’s success: Because she was always uniquely herself, Elizabeth’s rule was not intended to undermine the male hegemony of her culture. Indeed, the emphasis upon her difference from other women may have helped to reinforce it.
Forty-four years of a woman’s reign did not end the patriarchal structure of the English society, but it changed it radically. This radical change was perceived even more dramatically at the level of contemporary literature. Examined through the lens of patriarchal attitudes, which define history as the sum of actions performed by men, Elizabeth’s refusal to marry was perceived as something more than a woman’s refusal of the subordination to a husband. In Elizabethan literature and visual arts, her unmarried state was idealized, the Queen becoming the unattainable object of masculine desire. Critics have defined and explained Elizabeth’s cult in different manners. If some see it rooted in religious matters, others link it to the search of European absolute monarchies for a glamorous, imperial image. The truth is, as always, somewhere in the middle. The idealization of Elizabeth was clearly linked with her role as a restorer of the “true”,
Protestant religion. The cult dwells massively upon Elizabeth’s joint rule, as head of both state and church. The connection between a mythical Golden Age (or the biblical Eden) and Protestant Reformation is not accidental. In this context, Elizabeth is compared with Astraea, the imperial virgin–a cult that was applied to other European rulers, but much less successfully, as Elizabeth only combined the feminine gender and the unmarried status (Yates 1993). The figure of Astraea is also a signifier of Renaissance absolutism, regarded in imperial terms. Elizabeth’s reign is, after all, the age of the prosperous English navy and of the establishment of British colonies in the newly-discovered America. Elizabeth’s cult manages to displace the initial fundamental problem, that of the ruler’s gender. The Queen is perceived at the same time as more and less than a woman. She is not a mere woman, but a goddess (be it Astraea or Diana); at the same time, she is unfeminine because she denies herself the major role women were traditionally attributed–that of a wife and, especially, that of a mother. Her role as head of the church (more than other European monarchs could claim to be) was perceived as even more unsettling. This role opposes her not just to the conventional figure of the masculine ruler, but also to the figure of Christ. Sensitive to the Protestant clergy’s restlessness about her position, Elizabeth decided to nuance her position, choosing to call herself “supreme governor” rather than “supreme head” of the English church, as her father, Henry VIII, had done (Berry 1994:66). She uses a neutral noun, a mere denominator of a function, giving up, the “head”, a part of the body heavily gendered masculine, connoting with reason, spirituality, equilibrium, etc. At the same time, Elizabeth made great use of religious imagery to justify her private life: I have made choice of such state [remaining unmarried] as is freest from the incumbrance of secular pursuits and gives me the most leisure for the service of God: and could the applications of the most potent princes, or the very hazard of my life, have diverted me from this purpose, I had long ago worn the honours of a bride […]. I have long since made choice of a husband, the kingdom of England, […] charge me not with the want of children, forasmuch as everyone of you, and every Englishman besides, are my children and relations […] (in Berry 1994:66).
The fact that she assigns a masculine gender to the kingdom, her symbolic husband, is also an interesting point, as both spheres of activity Elizabeth was involved in (the secular and the religious) were traditionally not gendered masculine. The concept of the two bodies of a monarchy featured the mystical and immortal body of the church (ecclesia–feminine) and the lay institutional apparatus of the state (respublica–feminine). In
Elizabeth I: Creativity, Authorship, And Agency
this spirit, only the union between a male monarch and these feminine institutions could be claimed to be a natural marriage. Therefore, Elizabeth’s famous marriage to England can be regarded as ambiguous. At the same time, however, it may also mean that the Queen’s personality, just like her sexuality, is self-contained and the feminine rule is seen in a mystical or symbolic relationship with itself. Dual in terms of being more and less than a woman, Elizabeth is also dual in terms of being male and female at the same time. Although a woman, in her most famous public speeches she calls herself a “king” or a “prince”, clearly masculine offices unlike the neutral “sovereign”: e.g., in the Speech at the Dissolving of Parliament, printed in 1615 (Hodgson-Wright 2002:14): Many princes wiser than myself you have had, but one only excepted, none more careful over you (whom in the duty of a child I must regard and to whom I must acknowledge myself far shallow).
In indirectly evoking her father, Henry VIII, but also an entire line of masculine forerunners, Elizabeth cleverly diverts attention from the issue of gender difference–essential for the contemporaries and self-evident–by insisting upon the degree of wisdom in herself and other monarchs– practically unquantifiable. The moment of Tilbury 1588 pushes the Queen’s sexual duality even further. According to Michel Duchein (2001), Elizabeth was invited by Leicester to address a confused, starved, disorganized and uniformed army. Given his own lack of rhetorical skills, Leicester was convinced that the royal presence would increase the soldiers’ enthusiasm. At the same time, this was a wonderful occasion for Elizabeth to prove that the common belief according to which a woman was by definition incapable of fighting or guiding her people through a war–a sovereign’s main responsibility at the end of the Middle Ages–was only a prejudice. On a grey day, Elizabeth, surrounded by bright colours (silver helmet and armour, white feathers, skirt and horse, red tunics for the guards, and gold for her noble attendants) raises the sceptre in front of an awe-stricken army. The silvery armour covers Elizabeth’s body. Under the metal surface, the female body can claim masculine attributes, just like the Amazon’s body. The suit of armour makes the warrior stronger and less vulnerable but also deprives him of his identity. In some stories, it is the absence of the armour that saves the warrior. For instance, when the Amazon is killed by the hero, this happens because the armour and the helmet covered her face and body, preventing the male warrior from
recognizing her. When he removes the helmet and sees his victim, the hero weeps bitterly, realizing that he killed the woman he loved. It is true that the Queen’s speech at Tilbury was meant only for rhetorical purposes, as the decisive battle at Gravelines had already taken place a few days before. Although news travelled very slowly and could be very confusing in those times and was already known to Elizabeth’s generals, Gloriana’s oration remains one of the most representative discourses uttered by her in a very long career: My loving people, we have been persuaded by some, that are so careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit our self to armed multitudes for fear of treachery; but I assure you, I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful, and loving people. Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself, that under God I have placed my chiefest strength, and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good will of my subjects. And therefore I am come amongst you as you see, at this time, not for my recreation, and disport, but being resolved in the midst, and heat of the battle to live, or die amongst you all, to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honour, and my blood even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any Prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm, to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your General, Judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already for your forwardness, you have deserved rewards and crowns, and we do assure you in the word of a Prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the meantime my Lieutenant General shall be in my stead, than whom never Prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject, not doubting but by your obedience to my General, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my Kingdoms, and of my people. (in Hodgson-Wright 2002:1)
Elizabeth wants to be regarded as the monarch par excellence, a sacred ruler and a fatherly authority for his/her people at the same time. But the antithesis she insists upon (“I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king”) for rhetoric purposes is not the traditional one, woman vs. man, but woman vs. king. Also, the body parts she picks are heart and stomach–both used on a strictly metaphorical level, the former for courage, the latter for stamina. She places herself at the very heart of a discourse that exploits imagery related to a masculine anatomy and a physical and psychological profile traditionally associated with the most typical masculine profession, that of the soldier. The offices she evokes are masculine (General, Judge, Prince,
Elizabeth I: Creativity, Authorship, And Agency
king) as well as the moral qualities. The valour and the other “virtues in the field” call for an ideal of martial masculinity. Elizabeth I supported the development of the Tudor myth as an ideology of absolute kingly power, social and political commitment, popularity of the monarch as the embodiment of human and even divine perfection. Related to the idea of legitimacy is the presence of imperial symbolism in Tudor propaganda, as well as the presence of the symbol of the crown in the Shakespearean text. The crown (unlike the diadem or the coronet) signifies England’s imperial ambitions. Although Empire as a concept is not new during Elizabeth’s reign, imperial imagery is first used by authors glorifying the Virgin Queen. Henry VIII was the first to introduce the Empire in the Tudor thought and sensibility, with his Act in Restraint of Appeals (1533), which lay claim to “this realm as an empire” and in 1547 in his will, where he states that his daughters “shall severally have hold and enjoye the sayd imperial Crowne” after Edward’s death (Kinney 2006:41). It is during Elizabeth’s reign that the new crown is visually represented in imperialist terms. The best examples are a series of engravings that portray the Queen between the Pillars of Hercules (originally the imperial symbol of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, afterwards adopted by his son, Philip II of Spain, both rulers who had set themselves the tasks of sailing “Plus Ultra”, beyond the boundaries of Europe). Elizabeth will combine this symbol with a naval background, reminding not only of her naval triumphs against Spain, but also of the age of the exploration and colonization of the New World, a crucial element in the English politics of the time. Such engravings include the front cover of Christopher Saxton’s Atlas of England and Wales, 1579 or the Queen’s graphic evocation in John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments (1563), where he compares Elizabeth’s early persecution to Mary’s sufferings and her reign to that of Constantine, the Church’s first emperor. The naval background is repeated as a motif in The Armada Portrait, and so are the pillars and the crown she is holding, while the other hand is casually laid on a globe, all signifying stability, pride, erectness, a solid justification for the Queen’s colonial exploits. The Stuart line followed the Tudor introduction to imperialism, James I organizing his entry into London in 1603 as that of a triumphant Roman emperor, passing under seven memorial arches, the first one, designed by Ben Jonson, showing a figure representing the monarchy of Britain sitting below the crowns of England and Scotland. James was also offered an accession medal that read “Emperor of the whole island of Britain”. He was compared to Augustus, creating a direct link to the Roman Caesars.
The grandeur of representation is a characteristic of all Elizabethan public processions. The beauty of the spectacle, with the monarch present in person–usually as performer–gives the impression of social and political harmony. Bristol, addressing the notion of social spectacle during the Renaissance, quotes from an English Renaissance text describing Queen Elizabeth I’s public processions as follows: She passed the streets first […] Likewise Squires, Knights, Barons, and Baronets, Knights of the Bath […] Then following: The Judges of the Law, the Abbots… And then followed Bishops, two and two; and the Archbishops of York and Canterbury; the Ambassadors of France and Venice, the Lord Mayor with a mace; Master Garter the King of Heralds […] Then the Master of the Guard, with the guard on both sides of the streets in good array; and all the constables well beseen in velvet and damask coats with white staves in their hand; setting every man in his array and order in the streets […] …in all her passage [the Queen] did not only shew her most gracious love towards the people in general; but also privately, if the baser personages had either offered Her grace any flowers or such like, as a signification of their good will; or moved her to any suit, she most gently (to the common rejoicings of all lookers on, and private comfort of the party) stayed her chariot, and heard their requests. (J. Nichols in Bristol 1985:60)
As Adina Nanu (2001:51) notices in her study on the body as a social construct, the VIP (absolute monarch or popular movie star) undergoes a process of amplification when s/he presents himself/herself in front of the public. Literally raising one’s position is vital in order to mark the importance of one’s social rank. The level of the crowd was dominated with the help of long decorative feathers, impressive gold crowns, huge wigs–like those worn by Marie Antoinette just before the French Revolution of 1789. In the pre-modern and early modern period, noble men and women were the first to wear high heels and soles for their shoes. They served a double function: to protect the rich garments from the mud of the streets, and to signal the wearer’s increased prestige in comparison with the modest public image of a plebeian. The excessive verticalization of the royal figure is another common propagandistic strategy, used in many official portraits. The crown and the long robe can easily create this illusion. Increasing the volume in space on all planes gives maximum importance to the person and even to his/her social and political role. Velázquez’s famous portrait of Princess Margaret of Spain Las Meninas in 1656 is a very good example. Although the Princess is only a small girl, her huge dress, amplified on a horizontal level, must suggest the stability of the Spanish royal family, as well as the rank of the King’s daughter, her
Elizabeth I: Creativity, Authorship, And Agency
costume occupying the space necessary for at least three adults. Her small body is framed by the figures of the two maids of honour, much taller than her, both attempting to diminish their height and look smaller–as fit for an attendant, lower in rank–by bending their knees and heads. If a small girl who is not (yet) a monarch is depicted in such a way, no wonder Queen Elizabeth I is wearing, in her official portraits, the most impressive wigs, collars and amply embroidered dresses on large hoops. Pillars are numerous in Elizabeth’s portraits, their vertical line indicating the upward movement of the British monarchy and of the Protestant faith and their durability, as well as the Queen’s own Atlas-like stamina. Thrones served the same purpose, as well as the canopies carried for the monarch during official processions. Apart from written documents, hints of what the sovereign’s public appearances looked like are offered by paintings of the time. Elizabeth in Procession to Blackfriars, an anonymous painting of 1600, in the style of Peake, portrays a hieratic sovereign, almost deprived of human shape, with an idealized figure under the weight of heavy white silk and embroidery, almost literally floating above ground level as the lords accompanying her hide the presence of the platform that makes her look taller than both aristocracy and plebeians. The painting showing Queen Elizabeth dancing the Volta with Robert Dudley (c. 1581) places the monarch in the middle of a stage, with courtiers and musicians surrounding her, being lifted above ground level by Dudley. Elizabeth’s position indicates her centrality and superiority to the Earl of Leicester himself–it is common knowledge that the sovereign was suspected of having a romantic affair with her subject–and to all viewers gathered around (and under) her. The dance reveals her small, delicate feet, in contrast with the power suggested by her height, as the Queen appears much taller than all men and women in luxurious clothes, who cannot take their eyes from the airy figure. In another anonymous painting, representing Queen Elizabeth at Tilbury, probably dating from 1559, Elizabeth is portrayed in the middle of the troops, men framing her symmetrically on both sides. She stands out both because she is riding a white horse (most men are not in the saddle and the existing horses are dark coloured) and because she is made taller by the huge collar she is wearing above her silvery armour.
Authority and Authorship The other form of agency Elizabeth’s biographers consider is her agency in creating her own texts, though this issue is similar to that concerning all early modern authors. If, according to traditional criteria,
high literature is that which contains a stabilized body of work, is the result of individual agency and has universal validity, the great texts of 16th and 17th century drama are part of the canon as much as Elizabeth Tudor’s poems, letters and speeches. Shakespeare’s plays–written to be spoken out, improvised, incomplete, with numerous variants, with multiple possible authors, deeply embedded and dependent on outer social, political and ideological circumstances–are now regarded as fluid cultural products, rather than stable, timeless bodies of poetic work, as they used to be in traditional literary studies. Similarly, Elizabeth’s creation may be the result of collective work, is responsive to specific historical and personal contexts, comes in several more or less reliable versions, and is open to new discoveries. Firstly, a good deal of the queen’s known work is thought to have been produced in collaboration with other people, though their identity or participation cannot be always systematically isolated or quantified (Marcus, Mueller and Rose 2000:10). When it comes to Elizabeth’s speeches, for example, they reflect her own personality and beliefs, but it is not clear if she actually conceived them. They are lively and spirited, appealing to the ingenious symbolism of the king’s two bodies and to the memory of the queen’s father, Henry VIII–Elizabeth considering herself not a mere imitator of the great king, but a true and proud inheritor. On the other hand, it is a known fact that she didn’t write her speeches beforehand and often had scribes take them down (they, in turn, often lamented to fail capturing the sovereign’s speech in its full pungency). In terms of style, Elizabeth’s political speeches–like her famous Golden Speech–have a voice which is a formal and collective one, developed by the ruler together with her secretaries and ministers. The same can be argued about Elizabeth’s prayers. They reflect the woman’s religious devotion, strong support of the Protestant faith–as a personal heritage (from her father) and as a national asset–and political philosophy (that a king’s most important preoccupation is that of labouring for his soul). Also, an original feature is that the voice of the praying woman is not humble, but proud and assertive–a warrior prepared to do her duty to her Lord, rather than a believer in front of her Creator. However, the auctorial voice of these texts is mixed. The prayers are a free composition, sprinkled with quotes from the Scriptures, a form of co-production between an individual voice and the collective voice of the Church of England, with its accumulated traditions (Marcus, Mueller and Rose 2000:13). Elizabeth Tudor’s impressively large correspondence and wide epistolary range is probably the most interesting example of agency and auctorial presence. Scholars (Pryor 2003) have noticed the interesting
Elizabeth I: Creativity, Authorship, And Agency
coincidence of the development of cursive handwriting, the invention of the print, and the development of portraiture (in the 16th century, it is for the first time since the Antiquity that recognizable individuals were depicted from the life). A piece of autograph is equal to a portrait and, perhaps not accidentally, Queen Elizabeth’s passion for writing letters was equalled only by her appetite for a personality cult, which emerged mainly from portraits and public processions. In both circumstances, the symbolism conveyed a sense of dialogue between the monarch and her subjects, a negotiation in power and political meaning, and a display of dynastic continuity and legitimacy (Goldring in Archer, Goldring and Knight 2007:163). Even if the portraits were painted by others, even if the processions were prepared and directed by others, even if their contents were (partially) ordered by the queen’s councilors, her personality, her style, her ideas are transparent. The letters can be easily divided in two large groups, in terms of authorship and agency: those signed by the royal princess and those written by the queen. The first category, written since the age of 10, until her ascension, in November 1558, are undoubtedly conceived, put down and signed by Elizabeth herself. Indeed, those letters, and, more often than not, the answers from her respondents, reflect important aspects of her life. The very first letter, addressed to Elizabeth’s step mother, Katherine Parr, whom she loved and trusted, mirrors an essential stage in the future queen’s maturation. Her exile, her father’s indifference, and her uncertain status in the dynastic lineage left a clear mark on the girl’s self-image, explaining the queen’s future obsession with legitimacy and heritage. Katherine Parr’s answer, inviting Elizabeth to spend some time at the Court (while Henry VIII was away at war), a rare experience for the little girl, suggests that this time spent in London, during the king’s absence, while her step mother was designated Queen Regent, may have influenced the Virgin Queen’s future idea of court life under a woman’s rule. The second category of letters, written after 1558, is mainly made up of state letters. However, Elizabeth’s private correspondence preserves some of the traits of earlier letter writing habits, such as the letters written to and the answers received from James VI of Scotland–her nephew and heir–with whom the Queen had a special relationship. Their letters faithfully reflect this, as an interplay of sentiment and argument (Marcus, Mueller and Rose 2000:17). Other letters to close relatives reveal a hidden side of Elizabeth’s personality: her loneliness and nostalgia for the years of her youth, when, though exiled and afraid, she was her own mistress. The official letters, on the other hand, are ambivalent in terms of authorship. It is true that the Queen insisted on signing all her
correspondence, in a large and very complicated hand (her famous Elizabeth R), unlike her two male predecessors–Henry VIII used woodcut stamped signatures and even an uninked blind-stamp, which left an outline of the king’s autograph a calligrapher would then ink over (Pryor 2003:14). She also carried on stubbornly writing letters, even when this was getting more and more difficult and painful because of her gout and rheumatism, which caused her handwriting–rounded and neat in her youth–to grow unreadable, an inconvenience she often apologized for to her addressees (May 2004). But historians and biographers know that many of Elizabeth’s state letters were written by her secretaries and ladies in waiting and, of those she composed herself, many were dictated or copied by members of her cabinet. Moreover, just as in the case of her speeches, the style she employed was developed in time, to look as unified with that of her Privy Council as possible. Thus, establishing the authorship of such texts is very difficult: many letters we read now as hers may have been Cecil’s or Walsingham’s, while there may be other documents actually composed by her we are blissfully unaware of. By far the most original part of Elizabeth’s works, thus worthy of literary study, is her poetry. Given to poetry in her youth, the Queen never abandoned it later, but resorted to it only occasionally. Extremely varied, it ranges from two-line verses to full sonnets, from lyrical meditations and love poems to folk rhymes. It reveals an author with a vivid imagination, capable of rendering in words very powerful imagery and symbols, of switching easily and gracefully from English to French, Italian, or Latin. The earliest known poem is just a three-line stanza, written during Elizabeth’s imprisonment at Woodstock, at the end of Mary Tudor’s reign, in 1554-1555, her first editor entitled Written with a Diamond on her Window at Woodstock: Much suspected by me, Nothing proved can be, Quoth Elizabeth prisoner. (in May 2004:4)
A longer meditation from the same period, written in charcoal on a wall in Woodstock Castle, betrays similar feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, together with the prisoner’s courageous determination to face, with faith, any adversity: Oh fortune, thy wresting wavering state Hath fraught with cares my troubled wit, Whose witness this present prison late Could bear, where once was joy's loan quit.
Elizabeth I: Creativity, Authorship, And Agency Thou causedst the guilty to be loosed From bands where innocents were inclosed, And caused the guiltless to be reserved, And freed those that death had well deserved. But all herein can be nothing wrought, So God send to my foes all they have thought. (in May 2004:2)
While the second poem was virtually unknown until recent editing, the first one has circulated extensively since the Queen’s reign, first published by John Foxe in his Book of Martyrs. This detail brings us to a further issue related to the idea of authorship and agency in Elizabeth Tudor’s works, namely their appropriation, by various political and religious groups, and their transformation into powerful cultural symbols. This process of appropriation implies a free adaptation of the original texts, to serve the purposes of Protestantism, patriotism, nationalism, warfare propaganda, etc. (Marcus, Mueller and Rose 2000:14). As a result, it is possible that some of Elizabeth’s compositions, which have been circulating for several centuries, may be mere artifacts, with less authority than more obscure writings, which are being rediscovered only now, by an informed exegesis. Elizabeth’s best known love poem, dedicated to the French Duke of Anjou, available in five similar versions, presents the passionate woman behind the official myth of the Virgin Queen. The sonnet was written on the prince’s departure, after marriage negotiations had failed. The sovereign laments the separation from her last suitor, a young man she had a crush on, independently of the political priorities of this relationship. Her melancholy is made deeper by the realization that she is already an ageing woman (upon the Frenchman’s visit, Elizabeth was 50–an old woman, by the standards of the time, whose sexual life and fertility period were to be put behind): I grieve and dare not show my discontent, I love and yet am forced to seem to hate, I do, yet dare not say I ever meant, I seem stark mute but inwardly to prate. I am and not, I freeze and yet am burned. Since from myself another self I turned. My care is like my shadow in the sun, Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it, Stands and lies by me, doth what I have done. His too familiar care doth make me rue it. No means I find to rid him from my breast, Till by the end of things it be supprest.
Some gentler passion slide into my mind, For I am soft and made of melting snow; Or be more cruel, love, and so be kind. Let me or float or sink, be high or low. Or let me live with some more sweet content, Or die and so forget what love ere meant. (in May 2004:12)
This mood is similar to that of another poem, possibly a love poem, certainly a meditation on the passage of time, When I Was Fair and Young, a sonnet with an interesting parentage. The poem, ascribed to ELY–Elizabeth–is subscribed “l: of oxforde” (May 2004:27), namely Edward De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, courtier and poet, often credited as a challenger to the identity of Hamlet’s author (see, for example, Anderson 2005), whose own sonnets (and many of Shakespeare’s–or the earl’s) find a favourite theme in the ravages of time, the misfortunes and sadness of the old age, and nostalgia. When I was fair and young, then favor graced me. Of many was I sought their mistress for to be. But I did scorn them all and answered them therefore: Go, go, go, seek some other where; importune me no more. How many weeping eyes I made to pine in woe, How many sighing hearts I have not skill to show, But I the prouder grew and still this spake therefore: Go, go, go, seek some other where, importune me no more. Then spake fair Venus’ son, that proud victorious boy, Saying: You dainty dame, for that you be so coy, I will so pluck your plumes as you shall say no more: Go, go, go, seek some other where, importune me no more. As soon as he had said, such change grew in my breast That neither night nor day I could take any rest. Wherefore I did repent that I had said before: Go, go, go, seek some other where, importune me no more. (in May 2004:26)
Conclusions Queen Elizabeth’s literary work still looks like an unsolved puzzle. Some of her poems are just a few words scribbled down on a wall; some letters are short notes, jotted down for an unknown addressee; some of her speeches may have been composed by her councilors and may have been uttered on other occasions than those we associate them with nowadays;
Elizabeth I: Creativity, Authorship, And Agency
some of the texts she dictated may be lost forever; some of the prayers, poems, and letters we read now may be hers, but our contemporary variants may be the result of later interventions, rather than the queen’s original materials. Despite these dilemmas, Bess’s figure appears more clearly, less equivocal, closer to our cultural understanding, due to this vast amount of written work: a formidable leader, a reliable and commonsensical woman, a refined scholar, and a talented author.
References Aquinas, St. T. (1993). The Summa Theologiae. Chicago, Auckland, Geneva: Encyclopaedia Britannica. Anderson, M. (2005). “Shakespeare” by Another Name. New York: Gotham Books. Archer, J. E., Goldring, E. & Knight, S. (Eds.). (2007). The Progresses, Pageants and Entertainments of Queen Elizabeth I. New York: Oxford University Press. Berry, P. (1994). Of Chastity and Power. Elizabethan Literature and the Unmarried Queen. London and New York: Routledge. Bristol, M.D. (1985). Carnival and Theater. Plebeian Culture and the Structure of Authority in Renaissance England. New York, London: Routledge. Burton, R. (2004). The Anatomy of Melancholy. Retrieved December 13, 2009 from: www.gutenberg.org/etext/10800. Chedgzoy, K., M. Hansen & S. Trill, S. (1998). Voicing Women. Gender and Sexuality in Early Modern Writing. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Duchein, M. (2001). Elisabeta I a Angliei. Putere úi seducĠie. Bucureúti: Artemis. Hapgood, R. (1991). Shakespeare the Theatre-Poet. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Hodgson-Wright, S. (Ed.). (2002). Women’s Writing of the Early Modern Period, 1588-1688: An Anthology. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Kinney, A. F. (2006). Shakespeare and Cognition. New York: Routledge. Marcus, L. S., Mueller, J. & M.B. Rose (Eds.). (2000). Elizabeth I. Collected Works. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. May, S.W. (Ed.). (2004). Queen Elizabeth I. Selected Works. Washington: Washington Square Press.
Moreau, J.P. (1991). Le ‘corps politique’ au XVI et VII siècles: avatars d’une métaphore. In M.T. Jouss-Davies (Ed.), Shakespeare et le corps de la Renaissance. Paris: Les Belles Lettres. Nanu, A. (2001). Arta pe om. Look-ul úi înĠelesul semnelor vestimentare. Bucureúti: Compania. Pryor, F. (Ed.). (2003). Elizabeth I. Her Life in Letters. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Resh Thomas, J. (1998). Behind the Mask. The Life of Queen Elizabeth I. New York: Clarion Books. Romanato, G., M.G. Lombardo & I.P. Culianu (2005). Religie úi putere. Iaúi: Polirom. Yates, F. A. (1993). Les dernières pièces de Shakespeare. Une approche nouvelle. Paris: Editions Belin.
A WOMAN FOR ALL SEASONS: CHRISTINE DE PIZAN REGHINA DASCĂL
Introduction Any research project that confiscates us for a certain number of months or years has several stories to tell. It took many detours and “diverging paths” before I was led to this fascinating character, this formidable woman and creator, Christine de Pizan. When I look back I can understand that nothing of that journey was accidental and that what we often tend to call coincidence, for lack of a more apposite equivalent, deserves a different name. It was certainly no coincidence that after exploring in a long, both extensive and intensive, foray the cultural contexts of building and dwelling I would become engrossed in the life and work of this unique mediaeval author. In my previous project (Dascăl 1999) where the mediaeval world had pride of place–despite the episodic cameos of women as participants in and creators of history (e.g. in the discussion of Le Roy Ladurie’s Montaillou, Village Occitaine, or of the paramount role of the powerful women of the 12th century in revolutionizing manners, the perception of love and the relations between the sexes) and apart from the generic picture of Woman as cultural sign, symbol or archetype–the picture that shone through my academic pursuit was mainly consistent with Duby’s characterization of mediaeval times as a “masculine age” (1992). Undoubtedly history is created by both men and women, yet somehow, the man’s name solely finds its way to the written records and comes down in history accompanied by his cultural background, his companions, critics or defenders, his exploits, his connections, his date and place of birth. Consequently, as feminist historian Gerda Lerner puts it, historical discourse became a cultural construct encoding a hegemonic masculine point of view, whereas women had to fight throughout the ages for a share in the process of naming and defining. The denial of the existence of Women’s History predicated upon the patriarchal assumption that women
A Woman For All Seasons: Christine De Pizan
are not part of the polity, deterred their coming into consciousness as a collective entity (Lerner 1993:4-10). My project was brought to fruition after five years when I published a book of essays, the result of what I chose to call “my intently listening to the silences of the Middle Ages” (Dascăl 2008). Christine is a dazzlingly modern woman, whose thoughts on authorial responsibility, on the cultural impact of translations, on gender, sex and sexual politics prove to be so movingly topical after 600 years. It was a customary practice throughout the Middle Ages to refer to well-known auctores by using their Christian names: John for John of Salisbury, Jean for Jean de Meun or Christine for Christine de Pizan. It is a naming convention that helps one feel less timid in approaching these famous authors. It helps a 21st century woman to strive to “read her into life”, struggling on the one hand to bracket one’s own positioning within temporal, cultural and ideological allegiances and constraints, and on the other, to keep as open, porous and as sympathetic a mind as possible not only to those servitudes that keep Christine in bondage to her times but also to those amazing articulations of thought and expression that make her a woman and an author for all seasons. There are several caveats I am fully aware of: in striving too hard in the direction of documenting the appeal of her work to modern minds, one might fall into the trap of a transgressive, “modernized” reading of Christine and have to plead guilty to anachronism. I have often felt tempted to emphasize the ways in which her texts address us across the centuries, and have often stressed the immediate relevance of her works for modern audiences. At the same time, my empathetic strategy has deflected me from placing equal emphasis on the historical context of her work and consequently from underlining the “alterity” of mediaeval culture and the distance that lies between its underlying assumptions and our own values and ways of thinking. Steering a middle course between the “modernizing” and “historicizing” modes of interpretation, avoiding both anachronism and reductionism while at the same time rejecting a monolithic, univocal perspective is no easy task.
On Christine de Pizan’s Feminism Feminist academics generally distinguish three different perspectives in the development of feminist theory: theories of equality, of difference and of deconstruction. These perspectives refer to diverse strategies and
theoretical positions in the debate about the significance of sexual difference. The theories of difference centre mostly on mainstreaming women’s history, on revisionism and on resisting readings of the male canon. Rewriting the female tradition, establishing the authority of the female writer as author, rediscovering women writers and restoring them to visibility form the abiding concerns of those who pursue this perspective. In this context, Christine can be quoted as an archetypal example of this important direction in women’s studies, an illustrious example of what it means to assume simultaneously the identity of woman and author and to adopt the stance of the resisting reader. In her best-known work, the Book of the City of Ladies (1405), she essays a “mediaeval self-defence manual for female readers”, to quote Judith Fetterley’s opening remarks in her inspirational The Resisting Reader (1978:viii). In the light of Fetterley’s view, Maaike Meijer sees Pizan going through the main stages that the resisting reader experiences (1995:26-39). Intimidated at first by the authority of the male canon, by the misogynistic tradition of western culture, Christine decries the misfortune of her having been born a woman “as I was thinking this, a great unhappiness and sadness welled up in my heart, for I detested myself and the entire feminine sex, as though we were monstrosities of nature” (Pizan 1998:5); she next internalizes this contempt for women “and in my folly I considered myself most unfortunate because God had made me inhabit a female body in the world” (5) and then the assenting, meek reader gradually rejects the self-hatred that such a culture instils in women and finally the resisting reader is born: “come back to yourself, recover your senses, and do not trouble yourself any more over such absurdities. For you know that every evil spoken of women so generally only hurts those who say it, not women themselves” (1998:8). Pizan’s resistance takes the form of looking for alternative representations of women, subtly subverting male thought to incorporate women’s cultural knowledge and viewpoint, searching for female subjectivity and endeavouring to establish the authority of women writers. Pizan’s antimisogynist resistance is informed by the means of her time: like her mediaeval opponents, she wrote an encyclopaedic work making use of all available sources, regardless of whether they were mythological or scientific, heathen or Christian, legendary or historical. A major problem awaits us, nevertheless, when we talk about Christine’s early feminism or protofeminism. This prolific late mediaeval French author who lived between 1364 and 1431 and did most of her work in Paris can surely hardly be called a “feminist” before the word even
A Woman For All Seasons: Christine De Pizan
existed. In fact, she was virtually unknown before the French Revolution and was discovered by a kindred spirit-another learned and prolific writer and translator, Louise de Keralio-who between 1786 and 1789 issued a 14volume edition of works by women (Gottlieb 1997:274-297). As interest in mediaeval and Renaissance literature intensified, Christine became better known. As scholars, especially women, read Christine’s works, they were repeatedly struck by her feminism and the feminist label stuck, so that today her “feminism” is a commonplace. I will attempt at looking into some arguments that we may put forward in support of such a theory. It is difficult for us today to come up with an all-inclusive definition of feminism that comprehends all the differences and diversities that characterize the plethora of extant feminisms. We sometimes use “feminism” to refer to a general sensitivity regarding women and their historical plight, to the need for women’s emancipation, to an overarching concern for a whole range of resources, talents and abilities that are still far from sufficiently tapped and to label expressions of outrage at the continued existence of gender prejudices and inequalities in most fields. Feminism has too many interests and factions to be summarily defined, unless we are ready to risk overgeneralization and reductionism. Yet it is probably still true that to regard oneself as a feminist, of whatever stripe, it is not enough to think certain thoughts. One also needs a sense of sharing those thoughts with others, of being part, even if not a particularly active part, of a movement. The latter is predicated upon the creation of a feminist consciousness, of an awareness that women belong to a subordinate group, that they have been wronged historically and that their subaltern status is not a natural given but is socially determined. What justification can there be for bringing together such a complex and elusive concept and an early 15thcentury woman author? When the famous historian of the equally famous historiography school of the Annales–Lucien Febvre–wrote his Problem of Unbelief in the 16th Century, the Religion of Rabelais (1982 ), he encountered a problem similar to ours: is it appropriate to call Rabelais an atheist, did the concept even exist in Rabelais’s time? Febvre goes on to define the cardinal sin of historians as anachronism. Could it be that we are committing the same sin in our enterprise? Putting on a pair of 15th century glasses is certainly no easy task. It requires thinking in hierarchical terms of a society constituted according to a god-ordained structure, thinking allegorically, using symbols not as arbitrary literary devices but as expressions of a real correspondence between different levels of being; experiencing the freshness of what we
deem today dead literary conventions, switching from the reading mode to that of listening, since even after the Guttenberg revolution most information still came through the ears not the eyes. Therefore, there was no term for anything even remotely resembling feminism, but the real problem lies elsewhere and it is linked to women’s history. Our history, the history of the history books, has until quite recently been one from which women were absent. Now that our eyes have been opened to the fact that women were not absent, we see that all history has to be rewritten. In her Politics and Feminism (1999), Barbara Arneil defines feminism in a fairly inclusive way that might help us contextualize Pizan’s achievements from this perspective: The recognition that, virtually across time and place, men and women are unequal in the power they have, either in society or over their own lives, and the corollary belief that men and women should be equal; the belief that knowledge has been written about, by and for men and the corollary belief that all schools of knowledge must be re-examined and understood to reveal the extent to which they ignore or distort gender (3-4).
My contention is that in the light of such a definition Christine de Pizan’s works can certainly be read as “feminist”, as her confrontation with misogynist culture was certainly driven by revisionist intentions and by a utopian horizon of gender fairness (one should be wary, I think, of using “equality”, since Christine did not have equality in mind, although she constantly undermined the power differential and hierarchy that gender difference produced in her society). As Beatrice Gottlieb says, the problem of feminism in the early 15thcentury is not the simple one of whether Christine de Pizan held the same beliefs as Gloria Steinem (1997:278); that would be what Febvre called a question mal posée. Let us couch it in terms that are more appropriate: how was it possible to think about women, and how, in fact, did women think about themselves, in the early 15th century? But we should actually start by asking ourselves two questions: who was Christine de Pizan, and how propitious were her context and circumstances to recommend her for the most unlikely position of “famous mediaeval woman of letters”? Christine de Pizan (1364-1431) was the daughter of Tommaso di Pizanno, an astrologer and doctor at the University of Bologna. Soon after Christine’s birth, the Valois king Charles V invited di Pizanno to the Parisian court. This appointment was due to di Pizanno’s connections with the University of Bologna, his spreading fame, the high esteem in which astrology was held in this period, and the budding humanist movement. Di
A Woman For All Seasons: Christine De Pizan
Pizanno’s young family joined him in Paris when Christine was five years old. In her autobiographical writings, The Book of Fortune’s Transformation and Christine’s Vision, she depicts her happy childhood at the French court, although she later wished that she had received more schooling than she did in those early years. At fifteen, she married Étienne de Castel, a young court notary. Theirs was apparently a happy marriage, a “marriage of true minds”, and two of their three children, Marie and Jean, survived beyond childhood. Fate then struck repeatedly, starting in 1390 when Étienne’s death followed shortly after that of Christine’s father, who had experienced financial insecurity since the death of his patron Charles V ten years previously: “Fortune has served me so many of her dishes” (Blumenfeld-Kosinski 1997a:89). Christine, now aged 25, was left with little property and became the sole support of her two children, her niece and her mother. In the course of the next ten years, she fought numerous court battles to untangle her late husband’s legal affairs and also gradually developed a renewed interest in scholarship, undoubtedly aided by her release from wifely duties. Her son joined the entourage of the Earl of Salisbury and her daughter entered the royal convent at Poissy. Christine’s interest in poetry, which began as an outlet through which to express her grief over her bereavement, blossomed into a study of the ballade, the virelay, and the rondeaux–three complex poetic forms. In 1402, she published her One Hundred Ballads. Christine moved beyond the role of court poet when she started to write about cultural perceptions of women. The discussion began with remarks that she made in 1399 in two allegorical poems, The God of Love’s Letter and the Letter from Othéa. After participating in the epistolary debate regarding the Roman de la Rose (1400-1402), she wrote The Book of the City of Ladies (1405), an ideal city of words celebrating virtuous women in history, and The Treasure of the City of Ladies or The Book of the Three Virtues (1406), a kind of handbook on behaviour for contemporary women, no longer living in an idealized, utopian city but in the dangerous courts, cities and countryside of Christine’s own time. In 1404, Philippe the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, the late king’s brother, commissioned her to write the official biography of Charles V–The Book of the Deeds and Good Conduct of the Wise King Charles V. This marks a turning-point in her career, as she was embarking on a new kind of work, written entirely in prose, not now dealing with antiquity but with the recent past, with the much-revered benefactor of her entire family, a man with whom she had been personally acquainted. This book greatly enhanced her reputation and drew her into the orbit of powerful patrons. Patronage of the arts in mediaeval times is a
fascinating topic, and we know that Christine’s ability to secure the financial backing of powerful figures at the Valois court played a crucial role in the advancement of her literary career. After 1405, she wrote an increasing number of works about politics, including The Book of the Body Politic (1407), a typical “mirror” for princes and courtiers but also for the lower classes, which develops the image of society as a body that John of Salisbury had popularized in his Policraticus, written in 1159. The Book of Peace (1414) reflects the troubled political climate of the time, as she began writing it in September 1412 when peace between the Armagnacs and the Burgundians seemed to be feasible, only for the whole process to fail two months later. If in The Lamentations on the Evils that Have Befallen France (1410) she had appealed not only to the Duke of Berry but also to all the estates of French society, Queen Isabeau and all the women of the kingdom included, to prevent France from falling into total civil war, she now understands that a full-blown civil war is imminent. She retired from public life in 1418 and very likely resided thereafter in the convent at Poissy where her daughter lived. In 1429 she came out of retirement to pen the only contemporary lay account of Joan of Arc to be written before Joan’s death in 1431–The Tale of Joan of Arc. This celebration of Joan’s accomplishments marks a fitting end to this formidable writing-woman’s career. Not only was Joan a woman worthy to occupy centre stage in The City of Ladies, but she, a woman, is also the providential benefactress of the polis, ridding it of the English and restoring the peace of the body politic. Charity Cannon Willard comments empathetically that she hopes Christine did not live to see Joan’s trial and subsequent burning, as she placed so much hope in Joan both for France and for women (1984:207). It is assumed that Christine did not live past 1430. For a woman to write for a wide audience and to deal specifically with the subject of women was extremely rare in that century. Despite the complex nature of the society of those days, its female half was identified according to a value-system and a hierarchy set up by the male half. Christine de Pizan dealt with the subject many times. Her Book of the City of Ladies was entirely devoted to demonstrating the worth and talents of women, while its sequel, the Book of the Three Virtues, also known as the Treasure of the City of Ladies, was conceived of as a very pragmatic behaviour guide for women, frequently advising self-fashioning and agency under the guise of deference to male authority and power. Most of her explicit utterances about the plight of women in her own day and in history were protests against attacks and abuse, which she saw as deriving
A Woman For All Seasons: Christine De Pizan
from a well-established misogynistic literary tradition and from the behaviour of men. In her comments on her own life and in some passages in the City of Ladies she makes the specific point that women have at least as much capacity for full humanity, abstract thought and learning as men. Certainly, a regular starting-point for Christine is that philosophers, poets and orators “concur in one conclusion: that the behaviour of women is inclined to and full of every vice” (Pizan 1998:4). More generally, their shared background in centuries of writing about women can be seen in a common stock of references and images, including the proverb that “God made women to speak, weep, and spin” (27), a misogynistic saying which Christine reinterprets to women’s advantage, and in a shared set of intertextual reference points, including such standard misogynist or misogamous authorities as Theophrastus, Ovid, Juvenal and Walter Map (104-108). Two of the central grounds of contention in Christine’s battle against misogynist tradition are, on the one hand, the absence of the female voice and discourse in literary tradition–if women themselves had written books, as so many men have, this would give us a very different impression of the vices and virtues of the two sexes–and, on the other hand, her appeal to women’s personal experience as a means of refuting male book-learning: “Nothing gives one so much authority as one’s own experience” (Pizan, 1998:8-9). A third ground of contention that sounds incredibly “modern” is her critique of the unjust foundation of society, which neglects the huge creative potential of womanhood: “Without the slightest doubt, it is because they are not involved in many different things, but stay at home, where it is enough for them to run the household, and there is nothing that so instructs a reasonable creature as the exercise and experience of many things” (63). Christine’s work can be seen as “feminist” in the broad sense that she offered a defence of women against their misogynist critics. In a culture fraught with misogyny, in which women were frequently attacked on moral grounds, Christine fought the battle for women at the point at which they were being assailed by their critics and so she “had to mount a defence of her sisters in terms of their ability to use their intellect to make reasoned, moral choices” (Rigby 2000:137). In order to prove that women were worthy of respect, Christine showed how, historically, they had created countless good things for human society: “I see the endless benefits which have accrued to the world through women” (Pizan 1998:142). Women had made their mark not only through the strength of their moral virtue and their fortitude of character,
as great rulers of their people, faithful wives, loving daughters and mothers, pious ladies and martyred saints (32-62;113-142;217-254), but also through their excellence in every field of learning: from the mastery of all seven liberal arts to poetry, the institution of laws, the invention of agriculture and the Latin alphabet (64-72) and even of armour, musical instruments and many crafts “all the more remarkable because far removed from a woman’s nature to conceive of such things” (73-74). Yet Christine does not press for women to be allowed to carry out such occupations in the society of her own day. Not that we should rush to any conclusions about Christine’s social conservatism. Some 400 years later, Mary Wollstonecraft, unanimously hailed as the author of the first great feminist manifesto–The Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)– enjoined women to become rational creatures, free citizens, moral agents of society, beneficiaries of an education equal to that of men, yet stopped short of asking that women be enfranchised or that they take up professions and earn their living: “the conclusion I wish to draw, is obvious, […] they will quickly become good wives, and mothers” (1996:184). Whilst explicitly claiming that women had the intellectual ability to be judges and rulers, Christine adopted the standard mediaeval conception about women’s roles. As we have seen, this was not alien to feminists of a much later date, such as Mary Wollstonecraft. It is also to be found in the impassioned feminist essays of John Stuart Mill (Subjection of Women, 1869). While decrying the loss to the world of “one half of the whole quantity of talent it possesses” (1970:221) and lashing out at women’s enslavement to men throughout history, he does not encourage women to leave the domestic realm. This conception is traceable ultimately to Aristotle, who considered that all the members of a society are seen as benefiting when their fellows perform their own specific tasks according to a social division of labour established ultimately by divine ordination. For Christine, God had ordained men and women to “serve Him in different offices” within this division of labour (1998:31). Thus, instead of demanding the social equality of men and women, the free exertion of their will, Christine concludes her City of Ladies with a call for women to demonstrate their patience, prudence, humility, piety and “resistance in tribulations and difficult affairs” so that, through the goodness of their deeds, they may make liars of those who attacked them (1998:256-257). Women should not, therefore, “neglect women’s work”, should not despise feminine chores, but should apply themselves to “the tasks for which they are fitted” (64;89). What Christine seems to be saying
A Woman For All Seasons: Christine De Pizan
here is that it is not women’s social role which needs to be changed but rather our perception and evaluation of it (Quilligan 1991:66-67;101). She does acknowledge gender difference, yet the novelty of her position resides in the claim that this difference should not be translated into hierarchy and inequality, to the justification of women’s suppression at the hands of men. Much ink has been spilt over the allegedly disappointing social conservatism inherent in The Treasure when we compare it to the “feminist” crusade of the City. As a number of scholars have agreed, such a conclusion is a consequence of a literal/anachronistic reading of the book. On the face of it, in The Three Virtues Christine seems to be advocating–in keeping with the Aristotelian sexual division of labour–that women should keep within the confines of their ordained sphere and also submit to the will of men. Yet, as Bella Mirabella suggests, the book presents a very clever life plan for women. It is not merely a “survival manual” but it also aims at providing a solution for women’s welfare in the wider world. This solution is that women “fashion” a female self (1999:11). This act of self-construction will not only encourage women to find a female identity and security, but also provide them with ways to subvert and undermine their position of submission in the male-dominated world. Her position of power is also bolstered by her confidence in her mission on behalf of her maligned sex: she will attack the attackers, refute their arguments and defeat them with their own weapons. It was through such actions and attitudes that she fashioned herself as a writer, an empowered woman, a woman with a voice. It was in no sense an easy task, but, as she proudly acknowledges, she had been singled out for it: “the prerogative among women has been bestowed on you to establish and build the City of Ladies” (1998:11). To become a writer is difficult in any case, but for a woman it is, as Cixous writes, a “transgression”. Certainly, Christine’s transgression in fashioning an author’s self and consequently laying siege to the male bastion of literary authority was the committing of what Howard Bloch (1991:47) calls a “crime of thought”. In this painstaking process of fashioning her identity as a writer Christine was aware of the fact that she had to stake out a new, uncharted, territory within discourse by manipulating for her own purposes calls “the prevailing master discourse”, by creating tensions and by instating difference within it (Quilligan 1991:5). She challenges the “threatening Other” when in The City of
Ladies (1405) she refutes the standard attacks on women, and she does not abandon this position when writing The Treasure of the City of Ladies. In her manual of advice for women “of all states”, Christine enjoins them to fashion a self that will allow them to safely navigate their course through a dangerous and hostile world. Yet when it comes to the strategies she proposes it is not only submission and compliance with men’s will that she urges, but also subversion. In the Prologue she again resorts to the trope of humility (we know this to be a tricky, elusive device, if not actually illustrative of the “antiphrasis” named in Lady Reason’s address: “which means, as you know, that if you call something bad, it is in fact good, and also vice versa” (1998:7)). Once again she pretends weakness, baulking at yet another daunting “project” and seeking the encouragement and succour of the Three Ladies of Virtue. Yet very soon she abandons her posture of indifference and braces herself for her new enterprise: once the shelter for virtuous ladies (the City) has been created, “devices and traps may be set”, she will “spread fine and noble nets and snares” to “tame” women so that they may be “installed in the cage of our glorious city” where they may join those who are already “sheltered” as “sovereign ladies” (Pizan 1985:32). This need for “devices and traps”, “snares and nets”, conjures up the picture of the hostile, dangerous reality outside the City. The City stands for an ideal world and a utopian discourse, whilst beyond its ramparts lies the realm of the “threatening Other” from which women must be protected. In fact, throughout The Three Virtues, and also in Christine’s Vision, Christine paints a world in which women are subject to constant harassment and surveillance, threatened with loss of reputation and honour, victims of slander and gossip, forced to live with little financial power. Thus, Christine, by writing an advice-cum-survival manual for women, is engaged in her own act of restraint: in her attempt “to fashion” others besides her self, she constructs “control mechanisms” which she believes will help women survive, if they know how to play the dangerous game of taking some territory for themselves. In playing this game, Christine manipulates and negotiates the idea of restraint for her own purposes (Mirabella 1999:16).
Cautioning women at court to avoid friendships with men, she writes “although it is unpleasant, submission is good when it prevents a greater wrong” (Pizan 1985:116). The “good” she has in mind in this passage is the self-esteem and honour of women.
A Woman For All Seasons: Christine De Pizan
I think it is fair to state that Christine operated subversively within the established rhetoric of submission, working nevertheless to transform it into surreptitiously empowering channels of expression. Paradoxical as it may sound, Christine’s rhetoric of submission and her constant use of the rhetoric of morality are the main vehicles of her subversive gestures. Christine initiated a controversy that has become famous as probably the first literary querelle. She it was who sparked off the famous debate on the Romance of the Rose by a letter to a distinguished scholar–Jean de Montreuil, provost of Lille–who had written in praise of the Romance after reading it for the first time. A number of people later entered the fray, including the royal secretaries Pierre and Col Gontier and most notably Jean Gerson, Chancellor of the University of Paris, the latter sharing Christine’s dislike of the work. It was Christine who was largely responsible for pursuing and preserving the debate, since she collected the letters that were exchanged and had them published in a single manuscript. The main interest that it might still hold for a present-day reader is that the quarrel was about authorial responsibility, sexual politics, about the different ways in which educated readers should be morally guided by a work of art, about how the readers of her time responded to immorality and sexual explicitness in literature. Christine explicitly offered her readers a model of how to read texts correctly in order to obtain moral edification and spiritual truth from them. Christine and Gerson both found the Rose disgustingly licentious, an exhortation to vice, an invitation to adultery and fornication. We also know that Christine found the book particularly offensive and vilifying towards women. She entered the debate with unprecedented stamina and assertiveness, thus vigorously defending the right of a woman to participate on equal terms with men in a major intellectual debate: an extraordinary thing in itself that a woman’s voice was so clearly heard in a debate over an extremely authoritative male opus. As Kevin Brownlee writes, by engaging in this debate Christine was able to “establish and to authorize her new identity as woman writer, poet, clerk, within precisely those traditional literary discourses that had seemed to exclude this possibility” (1992:235). Christine was perhaps the nearest thing possible to a career woman. She was the first professional female author to write in her own name since Sappho in Ancient Greece. She showed through her own example how much a woman could achieve, even in the teeth of Fortune’s great adversities; the many hardships she endured galvanized her energies and resourcefulness and enabled her to support herself and her family without any loss of dignity or respect. Highly intelligent, strong and enterprising,
she achieved what even for men was no common thing: she made a living entirely by her pen. Her reputation as a writer was excellent and she was much admired for her personal qualities. A 15th century manuscript of one of her poems refers to her as domina preclara natu et moribus, “distinguished for her birth and character” (Gottlieb 1997:283). Her output was tremendous and astonishingly varied; she was a true polyscribator. All in all, it was a prodigious display of literary energy and versatility that would have been equally impressive in a man. On the subject of education, Christine also took the stance of the defender. Natalie Zeamon Davies in her Foreword to the Book of the City of Ladies considers Christine’s position on the education of women to be the most consistent to be found in the protofeminist and feminist writings of all subsequent centuries. Her impressive plea is based on her own experience. She looked around and saw women who seemed to possess all the mental ability that was needed. Her most moving passages are those in which she pleads for a fair chance, as in her dialogue with Lady Reason, who assures her that if it were customary to send daughters to school like sons and if they were then taught the subtleties of all the arts and sciences as well as sons […] women have minds that are freer and sharper whenever they apply themselves.
A dramatic exchange follows: My lady, what are you saying? she cries. Certainly men would never admit this answer is true unless it is explained more plainly for they believe that one normally sees that men know more than women do.
Reason does explain: Without the slightest doubt it is because they are not involved in many different things but stay at home where it is enough for them to run the household and there is nothing which so instructs a reasonable creature as the exercise and experience of many different things (Pizan 1998:63).
Later, Christine attacks the misogynist claim that too much education would corrupt women’s morality: I am amazed by the opinion of some men who claim that they do not want their daughters, wives or kinswomen to be educated because their mores would be ruined as a result (1998:153).
A Woman For All Seasons: Christine De Pizan
Moreover, Christine challenges conventional wisdom regarding the woman’s natural inclination to care for and nourish in the way she refers to the well-defined pedagogical roles of the mother. Whereas her contemporaries mostly espoused the view that it was only men who could be entrusted with their children’s education, she says that a princess is required to supervise her children’s tutors and teachers, which includes her checking the content of instruction. A mother has to make sure that even her daughters learn to read and write and must teach them morals and the ways of the world or, in the case of artisans and traders, the basics of trade (Pizan 1985:66-68;168). Although this might seem to fall short of a revolutionary step, we often tend to take things for granted and relate them much too readily to our own times. During the late Middle Ages and throughout the Renaissance, the education of women was restricted to the study of religion and morality–if that. Leonardo Bruni was one of the very few humanists who thought otherwise, but then his De studiis et litteris was dedicated to an exceptionally cultivated woman, Battista Malatesta. An ideal humanistic education in civil life and studia humanitatis excluded women (Vecchio 1992:133-134). Much scholarly ink has been spilt over the “gender change” that Christine records in the Book of Fortune’s Transformation: “I found my heart strong and bold which surprised me but I felt that I had become a true man” (Blumenfeld-Kosinski 1997a:106; my emphasis). The wellknown French humanist Jean Gerson called Christine “Insignis femina, virilis femina” (“remarkable woman, virile woman”). Christine’s transmutation seems to indicate that this pioneer feminist and champion of women’s worth shared the inevitable belief that she had to become a man, to create a new self that would enable her to take her place among men of wisdom and learning. Her fashioning of self-confidence seems to be predicated on this forging a man’s heart for herself. She could not claim a female-gendered tradition of writing; there were no literary mothers to think back through (Woolf 1992:127). Was it a stratagem? A manoeuvre of prudence? By representing herself as virtuous widow, caring mother and female author she carefully differentiated between gender and sexuality. She deliberately and systematically separated her female-gendered authorial persona from the concept of the female as an object of desire or a sexually desiring subject (Brownlee 1995:339-351). Strategically, Christine de Pizan fashioned a plethora of subject positions, beginning with her authorial subject, with a view to securing the overall coherence of her work.
Christine was extremely careful in the way she constructed her public persona as a professional writer within the specific historical and cultural context of early fifteenth-century Paris. In foregrounding an authoritative position whilst also being a woman, Christine was bound to strategically represent herself in this public arena by negotiating and configuring various identities, predicated on her suppression of her sexuality as a woman. This intricate process of self-representation and authorization of a discursive identity is Christine’s radical separation of gender from sexuality. It is strangely resonant with Judith Butler’s arguments for the constructed nature of both gender and sexuality (1999:6-7; see also Laqueur 1990:8-9). Her authority as woman author is thus established by distancing herself from any possible sexual identity as a historically specific woman; during the decade and a half following her husband’s death, during which her literary career was definitively established, she gradually and systematically detached her female-gendered authorial self “from the economy of sexual desire, normally associated with courtly discourse” (Brownlee 1995:340). The transformation of Christine-protagonist from wife to widow is presented as an Ovidian metamorphosis involving gender change: it is widowhood that effects the sexual transmutation. In the most autobiographical of her writings she models her gender reversal on Ovid’s miracles of gendered metamorphosis–Tiresias, and particularly Iphis, whose woman’s body was miraculously undone by the subtle goddess Vesta and made into a son (Blumenfeld-Kosinski 1996:102-104). As scholars have emphasized, Christine again in this instance altered her source to better support her case: the powerful sexuality of the Ovidian Iphis is significantly subdued, de-eroticized, whilst the agent of gender change, the sensuous Isis in Ovid, becomes in Christine’s version the chaste Vesta, goddess of marriage and of the domestic hearth (Brownlee 1995:340). Nadia Margolis demonstrated in her study of the poetess as historian how Christine manipulates the legend of Tiresias in a similar, innovative fashion. Whilst in her sources, Ovid and Sophocles, Tiresias’s sexual transformation and his prophetic nature are separated, Christine draws the two themes together–it is because of his sexual transformation that Tiresias can foresee: “her Tiresias alternately experiencing gain and privation of sexual (and visual) potential, ignores the erotic in favour of the spiritual and social” (1986:369). This strategic separation of gender and sexuality and her re-gendering of her diegetical, narrative persona are effected in order to gain public discursive authority.
A Woman For All Seasons: Christine De Pizan
Christine also undermines her essentialist concept of “natural women”. In her major works she frequently expands and revises this concept, as we observe, for example, in her depiction of Fredegund, the queen of the Franks, who may at first sight appear unnaturally cruel (“contrary to the natural disposition of women”), although she was to rule over her subjects with great skill after the death of King Chilperic (1998:33). It is a reenactment of Christine’s own experience of overcoming “female nature”. We can also see such epitomes of the “female nature” as the whole series of simple, coy, honest, prudent ladies, upright, simple and tranquil, Griselda-clones, who are gradually replaced by examples of active learning, prowess and even active martyrdom presented as hallmarks of womanhood (see Blumenfeld-Kosinski 1997b:297-311). When Reason begins to instil pride in Christine, pride in her female body and her female intellect, whereas before she had been an “unnatural” albeit effective woman, she no longer needs her male disguise, since she will be in the company of the most excellent and successful women of her own creation. Her attitude towards the auctores is revealed in passages in which she is trying to construct her subjecthood, to fashion her own identity as a writer expressed in that dramatic “I, Christine”. The Path of Long Study, which contains echoes of both Virgil’s Aeneid and Dante’s Commedia, dramatises her entry into the world of learning. Christine is guided by a Sibyl–thus positing herself as a second Aeneas–and by writing about the experience she also functions as a second Virgil. Her journey to the celestial spheres makes her like Dante, who was guided there not by Virgil but by St. Bernard and Beatrice. The Sybil is thus aligned with these two saintly figures while Christine herself follows in Dante’s footsteps. Christine’s subversiveness can also be demonstrated through her choice of language. She elected not to use her mother tongue, and this at a time when its natural generational qualities had been exalted by as great a genius as Dante, who in De vulgari eloquentia repeatedly asserts the superiority of the vernacular to Latin and in his Inferno, canto XV, places Brunetto Latini, who turned away from his mother tongue and wrote in French–which Dante parallels to the unnatural desire of sodomy–in the circles of sodomites. Christine’s decision to write in her adopted tongue is no less of a rebellious and conscious gesture and emphasises the unnaturalness of male language towards and for women. Latin was a male bastion, and this is why the vulgar tongue became at an early date the language of inward experience for mediaeval women mystics such as Hadewijch and Beatrice, Mechthild and Marguerite Porete (RégnierBohler 1992:463).
If Dante inveighs against the blasphemy of using a foreign tongue, Christine, in a foreign tongue, inveighs against blasphemy against women (Philippy 1997:337). Christine also writes in the French vernacular because she wants to distinguish her book from Boccaccio’s address to women, which is inaccessible to most of them because of his having written it in Latin. She automatically secures an audience by so doing, but her choice is also justified by her self-conceived mission to continue the Virgilian and Dantesque poetic in the vernacular. As she says in The Path of Long Study, she draws upon the examples of her male fellow-citizens to justify her position as an Italian woman writing in the French vernacular, simultaneously rejecting the tradition and language these writers provide and drawing upon them as a basis of her own authority. As Trinh T. MinhHa puts it when she describes women writers, “learned women” are “language stealers”, because when a woman is “able to read and write”, she “robs man of his creativity, his activity, his culture, his language” (Trinh 1989:19). Her position as “foreign”–an Italian in France, a woman in scholarship –is for her a double-edged sword which she can use “in excuse or defence of the novelty of her opinions, and at the same time invoke the objective view, from the outside looking in, from which she derives her authority” (Philippy 1997:339). Christine’s radical break with all previous historiography, her revisionist treatment of Boccaccio’s De Claris Mulieribus and Decameron –three quarters of her exempla come from Boccaccio–is remarkable. A notable addition is her inclusion of examples of virtuous women drawn from her own era and experience, thus creating a historical continuity between the examples of pagan virtues and her contemporaries. The inclusion of a third book drawn from Vincent de Beauvais in her City of Ladies, in which the city is populated by the Virgin and thirty saints, affirms the connection between pagan and Christian virtues which her feminine city founded by the secular virtues of Reason, Rectitude and Justice seeks to establish. In her rewriting of Boccaccio, rather than translation of him, she often completely inverts the message of his exempla. Women, in Christine’s estimation, are not inferior to men by nature but only by custom: “if justice reigned the female would lose nothing in this regard, but I am entirely certain that custom is stronger than justice in many places” (BlumenfeldKosinski 1997a:94-95). Moreover, despite the fact that Reason explains that the occupations of men and women are ordained by god, it is the overall purpose of the City to show that women are capable of conquering the male arts and sciences. It is also with a view to giving value to the
A Woman For All Seasons: Christine De Pizan
position of women and establishing her own status as inheritor of this wonderful and unknown tradition of studious women that she reorganizes Boccaccio’s stories of Cornificia, Proba and Sappho. While Cornificia in Boccaccio’s account is the equal of her brother, in Christine’s “she wanted to hear and know about every branch of learning, which then she mastered so thoroughly that she surpassed her brother, who was also a very good poet and excelled in every field of learning” (Pizan 1998:64). Her subversiveness as a translator deserves further consideration. Sherry Simon in Gender in Translation quotes John Florio, who in 1603 defined translations as “feminine” because, being necessarily defective, all translations are “reputed females”. Hence, we have the statement of a heritage of double inferiority in his equation. Women, like translators, have historically been the weaker figures, translators featuring as handmaidens to authors; translators occupy a–culturally speaking–female position. Both have been relegated to a position of discursive inferiority. Yet this was at the same time a formidable source of empowerment, as we can see in the case of Pizan, a means of liberating women’s repressed creative potential, as they could use translation as a way to make their voices heard (Simon 1996:3). It was also the means through which women could approach the world of letters, starting from the European Middle Ages, as it was looked upon as a permissible form of public expression, a powerful mode of expression for women (cf. Aphra Behn or Madame de Staël, Constance Granett or Jean Sarr Untermeyer in later centuries). Translation, as Simon maintains, may be a political activity, aimed at making language speak for women (1996:15). Another excellent example of Christine’s subversion of Boccaccio’s texts is her treatment of Carmentis, famous poet, scholar, founder of the Latin language and culture, inventor of grammar and lawgiver. Whereas mention of her causes Boccaccio to break out into a panegyric on Latin (Italian) language and culture, Christine gives a twist to Boccaccio’s words in order to provide evidence of women’s role as founders of men’s culture and ironically of the language they use to disparage women: let all writers be silent, those who have attacked women and who still attack them in their books and poems; let them lower their eyes, ashamed for having dared to speak so badly, in view of the truth which runs counter to their poems; this noble lady, Carmentis, through the profundity of her understanding taught them like a school mistress the lesson thanks to which they consider themselves so lofty and honoured, that is, she taught them the Latin alphabet (Pizan 1998:80).
Probably even more appealing to a present-day reader–inter alia because of her tremendous appeal to modern playwrights and novelists such as Giraudoux and Christa Wolf–is Medea. In Boccacio’s rendering the stress falls on admonition against succumbing to the temptation of the eyes, to the dangers of visual seduction, while in Christine’s rendering of Medea her only sin is that she loved too well–“she loved Jason with a too great and constant love” (Pizan 1998:189)–and what is emphasised is her learning, in which she excelled and surpassed all women (69). Thus cleared of the taint of excessive love and of having deceived Jason, Medea is revised to become an example worthy of emulation. Very much along the lines of Christa Wolf’s later vindication of the ancient queen, who in reality was far from being an element of discord in the body politic, Christine liberates Medea from her role in the liaison with Jason and presents her as one of those women who constitute and maintain the fabric of society through their courage to utter the truth, to denounce the murders that buttress authority and power, and through their pacifism. Medea and Dido are brought together, both reflecting Christine’s own transformation from wife to widow, from submissive wife to independent writer. Again, if we are looking for a further element of subversion in her supposed early feminism, it is to be found in the religious message: the fact that God did not always communicate through men; the sheer exemplarity of women saints and mystics; the fact that He chose to redeem France through a glorious maiden, vindicated women and put them on a par with men (Gottlieb 1997:295). Christine’s preferred iconographic selfportrayal was a visual citation of illuminations of the Annunciation of the Virgin; in the opening scene of the Book of the City of Ladies, she is shown in a cell reading a book when the archangel Gabriel appears. In her French, Christine used the words “cell”, cele in its original monastic sense, and “study”, estude, interchangeably, which could lead us directly to seeing her as dramatizing women’s search, half a millennium before Virginia Woolf, for a room of one’s own rather than a cloister to shut them away from the world. For Christine her authority stemmed from God, and she therefore did not shy away from reminding her readers, in Fortune’s Transformation, that her name included the name of the perfect man (Richards 1998:LXI).
Conclusion What is novel in Christine’s position and in the place she carves out for herself in the context of the intellectual establishment of the turn of the 15th century is the extent of her self-awareness and “self-authorization”–as
A Woman For All Seasons: Christine De Pizan
a woman writer, as a professional intellectual empowered to speak on her own female-gendered terms, thus fully assuming the gendered subject position of learned female reader and writer. We know that Christine trespassed undauntedly and with impressive confidence across the line so strictly separating the public and private realms of her day. She did so with a full conviction of the legitimacy of her position as defender of her sex. Her civic-minded militancy for the harmony and sanity of the commonwealth distinguishes her among the intellectuals of early 15th century France. The verbal war she wages against the destruction and disruption of the polis, her powerful use of invective (she is given credit for having coined the word in French) and vituperation are intended to restore the harmony and cohesion of the body politic but also to make it gender-wise more inclusive and better balanced. As a political thinker, her books show her appealing to all the important people of her day–men and women–to make peace between the various estates of society and to return French chivalry to its former glory, but this must not be taken as an expression of nostalgia for the good old days or as an attempt to ape the political rhetoric of her male predecessors, whose authority as far as Christine was concerned existed at best in name only. What most contemporary critics agree on, after painstaking research into mediaeval manuscripts, is that Christine’s work not only questions but also subverts everything associated with the courtly ideology cultivated in France by a parasitical class of misogynist clerics for the benefit of an equally parasitical social elite, blissfully content to ignore the most basic tenets of Christianity. With her City of Ladies, Christine de Pizan established a utopian horizon of expectations for women of her time and of the future by providing her readers with a “feminine utopia” in which women “exist in a world of dignity and self-respect and have control over their own lives” (Willard 1984:135). We can clearly detect in Christine what we would call today a feminist consciousness, embryonic feminist gestures, attitudes and mental frameworks that would enable us to call her a precursor of feminists. Here was a woman who, pained and outraged to read and hear that women were inferior and evil, refused to suffer in silence. She did not defend herself as an individual but made common cause with women. She thought about women’s lives and how they might be improved. Alas, there is no mention in her writings of Christine’s having ever discussed such matters with other women, there are almost no hints there of what women might have said to one another. It is tempting to think, though, that she did discuss
them, even that women had been saying such things to one another for a long time. There are certainly no explicit demands for equal rights or political power, no explicit claim for women’s solidarity nor even a modest proposal for some organized, regular schooling for women, but Christine’s refusal to accept insults and contempt in silence, her staunch belief in women’s capacity for learning, her striving towards creating an alternative canon, a feminine tradition in writing, constitute a plausible kind of feminism. If feminism means thinking about women and feeling that they deserve better in the world, then Christine was a feminist. If, on the other hand, we equate feminism with a belief in the equal capacities of men and women; if it means sweeping changes, demanding equal opportunities for women to be educated and trained for careers, if it means women’s solidarity and having some kind of programme or even drawing the sex line before the class or race line, then feminism obviously came into existence only in the 19th century (Gottlieb 1997:294). Christine’s work has lost none of its provocative challenge to readers since its first appearance more than six centuries ago. As Susan Groag Bell aptly noted in her Preface to the French anthology of critical articles, Christine de Pizan “gets under your skin”. Once she has been discovered there is no forgetting, it is not possible to shake oneself free of her. Christine specialists have emerged in great numbers all over the world. The modern English translation of the City beautifully done by Earl Jeffrey Richards in 1982 was soon followed by versions in Dutch, modern French, German, Catalan, Spanish and Italian. Most recently, Christinian scholarship greeted the publication of a critical anthology, Debating the Roman de la Rose, edited by Christine McWebb. This is an exhaustive redaction of the Debate which broadens the framework of the Querelle by providing the much needed context of the critical and popular reception of the work in the 14th and 15th centuries (2007:XI). Many international congresses and conferences have been dedicated to Christine, the Christine de Pizan Society was set up in 1988, the Christine de Pizan Society Newsletter was first issued in 1992, and we have witnessed over recent years the growing internationalization of Christine/Christinian Studies. As scholars look to the future of Christine Studies it seems that we will come to appreciate even more the depth of her political thought, of her integral part in late mediaeval culture, of her humanity and of her feminism. It is high time that Romanian scholarship joined this new city of scholars.
A Woman For All Seasons: Christine De Pizan
References Arneil, B. (1999). Politics and Feminism. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd. Bloch, R. H. (1991). Mediaeval Misogyny and the Invention of Western Romantic Love. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Blumenfeld-Kosinski, R. (1996). ‘Femme de corps et femme pars sens’: Christine de Pizan’s saintly women. Romanic Review 87: 157–75. —. (Ed). (1997a). The Selected Writings of Christine de Pizan. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company. —. (1997b). Christine de Pizan and the misogynistic tradition. In Blumenfeld-Kosinski, R. (Ed), The Selected Writings of Christine de Pizan. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company: 297-311. Brownlee, K. (1992). Discourses of the self: Christine de Pizan and the Roman de la rose. Romanic Review 79/1: 199-221. —. (1995). Widowhood, sexuality, and gender in Christine de Pizan. Romanic Review 86/2: 339-351. Butler, J. (1999). Gender Trouble. Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. London: Routledge. Dascăl, R. (1999). Casă/Locuire. Timiúoara: Eurostampa. —. (2008). Christine de Pizan Essays. Timiúoara: Editura UniversităĠii de Vest. Duby, G. (1992). Evul mediu masculin. Despre dragoste úi alte eseuri. Bucureúti: Editura Meridiane. Fetterley. J. (1978). The Resisting Reader: a Feminist Approach to American Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Gottlieb, B. (1997). The problem of feminism in the 15th century. In Blumenfeld-Kosinski. R. (Ed), The Selected Writings of Christine de Pizan. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company. 274-297. Laqueur, T. (1990). Making Sex. Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Lerner, G. (1993). The Creation of Feminist Consciousness: from the Middle Ages to Eighteen-seventy. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Margolis, N. (1986). Christine de Pizan: the poetess as historian. Journal of the History of Ideas 47(3): 361-376. McWebb, C. (2007). Debating the Roman de la Rose. A Critical Anthology. New York & London: Routledge. Meijer, M. (1995). A manual for self-defence: feminist literary theory. In Buikema, R. and A. Smelik (Eds.), Women’s Studies and Culture. A Feminist Introduction. London and New Jersey: Zed Books. 26-39.
Mill, J.S. and H. Taylor Mill. (1970). Essays on Sex Equality. Chicago: Chicago University Press. Mirabella, B. (1999). Feminist self-fashioning: Christine de Pizan and The Treasure of the City of Ladies. The European Journal of Women’s Studies 6: 9-20. Pizan, C. (1985). The Treasure of the City of Ladies or The Book of the Three Virtues. (Transl. S. Lawson). Harmondsworth: Penguin Books . —. (1998). The Book of the City of Ladies. (Transl. E. J. Richards). New York: Persea Books . Philippy, P.A. (1997). Establishing authority: Boccaccio’s De Claris Mulieribus and De Pizan’s Le Livre de la Cité des dames. In Blumenfeld-Kosinski. R. (Ed.), The Selected Writings of Christine de Pizan. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company. 329-361. Régnier-Bohler, D. (1992). Literary and mystical voices. In C. KlapischZuber (Ed.), A History of Women in the West. II. Silences of the Middle Ages. Cambridge, Ma: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 427-482. Richards, E.J. (1998). Introduction to the new edition: an update. In C. Pizan. The Book of the City of Ladies. Translated by E. J. Richards. New York: Persea Books. LVII-LXV. Rigby, S.H. (2000). The Wife of Bath, Christine de Pizan, and the mediaeval case for women. The Chaucer Review 35 (2): 132-165. Quilligan, M. (1991). The Allegory of Female Authority: Christine de Pizan’s Cité des Dames. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Simon, S. (1996). Gender in Translation. Cultural Identity and the Politics of Transmission. London & New York: Routledge. Trinh, T. Minh-Ha. (1989). Woman, Native, Other. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press. Vecchio, S. (1992). The good wife. In C. Klapisch-Zuber (Ed.), A History of Women in the West. II. Silences of the Middle Ages. Cambridge, Ma: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 105-135. Willard, C.C. (1984). Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works. New York: Persea Books. Wollstonecraft, M. (1996). A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications. Woolf, V. (1992). A Room of One’s Own. Three Guineas. Oxford: Oxford University Press .
CHAPTER TWO: FEMINIST CONSCIOUSNESS COMING OF AGE
“AN ISLAND OF DISSIDENT THOUGHTS”: ORWELL VERSUS THREE GUINEAS BY VIRGINIA WOOLF NÓRA SÉLLEI
Woolf, Orwell and the War–By Way of Introduction It is clear that the special position of the English intellectuals during the past ten years, as purely negative creatures, merely anti-Blimps, was a byproduct of ruling-class stupidity,
writes George Orwell in his 1940 essay, “The Lion and the Unicorn,” and goes on to argue that [b]oth the Blimps and the highbrows took for granted, as though it were a law of nature, the divorce between patriotism and intelligence (1984:162; latter emphasis added).
The reference to “the Blimps” was easy to understand for Orwell’s contemporary readership, as Colonel Blimp was one of the most popular Evening Standard cartoon figures in the 1930s and 1940s, embodying, in social terms, the (primarily) military middle-class, which insisted on the imperial traditions, whereas politically was characterised by narrowminded, reactionary British jingoism. And if anyone had doubts whom Orwell means by the other side: unpatriotic English intellectuals, he makes it evident: [t]he Bloomsbury highbrow, with his mechanical snigger, is as out-of-date as the cavalry colonel. A modern nation cannot afford either of them. Patriotism and intelligence will have to come together again. It is the fact that we are fighting a war, and a very particular kind of war, that make this possible. (1984:162)
Although Orwell does not name anyone or anyone’s writing from the the Bloosmbury group, one can reasonably suppose that one of the texts interpreted by Orwell as sheer negation and negativity on behalf of
Orwell Versus Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf
intellectuals is Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas, first published in 1938, before the outbreak of World War II, also preceding Orwell’s essay. From the perspective of patriotism, the attitude to war and pacifism (the latter criticised by Orwell on account of what he considers as negativity), Three Guineas is a key text in the period, for the Bloomsbury group (even if the group is far from being homogeneous in its attitude to war–cf.: Lee 1999:678-698) and for Woolf’s feminism. But even if Orwell never read Three Guineas, and for that reason the target of his critique is not even implicitly Woolf, in the context of his essay his critique of the intellectual elite may refer to Woolf’s text because the central question of Three Guineas is war, the prevention of war, and the text itself poses questions like how the war is related to the totality of the English institutional system, to the notion of one’s country, to the nation, and to the gendered encoding of all these. The answer Woolf gives is undeniably negative (in both senses of the word), and utopistic at that: the essay recommends the Outsiders’ Society as the only and consistant answer to the question: “How in your opinion are we to prevent war?” (1992:153) Being utopistic, paradoxically, the Outsiders’ Society can be understood as negative, as sheer negation because it recommends taking a critical (“critique-al?”) position that is hardly plausible. In this sense–to refer back to Orwell’s logic–the Outsiders’ Society, as recommended in Three Guineas, can by no means be considered the position of constructive intellectuals inasmuch as it is hardly translatable to a practice effective to oppose and counteract Hitler’s Third Reich. What is more, one can even take this question to a personal level, and can say that even Woolf’s sucide can be interpreted as an admission of the failure of her own principles (or utopistic theoretical position), that is, that she is powerless facing the threats of fascism, and that the Outsiders’ Society does not provide an alternative as it would be ineffective as against military threat, bombardments and the imminent German invasion. In her farewell letters for her sister Vanessa Bell and her husband Leonard Woolf she claims that it was her oncoming bout of mental breakdown that precipitated her suicide (Woolf 1980:485-487), and as Lee points out, even the Coroner made his (as she claims, mistaken) statement based on this letter (1997:765). At the same time, it seems quite clear that from the summer of 1940, that is, since the escalation of the war, the Woolfs had been preparing for a joint suicide, aware that they were on the Germans’ black list (cf. Lee 1997:730). Also Woolf’s diary entries are to be considered: 15 May 1940: “We discussed suicide if Hitler lands. Jews beaten up. What point in waiting? Better shut the garage doors.” (Woolf 1984:284); 7 June 1940: “Question of suicide
seriously debated” (Woolf 1984:292); 9 June 1940: “capitulation means all the Jews to be given up. Concentration camps. So to our garage.” (Woolf 1984:292-293); 20 June 1940: “I have my morphia in pocket. [. . .] Adrian [Virginia Woolf’s younger brother, a psychoanalyst] promises us a prescription.” (Woolf 1984:297) Orwell is right in this respect: the outsider’s position, keeping a critical distance and distanciation from the establishment provides no effective tools to call to resistance at a moment when German airplanes frequently pass over the Woolfs’ garden gate of Monks House in Sussex (Woolf 1976:111,137).
Woolf and Foucault et Co. Although Orwell’s essay touches upon a crucial deficiency (or, to use Orwell’s phrase, negativity) of Woolfian feminist politics on war: the lack of feasible, practical and constructive advice under war conditions, I still consider Three Guineas a text that–perhaps in an extreme way– consistently follows a strict logic and leads to conclusions that derive from the presuppositions and assumptions, and reaches a position that looks negation that, in turn, can be interpreted either as utopia or dystopia, depending if one can only recognise the gesture of negation in it, or one can also see the (utopistic) potential–and the must–of rebuilding the totality of the social institutions. The precondition for this radical rebuilding, however, is the unshakable critical position assumed by the speaker of Woolf’s essay, which, in turn, is very close to the not less utopistic concept of Foucauldian critique, rooted in the Kantian tradition. Michel Foucault articulates this radical position in his essay entitled in English “What is critique?”, analysed by Judith Butler in her “What is Critique? An Essay on Foucault’s Virtue”, which is further commented on by the volume editor Sara Salih. Apart from Foucault’s “The Subject and Power”, I will rely on these texts to explore the theoretical potentials in Woolf’s essay, and to point out: with this essay of hers Woolf well preceded her age, quite like with A Room of One’s Own, which became a seminal text only after the emergence of feminist literary criticism in the 1970s. Three Guineas, however, is perhaps an even more radical text than A Room of One’s Own is inasmuch it does not provide safe guidelines for the reader, and touches upon so many layers of the system of social institutions, and hence offends sensitivities because it compels its readers to rethink the most basic–and as such, unquestionable and taken-forgranted–social and cultural notions and myths that the readers find themselves in a destabilised, rather alien and homeless world, which needs
Orwell Versus Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf
quite a long time to inhabit, if at all. Foucault’s and Woolf’s ways of thinking find a juncture in the term critique, with the capacity to resist power, which is conceptualised by Foucault as follows: “the art of not being governed quite so much” (1997:45), and the basis of this attitude is that both of them question the taken-for-grantedness of the social establishment, both of them ask the question that Foucault puts in this way: how not to be governed like that, by that, in the name of those principles, with such and such an objective in mind and by means of such procedures, not like that, not for that, not by them. (1997:44).
In this rather sloppy and vague sentence one can discover the characteristically Foucauldian–and, at the same time, Derridaian notion– that there is no way of going beyond discourse, there is no articulable position beyond that, and thus, not even a point of resistance can be discovered outside of it, perhaps only, and at the most, inside, at a slightly different point, brought about by the logic of power that the subject is not so totally subjected to power that it has no chance for resistance at all. Quite the contrary, a late essay by Foucault claims that [p]ower is exercised only over free subjects, and only insofar as they are free. By this we mean individual or collective subjects who are faced with the field of possibilities in which several ways of behaving, several reactions and comportments are realized (1983:221);
and vice versa: without the possibility of recalcitrance, power would be equivalent to a physical determination (1983:221),
and to voluntary slavery. The “only” question (posed by many to Foucault) is once it is impossible to go beyond–as he calls it–the micropolitical practices of power, then how it is possible to conceptualise (and, of course, to carry out in practice) the resistance to power, and how and what freedom consists in. Foucault’s answer is that [a]t the heart of the power relationship, and constantly provoking it, are the calcitrance of the will and the intransigence of freedom. Rather than speaking of an essential freedom, it would be better to speak of an “agonism”–of a relationship which is at the same time reciprocal incitation and struggle; less of a face-to-face confrontation which paralyzes both sides than a permanent provocation. (1983:221-222)
Foucault articulates the possibility of such a “provocation” in his “What is Critique?” when describing the process in the western world in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that resulted in the critical position of the Enlightenment. He keeps, however, emphasising that resistance, “provocation” can never be absolute, can never come from the outside: [a]nd finally “not to be governed” is of course not accepting here as true [. . .] what an authority tells you is true, or at least not accepting it because an authority tells you that it is true, but rather accepting it only if one considers the reasons valid for doing so. And this time, critique finds its anchoring point in the problem of certainty in its confrontation with authority. (46–latter emphasis added)
Woolf poses the question similarly when she recommends a not utterly external position of resistance for critical rethinking, even though she calls her utopistic body of thinkers the Outsiders’ Society. They are the ones she encourages to rethink critically the totality of the institutions and to provoke and confront authority. A further similarity is that in the centre of Foucault’s thinking one can find the complex relationship between power, truth and the subject (1997:57), which is meaningful from the perspective of Woolf’s essay inasmuch as it explores the same questions that Foucault puts as follows: critique will be the movement by which the subject gives himself the right to question truth on its effects on power and question power on its discourses of truth. Well, then: critique will be the art of voluntary insubordination, that of reflected intractability. Critique would essentially insure the desubjugation of the subject in the context of what we would call, in a word, the politics of truth. (1997:47)
I consider this statement a key link between Foucault’s thinking and Woolf’s essay because if Three Guineas has an element that contributed to its general rejection for a long time, this is the reflexive insubordination– frequently understood as anger–emerging from the systemic and relentless questioning of truths dictated by power. Woolf, nevertheless, is only asking questions concerning how the macro–and microstructures of British society are interrelated, and how power encoded in these structures is related to both to the truths generated by these structures and to the subjects subjected to these truths. That is, well preceding Foucault in time, Woolf is carrying out a discursive analysis of the system of social institutions in the broad sense of the word, and from the perspective of power and knowledge at that. Foucault emphasises that these two cannot be analysed separately, furthermore, they cannot even be analysed in the way
Orwell Versus Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf how one would repress the other, or how the other would abuse the one, but rather a nexus of knowledge–power has to be described so that we can grasp what constitutes the acceptability of a system, be it the mental health system, the penal system, delinqueny, sexuality, etc. (1997:61–emphasis added)
This is where the similarity between Woolf’s and Foucault’s thinking resides: both of them explore how certain systems of normalcy become “normal”, whereas it is obvious that the notion of normality can never be taken for granted, rather, it always comes about as a result of discursive practices. Because, however, the truths generated by discourses of normality–as a result of naturalising techniques–can only look natural, the moment someone starts disentangling the discursive process of the emergence, then–to use Kaja Silverman’s phrase applied to film-making– “sutures” will be revealed (1983:215), and the moment they become visible, the subject will have to face the constructedness of his/her own unquestioned assumptions. This, however–to take the implications of Silverman’s metaphor further–is a painful process, when forgotten scars, sutures must be re-opened: one has to face the idea that the origins of terminological systems must be sought for in the relationship of the subject and power, and that the subject is not a unified whole, let alone an autonomous individual, quite the contrary: the result of sometimes even contradictory discursive constructions, as a result of which along the “sutures” very sensitive spots may–and will–emerge. Sutures, thus, partly keep the subject together, and bring about the notion of the autonomous individual as a self-image, partly, on the other hand, the sutures themselves expose the vulnerability–again, with Silverman’s metaphor: the sutures–of the subject’s (imagining him/herself as autonomous individual), as the spots of the scars and sutures will always remain sensitive, or at least will never be fully transparent, and will always leave some traces of their own making behind.
Rhetoric and Politics in Three Guineas But to return from the realm of the slightly enigmatic, and as such abstract metaphors (so frequently used by postmodern theories) to Woolf’s basic critical attitude, the question must be asked what makes Three Guineas such an “angry” text in the eyes of the readers; what “managed” to provoke the readers’ sharp rejection, be it relatives, friends or official critics, or any combination of these. In my view, it is her critical attitude towards the most sacred, most respected and most central institutions of culture and nationhood which unwinds the taken-for-grantedness of
Englishness that is interpreted as her “anger”, or to use Orwell’s phrase: her negation and negativity. Although from the perspective of its starting point and basic question the text seems to be searching for the answer to the question of how war can be prevented, the speaker of the essay convinces the readers (and persuades us to follow her unique itinerary of thoughts) that this question can only be answered by a radical rethinking of gender and nation: key categories that in the eyes of many constitute the basic and unquestionable pillars of how thinking about social and human relations is possible at an abstract level. Furthermore, these are conceptual panels, at the same time experienced as empirical ones, which, particularly at the time of the threat of war have their substantial emotional content as well, which in turn undoubtedly has a mobilising power in time of a military conflict resonant with patriotism. The rhetoric of war, beyond defending and saving the homeland, always appeals to the protection of “innocent civilians, women, children, the home, the family”, and all that needs saving and protection are part of a sphere imagined (or gendered) as feminine, in the same way as even the homeland, one’s country is also gendered as feminine in most languages (with the exception of German), and is allegorised with a female figure. That is, in patriotic rhetoric and in the images the nation and the homeland, gender markers are not even hidden, but are explicitly feminine. (About the gendered connotations in the language of war reports see Cameron (1985:100); and about female allegorical figures see chapter “Dreams, Fears, Idols” in Simone de Beauvoir’s classic The Second Sex (1983:171-229)), where she argues as follows: “Not only are cities and nations clothed in feminine attributes, but also abstract entities, such as institutions: the Church, the Synagogue, the Republic, Humanity are women; so also are Peace, War, Liberty, the Revolution, Victory. Man feminizes the ideal he sets up before him as essential Other, because woman is the material representation of alterity; that is why almost all allegories, in language as in pictorial representation, are women.” (1983:211) The rhetoric of the text based on apparently naive, but in reality uncompromisingly logical questions–and as a result: the consistent (self-) questioning of both the speaker and the addressee concerning their ontological status and their knowledge–is what characterises Woolf’s text. For this reason, as I am arguing, here we can see emerging what Salih calls, when analysing Foucault’s notion of “critique”, “the ethical mode of self-making”, in which, in her view, “the limits of epistemology and ontology are interrogated without recourse to answers or definitions” (2006:302). Salih emphasises that the rhetoric of this position also implies questions, and in terms of content it can be described as “a critical and
Orwell Versus Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf
questioning relation to the norms by which subjects are constituted” (2006:302) even if “interrogations take place within existing discursive structures” (2006:302) (let me add: inevitably), and as a consequence of a self-stylization in the course of which questions are posed to power and knowledge. Nevertheless, [t]he critical practice of self-stylization does not involve the formation of new selves in contradistinction to discourse and the law, since on the contrary, it is a suspension of ontological security (2006:302).
It is this critical attitude and these rhetorical tropes and gestures that one can discover in Three Guineas. The essay has no fixed speaker: the “I” assumes constantly shifting, if you like self-stylized subject positions (so that Brenda R. Silver calls the basic rhetoric of Three Guineas right away as “ventriloquism” (1991:345)), whose figures frequently either contradict or exclude each other, so the rhetoric is certainly anything but homogeneous or homely, consisting almost only of questions. The questions, in turn, are posed at the dominant discursive system, at the norms and at the institutional system, and within that primarily at the practices of national (and as such: at the same time patriarchal) traditions embodied in “Englishness”. Although, as Salih observes, [i]nterrogation is a risky practice since it is likely to expose the uttererquestioner to the denunciations of those who may have a vested interest in protecting ontological and epistemological certainties in order to conceal and congeal the operations of power/knowledge (2006:303).
Woolf was more than willing not only to face her own rejection, but also to risk the rejection of ontological and epistemological certainties (or to risk Foucauldian “provocation”), which, however meant that a wide range of discursive practices constructing the subject had to be radically re-evaluated so as to unveil the cover mechanisms of patriarchal institutions, and to expose how the rhetoric of the nation is entangled in the rhetoric of gender, how the cultural-semiotic construction of Englishness covers up the asymmetry of gender, encoded in power relationships, whereas, in the meantime, the text also shows how asking questions–and questioning– reveal all this. The attitude, however, touched upon very sensitive points in Woolf’s contemporary society just as well as in later periods, so one cannot be surprised that Woolf-reception took a long time to appreciate Three Guineas: this essay has never belonged to the easily accessible and likeable texts, not even on its first publication. Neither the opinion of friends or relatives, nor official reviewers, but not even a posterity of more
than seventy years could come to terms with the text, including feminist literary theory and criticism, even though the latter, particularly from the 1980s on rediscovered Woolf, and placed her texts in the centre of investigation. From among close relatives, the brother-in-law Clive Bell, for example, called Three Guineas Woolf’s “least admirable production” (cited in Scott 1995:173). This qualification is not separable–as Bonnie Kime Scott observes–from the fact that “Bell denied [Woolf] a political stance” (1995:173). As it looks, in this text Woolf transgressed a boundary: that of politics, which her close family and friends thought was not her area of knowledge, what is more, an area whose boundaries were marked by them. The economist Maynard Keynes simply thought the text silly, whereas the husband Leonard Woolf (who in general took a diametrically different position in matters of war and pacifism) considered the essay Woolf’s worst book. Nigel Nicolson (Vita Sackville-West’s son and later the editor of Woolf’s letters) thought it “muddled and unbalanced nonsense”; Woolf’s later biographer, Quentin Bell (the son of Vanessa and Clive Bell, that is, Virginia Woolf’s nephew) was utterly upset how the text analyses traditional English uniforms and professional dresses, furthermore, he could not accept that the essay blurs the boundaries between war and women’s cause (cf. Lee 1997:692). Not even Vita Sackville-West could be enthusiastic about the essay, saying she did not believe that there was a single Englishwoman who would feel England was not her country (Lee 1997:692). While the first couple of comments reject the text in general, the latter two: that of Quentin Bell and Vita Sackville-West point specifically at the apects of Three Guineas touching upon the most sensitive points: the cultural-semiotic interpretation of the idea of Englishness as a nation. But not only Woolf’s contemporaries or her family did not appreciate the text: nor did the professional critics. Silver’s article which focusses on the question whether the basic tone of the essay, interpreted by many as anger, what is more, the anger of a female speaker, bears any relevance on the reception history of the text, can be read a review of reception history. Her starting point is that the reception of the text has always been influenced by the current image of Woolf (with Foucault, we could say, “the author function”) and by the tone of the text, and on this basis she distinguishes three periods in its reception history: first, the moment of publication, when the threat of war gave the question of who controlled the discourse about war a central role in the work's public reception; next, the period between 1941 and 1968 when the book virtually disappeared from public view; and finally the recent rediscovery and partial canonization of the text, which has been surrounded by
Orwell Versus Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf controversies that speak directly to the status of feminist criticism. (1991:347)
Also typical is the attitude of Herbert Marder, who in the 1960s considered Woolf’s effort hopeless–in his phrase: Don Quixotic–to transpose her vision of peace from the sphere of aesthetics into the sphere of politics (1967:156). Relying on Q.D. Leavis’s contemporary denigrating criticism, he also remarks that Three Guineas had an effect quite the contrary to what it wanted to achieve. In his view, the text is marred by an attitude very like the aggressiveness that Virginia Woolf deplored in men (1967:156),
and adds that [t]he feminist program which forms the heart of Three Guineas exposes Virginia Woolf’s limitations as surely as the luminous narrative of The Years proves her mastery. Taken together, these two books encompass the best and the worst of which she was capable. (Marder 1967:156-157)
In the Hungarian Woolf-reception we can see a similar position: in her 1980 Woolf-monograph, Ágnes Bécsy thinks that Three Guineas “contains, taken to its absurdity, the practical paralysis of Woolf’s political thinking, the anachronistic quality of her feminism and the dead-end street of her ethical ‘double opposition’” (Bécsy 1980:242–translation mine), and she can find the reason for it in that Woolf focusses on women’s situation as a possible cause of fascism, “creating the illusion that women’s going to university and having a room of their own could be the safe way to abolish further social problems of any kind” (Bécsy 1980:242–translation mine). I do not think that Woolf gives such an easy and evident answer in the essay to the question of how to prevent war because even if we consider her “solution”, her argument does not go in the direction of university education and a room of one’s own, but the Outsiders’ Society. An indirect counterargument against this simplistic interpretation could also be the fact that even feminist literary criticism, starting in the 1970s, has taken a long time to “find” Three Guineas. If, however, the answers provided in Three Guineas can be translated as easily and as simply into the language and ideology of the feminist movement in the 1970s as Bécsy’s position (typical of a certain phase in reception) makes it out, then Three Guineas should have become canonised as a feminist classic earlier than A Room of One’s Own, because the latter is engaged in questions that seem negligible compared to te overall critique of the system of social institutions as present in Three Guineas: the central question in A Room of One’s Own is
how women and fiction are related to each other, which is not an explicit “movement”-topic. Yet, this is not what happened: A Room was canonised as a permanent and unavoidable reference, to the extent that, ironically, it is treated almost as a compilation or handbook of truisms, and a great number of qoutations have become almost proverbial in spite of the fact that not even the feminist theoretical and critical reception of A Room lacked debates and arguments rooted in diverse positions (cf. Séllei 2007:66-69). In the case of Three Guineas, however, the problems of interpretation are multiply increased, and the reasons–similarly to A Room–should be sought for in the rhetoric and politics (or textual politics) of the text: in the ventriloquist speaker of the text, who, due to the questions and her own constantly shifting position, never allows the reader, not even for a moment to identify with fixed norms, with the established institutions. The rather utopistic Outsiders’ Society in Three Guineas would consist of educated men’s daughters working in their own class– how indeed can they work in any other?–and by their own methods for liberty, equality and peace (Woolf 1992:310)
and its essence is that they should not be willing to take arms, they should not produce munitions, but they should be completely indifferent to whether their brothers go fighting or not: they should neither encourage nor dissuade them from it (Woolf 1992:310). In her understanding this “complete indifference” (Woolf 1992:310) can be deduced from the fact that “the daughters of educated men” (the constantly recurring trope for the first-person plural speaker in the text) are related to power and knowledge (to knowledge derived from power and to the knowledge of power)–as spelt out by the text–in a way different from how their brothers are related to all this, and, consequently, even her relationship to her country is different because her sex and class has very little to thank England for in the past; not much to thank England for in the present; while the security of her person in the future is highly dubious (Woolf 1992:312).
By way of conclusion, the speaker encourages them [t]hat the daughters of educated men then should give their brothers neither the white feather of cowardice nor the red feather of courage, but no feather at all (Woolf 1992:314)
which can, of course, be interpreted as unpatriotic, as a betrayal of one’s country, as high treason.
Orwell Versus Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf
Woolf, Orwell and the War–By Way of Conclusion In this respect, the difference of the circumstances of writing between Orwell’s and Woolf’s text may count: whereas Woolf wrote Three Guineas “only” in a period (even though inevitably) foreshadowing World War II, but already during the Spanish Civil War, Orwell wrote his essay during World War II, which obviously creates a different psychological situation, and thus requires different answers. Another major difference is that in spite of the fact that Leonard Woolf was a socialist thinker, what is more, that defying her general image of the elite intellectuel, even Virginia Woolf, in various periods of her life got close to the common and working-class people (she taught in the Working Women’s Guild and in her last years participated in the village community life in Rodmell), Woolf herself never adopted the system of socialist ideas that permeate, among others, Orwell’s essay. The greatest difference between the two essays, however, is that whereas Woolf cannot look upon a single element of the English institutional system with forgiving humour, Orwell, paradoxically, makes an attempt at opening up the potential of social transformation based on this very establishment, by both changing and preserving it (cf. the Hegelian “Aufhebung”), and by handling it with a forgiveness of which no traces can be found in Woolf’s essay. The rhetorical opening of Orwell’s essay is the description of airplanes crossing the sky: “As I write, highly civilised human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me” (Orwell 1984:144) and what derives from it: an inevitable pressure to keep together as a community, the necessity of forming a nation: “One cannot see the modern world as it is unless one recognizes the overwhelming strength of patriotism, national loyalty” (Orwell 1984:144), as he argues. In this essay, Orwell considers Englishness as a given, as taken for granted both biologically and culturally: “Yes, there is something distinctive and recognizable in English civilization” (145), and constructs a myth of the nation, which, combined with the patriotism as generated by the war and uniting people, he would utilise it in the interest of a social–and socialist– transformation. This latter idea proved a utopia just as well. No less a utopia is the Outsiders’ Society in Woolf’s case, even if in Three Guineas Woolf unwinds the most basic elements of social existence into its bare threads, defying the image of Bloomsbury high intellectuals, created not only by Orwell. This is such a marked feature of the text that Marion Shaw is of the opininon that [i]n The Years and in Three GuineasWoolf seems to have deliberately leant towards the ground, to have engaged with the complex tissue of
men’s, and women’s, relation with their environment. She did so in terms that Wilson, Symons and Lukács would not have recognised as political, namely, those of family and sexual relations, the unwritten laws of society, which, in her analysis, relate to the wider political relations, including that of war between nations. (1997:50)
Thus, instead of the model outlined by Orwell, in which patriotism and intelligence–or the intellectuals–should come together again, Woolf’s “ventriloquist” not even in the sahdow of the war is willing to join forces and support either intellectually or emotionally the very social system that itself is implicated in bringing about the war conflict. Rather, as a representative of the “island of dissident thoughts” (Orwell 1984:161), deducing the conclusions of her uncompromising critique, she has the courage to claim, more radically than Orwell, and, ironically, echoing a Marxist idea (“The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got.” (Marx and Engels (1948:25)) that “in fact, as a woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world” (1992:313). The aim of this indifference, with yet another twist in the logic, is that women should not identify emotionally with war and with patriotism that Woolf understands as the generator of war–that is, with those “natural” notions which secure the acceptability and maintainability of the social system, the establishment– , and she also warns women that they should raise their children in this “indifferent” spirit, which, in the long run, may even achieve the desired effect: the prevention of war (the answer to the original question of the essay), and thus women, paradoxically, can even contribute to saving “their” denied or non-existant country. This conclusion and solution, however utopistic, can only be achieved by the radical critique–or undoing–of all the major elements of Englishness in history from a markedly feminine perspective, and as such, Three Guineas is a key text in (feminists’) undoing history, and in the (feminist) history of undoing–in the feminist history of undoing history.
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Foucault, M. (1983). The subject and power. In H.L. Dreyfuss & Rabinow, P. (Eds.), Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics: With an Afterword by and an Interview with Michel Foucault. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. —. (1997). What is critique? In S. Lotringer (Ed.), J. Rajchman (intr.), L. Hochroth and C. Porter (trans). The Politics of Truth. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e). Lee, H. 1997. Virginia Woolf. London: Vintage. Marder, H. 1967. Feminism and Art: A Study of Virginia Woolf. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Marx, K. and Engels, F. (1848). The Manifesto of the Communist Party. Retrieved November 5, 2010 from http://www.marxists.org/archive/ marx/works/download/pdf/Manifesto.pdf Orwell, G. (1984). The lion and the unicorn. In The Penguin Essays of George Orwell. Penguin: Harmondsworth. Salih, S. (2006). Introduction (to Judith Butler’s “What is Critique? An Essay of Foucault’s Virtue”). In S. Salih & J. Butler (Eds.), The Judith Butler Reader. Oxford: Blackwell. Scott, B.K. (1995). Refiguring Modernism: The Women of 1928. Vol. 1. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Shaw, M. (1997). Alien experiences. In K. Williams & S. Matthews (Eds.), Rewriting the Thirties: Modernism and After. London: Longman. Séllei, N. (2007). Mért félünk a farkastól? Feminista irodalomkritika itt és most. Debrecen: Kossuth Egyetemi Kiadó. Silver, B.R. (1991). The authority of anger: Three Guineas as case study. Signs 16.2 (Winter): 340–370. Silverman, K. (1983). The Subject of Semiotics. New York: Oxford University Press. Woolf, V. (1976). A sketch of the past. In J. Schulkind (Ed.), Moments of Being. London: Grafton. —. (1980). Leave the Letters Till We’re Dead: Collected Letters VI, 1936– 41. N. Nicolson (Ed.). London: Hogarth Press. —. (1984). Diary. Vol. 5: 1936–41. A.O. Bell (Ed.). Harmondsworth: Penguin. —. (1990) The Years. London: Vintage. . —. (1992). A Room of One’s Own. Three Guineas. M. Schiach (Ed.). World’s Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
FEMINIST CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING AND THE PSYCHOTHERAPEUTIC SENSIBILITY OF THE 1960S: RETHINKING THE CONNECTION VOICHIğA NĂCHESCU
Introduction In one of the key writings of Second Wave feminism, radical feminist Pamela Allen explained the meaning of liberation as follows: Some said that liberation would come through changing ourselves; thus we should talk about our private lives and our feelings towards ourselves and each other. Others felt that liberation would come by first changing our society; thus we should talk about building a political women’s movement. […] Slowly we came to the realization that both approaches were necessary, interdependent and doomed to failure if attempted alone. (Allen 1970:13)
The fragment is from Free Space, the 1970 consciousness-raising manual that soon after its publication became mandatory reading for second-wave feminists and one of the most in-depth descriptions of consciousness-raising groups, the small women-only groups that were the preferred organizing strategy of Women’s Liberation. The fragment quoted above explains in brief the philosophy of the movement: activists considered that focusing their efforts only on social change would be an incomplete project at best. Conversely, if women underwent a process of change that was targeted only at the personal level, society would not necessarily change, thus defeating the purpose of the movement. Both personal and social change, women liberationists agreed, were necessary for the feminist revolution to occur. Contemporary histories of Second Wave feminism usually marginalize personal transformation, focusing more on the various forms of activism the movement engendered. The literature on Second Wave history is very
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rich and well documented; however, consciousness-raising groups and the idea of personal liberation are only marginally explored, especially in recent histories. (See Sara Evans, Tidal Wave: How Women Changed America at Century’s End (New York and London: The Free Press, 2003); Myra Marx Ferree and Beth B. Hess, Controversy and Coalition: The New Feminist Movement across Three Decades of Change (3rd edition New York and London: Routledge, 2000, 5th edition); Ruth Rosen, The World Split Open: How the Modern Women’s Movement Changed America (Penguin Books: 2000); Anne Enke, Finding the Movement: Sexuality, Contested Space, and Feminist Activism (Duke University Press, 2007); Stephanie Gilmore, ed. Feminist Coalitions: Historical Perspectives on Second-Wave Feminism in the United States (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008); Rachel Blau du Plessis and Ann Snitow, eds. The Feminist Memoir Project (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998) Susan Brownmiller, In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution (New York: Dell Publishing, 1999); Benita Roth, Separate Roads to Feminism: Black, Chicana, and White Feminist Movements in America’s Second Wave (Cambridge University Press: 2004); Wini Breines The Trouble Between Us: An Uneasy History of Black and White Women in the Feminist Movement (Oxford University Press, 2006); Anne M. Valk’s Radical Sisters: Second-Wave Feminism and Black Liberation in Washington, D.C. (University of Illinois Press, 2008)). These are, to a certain extent, histories of the visible consequences of the movement, as social activism seems somewhat more historically evident than the elusive processes of personal transformation that many feminists underwent. However, the idea of liberation, both personal and collective, was explored forcefully in the writings of many radical feminists and contributed crucially to the appeal of the Second Wave, giving the women’s movement an identity and a philosophy. In order to imagine the processes through which personal transformation could be achieved, women liberationists found inspiration in a set of discourses and practices legitimized by the cultural mainstream, the psychotherapeutic knowledge of their time. This approach was selective, as women liberationists chose from the many schools and orientations that made the psychotherapeutic discourses of the 1960s look like a multicolored patch of heterogeneous elements that had little in common except their concern with the psyche. Feminists adamantly rejected psychoanalysis, which they viewed as a reactionary, anti-feminist force, and they criticized behavioral research, though were nonetheless able to use certain behavior modification techniques in their work toward liberation. Finally, women liberationists used copiously the language and
practices of humanistic psychology, a postwar school that enjoyed tremendous popularity at the time, in order to imagine personal liberation, and collaborated with the radical therapy movement, a loose network of practitioners and activists that attempted to rethink the premises of the profession and harness its insights in order to work for social change. In spite of being able to find such a rich repository of ideas in the psychotherapeutic knowledge of their time, many Second Wave feminists viewed using the language of psychology for the use of a feminist social movement as a liability rather than an advantage. Accepting the idea that Women’s Liberation was similar in any way to therapy carried political implications that many viewed as disqualifying. The idea that feminists needed psychological healing could easily dovetail with an age-old accusation that dismissed feminists’ claims as the demands of maladjusted women who needed therapy. In response, many feminists claimed that the model for consciousness-raising groups were rather Chinese revolutionary women, Algerian women involved in national liberation, and Guatemalan guerillas, a parallel that might have inspired the participants in the Women’s Liberation Movement, yet evoked distant models, far removed from the actual life experiences on the young women involved in the movement. If the comparison with revolutionary Third World women was inspiring for radical feminists and women liberationists, the psychotherapeutic discourses offered women a wealth of ideas that they radically reformed for activist purposes within the movement, and which they turned into an arena for far-reaching feminist social change. In this paper I explore the multifaceted connections that the Women’s Liberation Movement had with the psychotherapeutic sensibility of their time, thus linking the ethos of the movement with the larger cultural context within which it emerged. In many ways, we are used to conceptualizing the Women’s Liberation and the Second Wave as a political movement that formulated a far-reaching critique of every aspect of a sexist society and often advocated for separation, for the creation of alternative lifestyles where feminist utopias could thrive. Yet this narrative, prominent in current histories of the Second Wave, is detrimental to a contextual understanding of Second Wave history. Second Wave feminists lived in their culture, in their time, as much as we live in ours, and they drew upon various cultural and political resources in order to craft their political, revolutionary discourse. While early narratives of the second wave regularly contrasted late 1960s feminism with 1950s gender conformism, more recent histories insist on various and less obvious levels of continuity between the two decades. See Ellen Herman, “Being and Doing: Humanistic Psychology and the Spirit of the Sixties,”
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in Sights on the Sixties ed. Barbara Tischler, (Rutgers University Press: 1992), 87-101; Joanne Meyerowitz, ed., Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945-1960 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994); Daniel Horowitz, Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique: The American Left, the Cold War, and Modern Feminism (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998); Kate Weigand, Red Feminism: American Communism and the Making of Women’s Liberation (Baltimore and London: the Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001). Many women who participated in consciousnessraising groups did so because these groups were intelligible to them, as a new form of therapy, done by women, without experts, and with a political purpose. By situating Women’s Liberation in its wider cultural context, we are able to examine the historical conditions that allowed Women’s Liberation to become a mass movement of women. These sources, more or less openly political, allowed radical feminists to develop radical insights that were far-reaching yet nonetheless carried with them the historical context of their articulation.
The Personal Psychological Approach In spite of the adamant rejection of therapy as a model for consciousness-raising, many women liberationists who participated in consciousness-raising during the late 1960s and early 1970s viewed these groups as rather close to psychotherapeutic practices, although with a specific difference. Rosalyn Fraad Baxandall, radical feminist, recalls her participation in a consciousness-raising group as follows: There was a whole group of women that were so much like you, and shared your history, and had your perception, and you never shared these perceptions with anyone. It could practically be like psychoanalysis in that way, except there were groups of women sharing these perceptions and the goal was political. (Baxandall, interviewed by Ronald J. Grele, New York, NY, May 8, 1989, p. 111, “Student Movement of the 1960s,” Columbia University Oral History Research Project).
In other words, this alternative understanding of consciousness-raising groups was centered on the experiences of the educated and predominantly white women who formed the ranks of Women’s Liberation. As many women liberationists described it to friends or possible future participants, consciousness-raising was “like” therapy, yet done by women and with a political purpose.
Given the commitment to political action, many groups felt torn between personal liberation, a crucial goal of the movement, and their commitment to activism. This tension surfaced in one of the articles published in the Notes from the Third Year, which, probably due to its relevance for the larger community of feminists, was anthologized in the collection Radical Feminism: A women’s group shouldn’t be group therapy, we decided. But there were elements of group therapy in what we were trying to do, to help each other deal with personal problems. […] There was always a conflict between those who favored the personal, psychological approach and those who felt that a women’s group should be building a bridge between the personal insight gained by being in a small group and political action with a larger body of women. (Payne 1970:99)
Women liberationists’ advanced literacy in psychotherapeutic discourses has been marginalized in many histories of Second Wave feminism, which accept the radical feminist claim that connecting consciousness-raising groups and psychotherapeutic discourses denotes an essentially antifeminist attitude. Historian Ellen Herman has been one dissenting voice in this regard, claiming that the “psychotherapeutic sensibility” of the 1960s infused the ethos of the Women’s Liberation Movement, the New Left, the Civil Rights Movement, and the counterculture as well. With regards to the feminism of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Herman claims that if, in the words of Naomi Weisstein’s famous essay, psychology constructed the female, it also constructed the feminist. Herman identifies the main aspects of this psychological influence in Betty Friedan’s early adaptation of humanistic psychological theories, the central place of identity (a concept affiliated with Erik Erikson) in the cultural reorganization feminists envisioned, and the assimilation of psychotherapeutic sensibility into feminism through consciousness raising and feminist therapy. (Herman 1995:290) This claim is connected with Herman’s larger argument pointing out the unprecedented increase in the role that psychological experts were asked to play in crafting the relationship between the postwar, technologically advanced, American society and its citizens. According to Herman, psychoanalysis, psychology and the behaviorist social sciences enjoyed extraordinary involvement in public policy in postwar years, culminating during the 1960s, when federally funded mental health clinics democratized mental health and changed the site of delivery for mental health services from hospitals to outpatient clinics. By the end of the 1960s, not only did the professions flourish, but psychotherapy (in its
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many disciplinary variants) was expected to contribute to solving a variety of social issues, from urban rioting to gender role maladjustment. As Herman, alongside many other observers and critics of the psychotherapeutic establishment, notes, the demographics of the profession enabled many to criticize it as a site for reinforcing social control. In spite of attempts to use psychological insight in order to solve social problems such as racism, the experts continued to be overwhelmingly white men. (Chesler 1972:60-113) To heterosexual women, they offered advice on how to adjust to their secondary roles as servants to men (Buhle 1998). For gay women and men, they offered treatment for their homosexuality (McNair 1992:5-19). And, finally, former patients themselves criticized a system that had left them voiceless in the encounter with their doctor, unable to refuse treatment or to control it in any way (this is a summary of similar points made by R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience (New York: Pantheon Books 1967); Thomas Szasz, The Therapeutic State. (Buffalo: Prometheus Books 1984); Jerome Agel, (ed.) The Radical Therapist (New York: Ballantine Books 1971). Herman’s claim that psychology “constructed” the feminist and that Second Wave feminists, from Betty Friedan to radical feminists, used therapeutic insight, fails however to differentiate between various therapeutic trends that influenced the social movements of the 1960s and stops short of explaining why feminists employed ideas from certain therapeutic schools and refused others. While I find Herman’s argument extremely enlightening for the history of second wave feminism, I cannot but note that failing to explain the origins of the therapeutic ideas employed by feminists to a certain extent relegates second wavers to a passive stance, where they are described as “spoken by” therapeutic discourses and to a certain extent oblivious to the political consequences of their arguments. My argument is that, to the contrary, Second Wave feminists were literate in the therapeutic discourses of their time, aware of the political implications of various schools of therapeutic thought, and selective in choosing terms and concepts best aligned with their political purposes. Early participants in Women’s Liberation manifested highly varying attitudes toward the various bodies of thought that comprised the psychotherapeutic field of the time: while most feminists shared a deep mistrust in American psychoanalysis, given its insistence on gender role acquisition as the crux of psychosexual development, some feminists trained in psychology quickly discovered the potential of certain behavioral modification techniques and used them in their women-only groups. Yet they were most open toward borrowing from humanistic
psychology, using key concepts such as individual needs, human potential, and growth, as part of the political philosophy of Women’s Liberation. Finally, feminists actively collaborated with the anti-psychiatric movement, which attempted to question and rethink the basic assumptions of the therapeutic establishment, working toward empowering patients and former patients to participate in the treatment of mental disease. Radical therapy, a countercultural trend that was part of the anti-psychiatry movement, placed the blame for psychological distress on society, not on the individual, demanded, in the words of their slogan, social change–not adjustment, (Agel 1971:1) and was one of the outlets that actively propagated the ideas of the Women’s Liberation Movement, of Black Liberation, and Gay Liberation.
Against the Psychological Mainstream: Feminist Critiques of the Psychotherapeutic Establishment By 1971, feminists had already begun to articulate sweeping critiques of the psychotherapeutic establishment as well of the gender dynamics of the profession where, in spite of significant increases in the membership of the “psy” professions, men predominated among the doctors and women among the patients. If in 1960 the membership of the American Psychiatric Association totaled 11,083 out of which 10,100 were men and 983 were women, their numbers grew by 1970 to 17,928, of whom 14,267 were men, 1691 women and the gender of 1340 names was unclear. Thus about 90% of the psychiatrists, the most powerful segment of the mental illness profession, were male. (Chesler 1972:52) The American Psychological Association did not fare much better. If in 1960 it included 18,215 members, a number that grew to 30,839 by 1970, the percentage of women, as Phyllis Chesler was informed in a personal communication from the organization’s Membership Office, that only about 25% of its members were women. Clinical psychologists occupied a subordinate position as compared to psychiatrists; yet together the two were the most powerful in the mental health professions. (63) Radical feminists recognized in the psychoanalytic establishment a conservative force that not only kept women within traditional gender roles as auxiliaries to men, but was also able to silence women’s acts of rebellion against patriarchy as symptoms of a psychopathological condition. Based on knowledge gained during consciousness-raising sessions, second-wave feminists insisted that women should be the only experts on female sexuality or femininity in general, resisting the claims to expertise of the male dominated psychoanalytic field. Anne Koedt, Kate Millett,
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Shulamith Firestone, Naomi Weisstein, and Phyllis Chesler are some of the most well-known feminist writers who articulated a feminist critique of the psychotherapeutic establishment as a formidable force that was shoring up universal and highly differentiated gender roles as well as extreme power differentials between genders. Witness, for example, the Boston Women’s Health Collective’s (BWHC) first edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, which succinctly expressed radical feminists’ critiques against the psychotherapeutic establishment: A rule of thumb would be to avoid psychiatrists and analysts—that is, therapists with medical training–as that branch of the psych field is the most reactionary, most grounded in doctrine harmful to women […]. Psychology is not always better, but the training is shorter–and more flexible–and it is in this realm that radical therapists and young women and men seeking radical relevant approaches to emotional troubles can be found. (BWHC 1973:65)
It is important to note that while the “rule of thumb” according to the Collective was to avoid psychoanalysts and psychiatrists altogether, certain areas of psychology seemed be able to provide help, especially in tandem with the new bodies of knowledge emerging from the radical movements of the 1960s.
From Self-Actualization and Growth to Consciousness-Raising The landscape of the psychotherapeutic discourses during the 1960s was remarkably diverse, yet three main schools clearly dominated the field. These were psychoanalysis and behaviorism, well-established trends within universities and among practitioners, and humanistic psychology, whose adepts also named it “the third force.” Humanistic psychologists advocated most passionately for a therapeutic practice that went beyond the treatment of those considered mentally ill and responded to the emotional needs of those deemed “normal.” The theory of humanistic psychology, elaborated, among others, by famous authors such as Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, aimed to articulate an ethics and an epistemology at the same time, encompassing most areas of human experience, and focusing especially on individuals living in an advanced capitalist society. Humanistic psychology aligned with a predominantly liberal ideology and espoused the belief in a universal human nature, a gender-blind essence propelling human beings toward actualization of their human
potential. Throughout his career, Carl Rogers promoted a non-judgmental form of talk therapy, initially titled “non-directive”, later “client centered”, a therapeutic approach that advocated for a genuine acceptance for the client, deep support, as well as understanding for the client’s emotions. (Moss 1999:44) According to Abraham Maslow, humanistic psychology was based on the belief in human nature, an essence that strived for actualization, or fulfillment of its potential (this belief in a positive universal shared by all human beings gave Maslow’s philosophy a distinctively Rousseauist tinge). Fulfilling the tendency toward actualization resulted in psychological health. Psychological sickness, in Maslow’s view, was rather the result of suppressing human nature. (1968:189-219) Self-actualization ranked high in Maslow’s famous hierarchy of human motivations. This hierarchy provided an all-encompassing list of human needs, some of them physiological, such as the need for food, sleep, and sex; others relational, such as the need for love and acceptance; and, finally, higher-level needs such as the need for aesthetic satisfaction, for knowledge, and, at the highest level, the need for self-actualization. Failing to satisfy higher needs was, in Maslow’s view, destructive: “The human being needs framework of values, a philosophy of life, […] in about the same sense that he needs sunlight, calcium, or love.” (206) This aura of rebellion and the focus on spontaneity and creativity undoubtedly contributed to the appeal of humanistic psychology for the counterculture. As historian Helen Herman argues, humanistic psychology also influenced the political student movements of the 1960s. Members of the New Left, the Civil Rights Movement, and the radical feminist movement used ideas about human potential in order to articulate their opposition against American mainstream society, a society that repressed individual creativity and freedom in order to harness human energy to the purposes of the militaristic capitalist racist and patriarchal empire. (Herman 1992:87) Pamela Allen’s Free Space: The Small Group in Women’s Liberation, a consciousness-raising handbook based on its author’s experience as a member of a women’s liberation group, also is heavily influenced by humanistic psychology. From the very beginning, Allen couches her narrative of political involvement in humanistic psychological terms: After three years of being in the women’s movement I understand that one of the basic needs which drove me to join women’s liberation was a need to do meaningful work—work that encouraged self-growth and at the same time was relevant to other people’s needs. (Allen 1970:1)
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Allen interprets her desire for revolutionary action both as the expression of a basic need, the need for meaningful work, and as a manifestation of a universally human impulse, the impulse towards growth and actualization. Throughout Free Space, Allen repeatedly claims that the answer to these needs lies in working for Women’s Liberation, which represents one of the very few avenues open to women in search for selfactualization through meaningful work. In other words, working to end the oppression of women through political action was one way through which women would also contribute to their own actualization as human beings. For Allen, Women’s Liberation was able to fulfill both political and personal goals. Using Maslow’s concept of self-actualization as a universal human motivation, Allen thus solves the apparent contradiction between individual interest and social engagement by outlining that only through political action in the service of the Women’s Movement can women liberate themselves from the psychological chains of patriarchy and from the submissive roles they had been socialized to play in the service of others. Allen is careful to delineate certain functions that the group should not, in her view, perform. Allen underscores that an analysis of the group’s functions in the life of the participants must be based on a thorough understanding of women’s needs. (34) Her analysis, influenced by Maslow’s hierarchy of human motivations, first enumerates women’s primary needs: the need for food, shelter, companionship, understanding, sex, as well as friendship and play. In Allen’s view, in order to maintain the unencumbered character of Free Space, these primary needs have to be fulfilled outside of the group, within a family or a commune. While recognizing the fact that pervasive sexism prevents women from having these needs met completely, Allen emphasizes that “each woman must find ways to have these needs met” and that “[t]he group defined as Free Space would not meet these needs.” Following Maslow’s hierarchy of human motivations, Allen then approaches the second tier of human needs, the need for meaningful work through which an individual can actualize herself. Pointing out that for women living in a patriarchal society dominated by technological capitalism, the experience of self-actualizing work is even more rare that it is for men, and that the absence of this opportunity contributes to women’s double oppression, hindering their creativity, Allen nevertheless claims that the group should not fulfill this need either. On the contrary, she encourages women to do meaningful work in the service of the women’s movement: “for us, meaningful work must take the form of changing society itself.” (35) While Allen encourages women to become engaged in the feminist revolution and even
lists several forms of activism in which her groups’ members have become involved, there is a certain vagueness with regards to how precisely the members of the small group would use their knowledge in working for liberation, as well as a certain deferment of activism while stressing the need for knowledge and theorizing. To conclude, Pamela Allen’s Free Space saw the raising of one’s consciousness as an individual process. She recommended that women work for the larger movement, which would allow members to satisfy their need for meaningful work, yet the mere definition of the work in the women’s movement as unpaid social work assumed that the members had their basic needs–as outlined by Maslow–for food and shelter already satisfied. Her consciousness-raising handbook did not go beyond generalizations about the need to work for the movement; the demand to work for larger organizations in order to overcome patriarchy is mentioned only briefly, once. If in the small group, members were supposed to achieve a feminist framework through a group process, however the responsibility for transformation remained with the individual. The small group was the space for individual freedom; through consciousnessraising, each woman, individually, could begin to realize and actualize her human potential.
Within the Counterculture: Radical Feminists and the Radical Therapy Movement According to many critics of the therapeutic establishment, the main schools of therapeutic thought of the 1960s and 1970s were geared toward fostering individual adjustment to societal needs. Humanistic psychology, while centered on the needs of the individual and able to articulate a farreaching critique of a society dominated by technology and conformism, still failed to put forth a vision of radical social change. Furthermore, humanistic psychology maintained its belief in a hierarchical therapeutic environment in which trained psychologists would cater to the emotional growth of individual clients. It took more radical groups within the profession, within what was loosely called radical therapy, to attempt to design practices and interactions that would avoid reinforcing the power relations between therapist and patient, psychological experts and society. Radical therapy originated on the fertile ground of the counterculture and under the galvanizing influence of New Left and antiwar organizing. The movement was supportive of Women’s Liberation, of the Gay Liberation Movement, and often took stands against imperialism and racism. The journal of the movement, The Radical Therapist, like their
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contemporary The Radical Teacher or Science for the People, represented an organized effort to address an audience of professionals of radical, leftleaning, and liberal political beliefs, (Henley 1980:13) as well as former patients and radicals interested in psychotherapy. Radical therapy criticized the power relations between therapist and patient, the underlying assumption of psychotherapy as helping individuals adjust to society, and the sexism, racism, and homophobia manifest in various psychotherapeutic practices. Inspired by the works of theorists such as R.D. Laing and Thomas Szasz and influenced by Marxism, the radical therapy movement put the blame on society for individual psychic pain and attempted to rethink and reorganize mental health care to be delivered “with” the patients rather than bestowed “upon” them. The radical therapy movement linked a radical social critique with an attempt to understand inner life in its interaction with a social environment considered by definition oppressive. By 1970, there were radical therapy groups in most of the areas of student protest, such as Berkeley, Cambridge, Chicago, New York, and New Haven, Connecticut, as well as in Minot, North Dakota, where The Radical Therapist, the first journal of the movement, was published in 1970 by a radical therapy collective. (Agel 1971:X) Many articles, manifestoes, position papers, and essays from the first year of The Radical Therapist were later reprinted as a collection in 1971, collection that enjoyed tremendous success and was republished twice within the following three years after its initial publication. The first issue of “The Radical Therapist” appeared in April, 1970, announcing its motto on its cover: “Therapy means change, not adjustment.” According to the authors of the “Radical Therapy Manifesto,” extant psychological expertise had been co-opted by the repressive apparatus of the state: [we] are alarmed by the use of insights from therapy fields to extend institutional and governmental control, through required psychological tests for employee applicants, inappropriate in-depth interviews, and the use of therapists as consultant engineers for third parties such a corporations, the military and universities. (Agel 1971:xxi)
This alliance between the therapeutic establishment and the state enabled participants in the therapeutic establishment to derive tangible benefits such as jobs and research grants from doing work that in the end amounted to perpetrating discrimination against women, minorities, homosexuals. The “Manifesto” denounced the complicity between the
psychiatric establishment and ongoing oppression along lines of gender, sexuality, race, and mental health: Therapists by training, what we have been taught is increasingly irrelevant, and even destructive. Out notions of therapy are obsolete: elitist, malecentered, and obsessional. Our modes of practice are often racist and exploitative. Clinging to concepts often outmoded and rarely questioned, we insulate ourselves from the society around us and support the status quo […].
Radical therapists repeatedly insisted that clinical psychology, psychiatry, and the whole array of mental health knowledge contributed to the perpetuation of oppression in a variety of forms. They attacked the psychiatric establishment for maintaining the monopoly over mental health and often censoring any kind of social protest as lack of adjustment. Radical therapists, while advocating for social change, had no doubt that as practiced in most parts of the establishment, therapy was a force able to silence social criticism: “Therapists often look suspiciously at social change and label as ‘disturbed’ those who press toward it. Concerned with maintaining and justifying current practices, therapy avoids moving towards making life more meaningful for all people.” (xxv) Given its commitment to social change, The Radical Therapist consistently maintained connections with the student movements that were agitating the social field at the time. This support often took the form of publishing news from the antiwar movement, taking position against racism and imperialism, and publishing well-known writings from the Women’s Liberation Movement and Gay Liberation and thus contributing to spreading out the ideas of these social movements. The second issue of The Radical Therapist included two classics of radical feminism, Anne Koedt’s “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm” and Carol Hanisch’s “The Personal is Political.” The third issue of The Radical Therapist was dedicated to Women’s Liberation and was edited by Judith Brown, member of the editorial staff at The Radical Therapist (at the time she was Research Associate with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Florida and founding member of a Gainsville Women Liberation group). The fourth issue of the publication included articles about feminist therapy. Many writings published in the journal also dealt with women’s health and lesbianism, e.g. a year later, The Radical Therapist dedicated a special issue to lesbianism and published famous manifesta such as “Woman Identified Woman” and “Radicalesbians.” (1971:11-13) I am going to briefly review here the writings published in the third issue of The Radical Therapist. This issue of the journal represented the
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space where Women’s Liberation and radical therapy intersected, as the authors published in the third issue included many activists from Redstockings, New York Radical Women, Bread and Roses, a New Orleans Women’s Group, and other prominent Women’s Liberation authors. The articles gathered in the third issue of The Radical Therapist included, among others, the Redstockings “Manifesto,” Kathie Sarachild’s “Consciousness-Raising and Intuition,” an essay by Marilyn Zweig titled “Is Women’s Liberation a Therapy Group?,” an “Open Letter to Psychiatrists,” by Nicole Anthony, the “Resolution” of the Women’s Caucus of the American Psychological Association from 1969, “Lesbianism,” by Martha Shelley, a position paper by the Redstockings, San Francisco, titled “What You Can Do,” classics such as Naomi Weisstein’s “Kinder, Kuche, Kirche” and an excerpt from Phyllis Chesler’s Women and Madness titled “Marriage and Psychotherapy,” as well as a bibliography of Women’s Liberation. While it would be difficult and maybe redundant to summarize all of the writings published in the issue, in the following I will briefly outline and examplify three positions around which the arguments in this collection cohere and thus come one step further toward a clearer explanation of the intricate relation between women’s liberation and radical therapy. To begin with, The Radical Therapist’s issue on women republished feminist writers who articulated a critique of the psychotherapeutic establishment from feminist positions. Naomi Weisstein’s “Kinder, Kuche, Kirche,” an earlier version of “Psychology Constructs the Female,” (1970:12-13) was republished, as well as a fragment from Phyllis Chesler’s Women and Madness. What these two writers had in common was their adamant critique of the psychotherapeutic thought as a repository of patriarchal ideas geared toward maintaining women’s subordinate position in society. Weisstein claimed that psychological knowledge about women reinforced sexist beliefs under the guise of scientific thought. In her turn, Chesler insisted that these discourses grounded therapeutic practices that further endangered women’s wellbeing, touting adjustment for women but actually reinforcing patriarchal family arrangements, as women were trained by (male) psychiatrists to adjust and thus play a subordinate role toward the men in their lives. The second main line of thought in the articles published in the issue on women attempted to revalue the women’s experiences from a feminist point of view. In the “Editorial,” Brown argued for the radical feminist “pro-Woman line,” namely for the idea that women were agents who throughout history have acted under constrained patriarchal circumstances. Brown contended that women who were submissive, as the feminine
gender role required, were actually attempting to strike their own deal with a patriarchal society that had systematically discriminated against them. (1970:2) Other writers described certain features of traditionally defined femininity as survival skills that, harnessed in the service of social change, could be propitious, such as empathy or slow decision-making in a world of contradictory options. (1970:7) While according to the feminist writers published in The Radical Therapist, these survival skills had been developed under unfavorable social circumstances, while women’s search to fulfill their human potential had been negatively affected by patriarchy, these writers nevertheless expressed their belief that there was a core that, although damaged by patriarchy, nevertheless had the potential for renewal and that could ground a feminist theory rooted in women’s experiences. Katie Sarachild, in an article “Consciousness-raising and Intuition” emphasized the focus on feelings as motor for political action. “We always stay in touch with our feelings,” began her article. We assume that our feelings are telling us something from which we canlearn […] that our feelings mean something worth analyzing […] that our feelings are saying something political, something reflecting fear that something bad will happen to us or hope, desire, knowledge that something good will happen to us. (1970:6)
Like radical therapists, radical feminists focused on women’s feelings and attempted to craft an intuitive approach that would mine this wealth of insights in order to articulate a new political language. If in mainstream psychiatry, feelings were being rationalized and their interpretation was geared toward individual adjustment, the focus on feelings proposed by radical feminists was meant to open possibilities for political action in arenas previously considered apolitical. Like radical therapists, yet from a feminist perspective, the women liberationist writers published in The Radical Therapist’s issue on women criticized the therapeutic establishment for reinforcing patriarchy and outlined the psychological dimensions of patriarchal oppression. Yet they contended that, in spite of patriarchal conditioning, at the core of their being, women‘s feelings, left untouched by patriarchy, could be a source of genuine political insight and a motor for political action. Years of patriarchal conditioning could thus be reversed and women could learn to stop blaming themselves for their lot, helped by the support, warmth, and affection that sisterhood brought to consciousness-raising groups. Yet, as radical feminists repeatedly argued, the purpose of consciousness-raising
Feminist Consciousness-Raising of the 1960s
groups was to lead to political action and social change and not only offer sisterly support and a temporary reprieve to their members.
Conclusion The relationship between radical feminism and the psychotherapeutic discourses of the 1960s was as contentious as it was complex. On the one hand, radical feminists criticized the therapeutic establishment for insisting on gender role acquisition as a supreme sign of adulthood for women and appeasing their revolt as signs of psychopathology. The second critique that feminists directed toward the psychotherapeutic establishment was related to its hopelessly individualist and apolitical character. The liberation of women, radical feminists argued, had to occur collectively, and had to happen in the political arena–yet, as many liberationists viewed it, it had to have personal and psychic dimensions as well. In order to craft this discourse of liberation with its twofold goal, private and public, or personal/psychological and political, women liberationists used insights from the therapeutic discourses of the 1960s. Humanistic psychology, aligned with a predominantly liberal ideology and espousing the belief in a universal human nature, a gender-blind essence propelling human beings toward actualization of their human potential, offered radical feminists a repository of ideas that they employed in order to attain their feminist, political goals. Pamela Allen adapted humanistic psychology’s key concepts in order to argue that women too needed to attain their human potential and that this potential could be actualized through work for the Women’s Liberation Movement. Finally, radical feminists actively collaborated with the radical therapy movement by editing the third issue of The Radical Therapist, the publication of the movement. Radical feminists criticized the therapeutic establishment and sometimes turned the theory on its head in order to craft a political discourse, yet the concepts and practices borrowed from therapeutic discourses–human potential is one powerful example among many, consciousness-raising as political therapy for women another–shaped the political philosophy of Women’s Liberation.
References Agel, J. (1971). Introduction. In J. Agel (Ed.), The Radical Therapist. New York: Ballantine Books. Allen, P. (1970). Free Space: A Perspective on the Small Group in Women’s Liberation. Albany, California: Times Change Press. Buhle, M.J. (1998). Feminism and Its Discontents: A Century of Struggle with Psychoanalysis. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. Chesler, P. (1972). Women and Madness. New York: Avon Books. Henley, N. (1980). Retrospective: ten years in the life of a radical psychology journal. State and Mind, Vol. 7 (3) Summer 1980. Herman, E. (1992). Being and doing: humanistic psychology and the spirit of the sixties. In B. Tischler (Ed.), Sights on the Sixties. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. —. (1995). The Romance of American Psychology: Political Culture in the Age of Experts. Berkeley: University of California Press. Maslow, A. (1968). Toward a Psychology of Being. Princeton: New Jersey. D. van Nostrand Company . McNair, L.D. (1992). African American women in therapy: an Afrocentric and feminist synthesis. Women & Therapy 12 (1/2). Moss, D. (1999). Carl Rogers, the person-centered approach, and experiential therapy. In D. Moss (Ed.), Humanistic and Transpersonal Psychology: A Historical and Biographical Sourcebook. Westport, Conn., and London: Greenport Press. Payne, C. (1970). Consciousness-raising: a dead end? In S. Firestone and A. Koedt (Eds.), Notes from the Second Year. New York: Random House. Sarachild, K. (1970). Consciousness-raising and intuition. In The Radical Therapist 1 (3). Weisstein, N. (1970). Kinder, Kuche, Kirche. The Radical Therapist 1 (3). Boston Women’s Health Collective. (1969). Our Bodies, Ourselves. Boston: New England Free Press.
CHAPTER THREE: RE-READING AND RE-WRITING THE PAST
HERTA MÜLLER AND UNDOING THE TRAUMA IN CEAUùESCU’S ROMANIA ADRIANA RĂDUCANU
Introduction […] But Herta Müller is simply a writer, and her literature has an international relevance, because it speaks about human beings, about traumas which touch the most intimate or deepest chords in human beings and transcend any form of thematic or problematic localism. By the stylistic formula and the deep ongoing problems she tackles, by the profound attitude of her writing, she is a universal writer. Actually, she won a prize which is granted to writers from all over the world, by virtue of universality, that Herta Müller undoubtedly has plenty of, in my opinion. (Radio 2010 http://www.rri.ro/art.shtml?lanh1&sec=13&art=59612).
The opinion of the Romanian critic Paul Cernat, regarding Herta Müller, the 2009 Nobel laureate for literature, concurs with those expressed in early articles, such as those in Norbert Otto Eke’s 1991 volume Die erfundene Wahrnehmung. These pre-Nobel evaluations generally preferred an apolitical perspective on Herta Müller’s works, reading them via philosophical lenses or strictly literary tropes (see especially Claudia Becker’s analysis of “Niederungen” through E.T.A Hoffmann’s “Serapiontisches Prinzip”). Nevertheless, after Müller was granted the Nobel Prize for Literature, the tone of a vast majority of articles shifted towards appraising the political, a dangerous exercise, I would suggest, and one which would somehow deny her value as a writer and champion her only as a voice from the former Iron Curtain, a social activist whose main concern is to lift the veil from a nightmarish half a century of history. The purpose of the present study, therefore, is to mainly read Herta Müller as a woman writer and not only as a political activist, notwithstanding the influence of the social and political realms on the individual and her fiction. Furthermore, as the present study also suggests a Gothic reading of Herta Müller’s books, it infers that along with granting the prestigious
Herta Müller and Undoing the Trauma in Ceauúescu’s Romania
Nobel prize to a relatively unknown, marginal writer (at least to the English and American audience), a genre for centuries marginal–I refer here to the Gothic–has also been finally granted international recognition and appreciation. In our post-modernist times, when definitions only remark themselves via their slipperiness and shape-changing characteristics, according to the users and the contexts, a metatheory of Gothic escapes even the most arduous of researchers. Various scholars have argued about Gothic being a genre, a mode, an adjective, a noun, a collection of features, or a space definition, to name just a few. Even within each of these possible definitions, controversies abound. For example, as a genre, Gothic has never stopped being a contested site since many scholars wonder whether by the time we reach Mary Shelley we can still talk about the “original Gothic” that preserves, albeit in a modified shape the characteristics of texts such as The Castle of Otranto and Mysteries of Udolpho. Another ongoing debate regards the misconstruction of the Gothic mode as an example of anti-realist “fantasy” or even dream-writing. Thus, as Baldick and Mighall claim, in an impressive body of Gothic criticism, amassed over the past two centuries, frequently the manifest temporal, geographical and ideological referents were overlooked, “while […] implausible models of their supposed latent fears, desires and ‘revolutionary’ impulses” were granted the central position (Baldick and Mighall 2000:211). The authors named above furthermore argue that Gothic and Gothic criticism, far from limiting itself only to the “abnormal”, “dream-like”, “repressed” and “antiEstablishment”, actually “stands as a central, if more colourfully flagrant, instance of the main-stream modernist, postmodernist, and left-formalist campaign against nineteenth century literary realism and its alleged ideological backwardness” (211). The present study agrees with Ellen Moers’ description of Gothic, who emphasized it not so much as a specific genre in literary history, but rather as a mode of writing to be found in novels and poems alike, and one which may also appear as a sub-mode in novels that have been generally called realistic. (Moers 1976:152). Writing some decades after Moers, Punter reinforces her argument and claims that the power of this formerlymarginal genre is of such nature that it can be employed not only to interpret fiction produced centuries after the death of Walpole, and in a very remote territory, but also socio-political reality overcome by literary conventions. According to him “Gothic is not only a literary genre, but a way of relating to the real, to historical and psychological facts, which will clearly contain a moment of variation as other aspects of cultural life, but which nonetheless has forms of continuity […]” (Punter 1996:4).
Trauma represents one of the steady characteristics of Gothic, whether historical, fantastic, urban, post-colonialist, post-modernist, female, etc. As pointed by Bruhm, “Gothic itself is a narrative of trauma” with the protagonists usually experiencing “some horrifying effects that profoundly affect them, destroying, (at least temporarily) the norms that structure their lives and identities.” (Bruhm 2002:268). Within literary criticism trauma has been attracting increasing attention, especially since it seems to allow for a fruitful discussion of the manner in which fragmentation and alienation–the staples of post-modernism–, merge with the specifics of politics and history. In the case of Herta Müller’s books, critics such as Beverly Driver Eddy and Brigid Haines have already emphasized the trauma resulting from the brutal penetration of the personal by the political.
The Land of Green Plums The 1993 The Land of Green Plums is centered on town-life during the Ceauúescu regime. As stated by Marven, it marks “Müller’s shift towards ‘autofiktional’ writing (her preferred term)”, and “the protagonists and narrators who are particularly close to her experiences […] express the physical threat and psychological repression typical of the communist regime in Romania.” (Marven 2005 “In allem ist der ris: http://www. accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary0286_14403359 ITM). Paul Cernat, a Romanian critic also discusses these two novels (The Land of Green Plums and The Appointment) from the perspective of a fight against: […] a political evil, an evil which has permeated the body, soul and minds, an evil which has sickened the whole of mankind. Her literature is obsessed with the theme of evil and this evil bears the name Securitate, the secret police during the communist regime […] they are books on fear, but also on the fight against fear, books on the recovery of a traumatic memory. (http://www.rri.ro/art.shtml?lang=1&sec=13&art=59612)
While agreeing with both Marven and Cernat about the political nature of evil in the two novels mentioned above, the present study will also offer an analysis of the female body and its non-ritualistic dismembering within the dictatorship circumstances. The Land of Green Plums traces out the varied destinies of five young people who meet at the University of Timiúoara, a city in the Western part of Romania. Lola, Edgar, Kurt, Georg and the unnamed narrator are depicted as random samples of a generation raised and trained in fear, a political fear which bears CeauĠescu’s name. Perusing The Land of Green
Herta Müller and Undoing the Trauma in Ceauúescu’s Romania
Plums means witnessing the tribulations (and the temptations) of a mind confronted by a vestige of the past that solicits an unnatural extension of life. In other words, the novel is centred on the trauma of the survivor and its prolonged life, far away from both the psychological and the geographical boundaries that fostered it. The Land of Green Plums abounds in traumatic moments, but the initial one, the suicide of Lola, one of the protagonist’s roommates seems to trigger a series of adversities, closely linked to the political: Five girls stood by the entrance-way of the dormitory. Inside the glass display case was Lola’s picture, the same one as in her party book. Under the picture was a piece of paper. Someone read out loud: This student has committed suicide. We abhor her crime and we despise her for it. She has brought disgrace upon the whole country. […] At four o’clock in the afternoon, in the great hall, two days after she hanged herself, Lola was expelled from the party and exmatriculated from the university. Hundreds of people were there. Someone stood at the lectern and said: “She deceived us all, she doesn’t deserve to be a student in our country or a member of our party”. Everybody applauded. (Müller 1999:23-24)
In the novel, Lola and her habits had been an object of fascination for the narrator for a long time before the suicide, a narrator who preserves the role of “witness”. Lola’s escapades, Lola’s men, Lola’s libertinage are never openly criticised by the narrator who is her roommate, but merely witnessed. Although theoretically oppressed and repressed in the same way and sharing a common background, that of villagers attempting to penetrate the urban world of Timiúoara, the narrator and Lola never experience female friendship. The dynamics of the relationship between Lola and the unnamed narrator is reduced to the abnormal paradigm of doer vs. contemplator. The mere carnality of Lola, the food that she consumes–the tongue and the kidneys and other animal organs that she keeps in the common fridge, the “hunger” for other girls’ clothes, the many men that keep her company and whose influence, she hopes, may help her climb up the social ladder suggest an almost-vampire female presence. Forever trapped in the act of watching her, the narrator also displays an inner, well-hidden desire to mimic, even to “consume” the other girl, a problematic role-model, a seller of carnal pleasures, a perennial seeker of opportunities, ultimately a female victim of both a patriarchal system and a political dictatorship: “Neither in the cafeteria nor in the gym hall could I tell whether Lola ate the bits of offal or whether she threw them away. I wanted to know. My curiosity burned to hurt Lola. I watched until my eyes gave out.” (Müller 1999:16) In this continuous
devouring of young flesh, even metaphorically so, in this voyeurism that is only accompanied by the omnipresence of the party-eye which can see everywhere, anytime, anyone, elements of what may be called Sexual Gothic can be discerned. As pointed out by Ellen Moers, a literary work can be called Sexual Gothic or present certain characteristics of it when “the gothic heroine and the text are haunted by repressed sexual desire, prominence of repressed doubling in Gothic fiction where the self is split in order to keep sexuality and sexual pleasure at bay” (Moers 1976:152). This fictional sexual split or the doubling has an interesting counterpart in real life. Müller herself, while disclosing facts about her Securitate file, explains: In my file I am two different people. One is called “Cristina”, who is an enemy of the state and is targeted. In order to compromise this “Cristina”, the falsification factory of section D (disinformation) fabricates a decoy out of all the parts which damage me most–loyal communist, ruthless secret agent, member of the party, which I, like many functionaries in the country, had never never been […] Wherever I went I had to live with this decoy. She wasn’t just sent after me, she also went ahead. Although I have only ever spoken against the dictatorship in my writing, right from the start, the decoy goes her own way to this very day. She has become independent. (http://www.redpepper.org.uk/An-alien-gaze)
Significantly, from a Gothic perspective, where boundaries between the real and the imaginary are often dissolved, the doppelgänger motif has the ability to trespass survival strategies in real life and invade fiction, although with a different function. A form of psychological defence from external forces and pressures in real life, the sexual doppelgänger allows for living the life of uninhibited sexuality in The Land of Green Plums. From this point of view the narrator and the first victim of disturbed psychological and physical destinies, can be read as twins, doubles, with the second one acting on the overpowering desires of the first. The sexual life of the narrator, self-confessed and not alluded to or imposed by others (although Captain Pjele’s interrogations are of a highly sexual nature), will later on follow a pattern similar to Lola’s. Every Wednesday, years after Lola’s tragic death, the narrator automatically reproduces the pattern of impersonal contact between man and woman and although she claims that “we made love hurriedly, feeling heat and frost on our skin at the same time” (Müller 1999:160), the depiction of these strangely casual and yet regular flesh-encounters speaks more of consummation of desperate lust than love. The narrator’s “love-affair”, silent in its being a “one-only”, nevertheless seems to mirror the deafening licentiousness of Lola; maybe
Herta Müller and Undoing the Trauma in Ceauúescu’s Romania
less physically repressed, but more oppressed, Lola decides to abruptly end a carnal concert given for the benefit of various men–some party acolytes, others anonymous workers who pour their many frustrations, lack of personal, social and political perspectives into the temporary power granted by random intercourses. In spite of the apparently “dirty, impure acts” (see Nadirs), Lola’s suicide marks her as victorious and pure, notwithstanding the sin committed when ending her own life along with the infant’s that she carries in her womb. Although she has prostituted herself repeatedly, sometimes as an act of female rebellion against the system, some other times with clear goals in mind–“to become someone in the city, […] and then, four years later, to go back to the village, not on the dusty path down below, but higher up, through the branches of the mulberry trees” (Müller 1999:3)–Lola seems to remain the provincial girl who refuses a life-long compromise with men who use her body but refuse her love. Her romantic dreams of love and not the actions of a “fallen” woman are preserved via the suicidal act, and earn her a tragic escape from the political and personal nightmare: It will be hard to keep the shirts of a gentleman white. If, in four years, he comes back with me to the drought, it will be because of my love. If his white shirts manage to dazzle the people walking in the village, it will be because of my love. And it will be my love if he proves a gentleman, on whom the barber will call at home, leaving his shoes at the door: It will be difficult to keep the shirts white with all that dirt and all those leaping fleas, writes Lola. (Müller 1999:7)
Since Gothic as a genre/mode, allows and invites ambiguities, Lola’s naïve pining for an imaginary love may also suggest a sort of culturally induced trauma, disguised as “normal” feminine development, which demands completion through a man’s love and protection. Therefore, read as never-accomplished romance, but nevertheless romance, or the dream of it, Lola’s yearning appears as symptomatic for the heated debate among the feminists in the 80’s regarding the connection between romance/Gothic and pornography: The Gothic uses woman’s whole body as a pawn: she is moved, threatened, discarded, and lost. And, as the whole person is abducted, attacked, and so forth, the subtext metaphorically conveys anxiety about her genital risk. Pornography reverses the synecdochal relation by instead using the part to refer to the whole: a woman is a twat, a cunt, a hole. The depiction of explicitly genital sexual practice which is pornography’s metier can be simply a difference in degree, not in kind, from the Gothic more genteel abuse. (Masse 1992:108)
Indeed, before taking her fate in her own hands and committing suicide, Lola’s body does epitomize physical and sexual abuse, ironically accompanied by complicity with the abusers, yet another “politically’ induced strategy of survival for a provincial girl pursuing a career in a town, but actually pursuing patriarchal protection and ideally, love. However, her life and the gruesome details of her death–she hangs herself using the narrator’s belt, are revealed to the readers via the narrator. Ambiguous, if not blameable in her passivity, Lola’s roommate-nameless narrator, on the one hand witnesses Lola’s culinary and sexual debaucheries, on the other hand peruses her diary after her death, thus continuing what may be called an act of symbolic devouring and incorporating. Watched, followed, stared at, Lola seems to be not only the victim of the political, but also of the personal and perhaps more destructive, female envy, albeit maintained at an abstract level and not acted upon. The Land of Green Plums, apart from pillorying a political system that breathes terror, also displays the anguish poisoning the female psyche when confronted with a more attractive, apparently more liberated roommate, who becomes–and not necessarily due to the political circumstances–the Other, alien essence to be symbolically consumed even after death, since emulation is not an option. Apart from Lola, The Land of Green Plums displays another female alter-ego for the narrator, in the character of Tereza. As stated above and also noticed by Marven “the autobiographical elements of Müller’s work can also be understood as a form of splitting” since a perusal of other two works by Müller besides The Land of Green Plums, may also be read in terms of “doubling of female characters”, “where one is complicit in the activities of the state” (Irene and Dana, Adina and Clara, the “I” and Tereza) (Marven 2005:57). Tereza’s character is based on a friend of Müller’s who delivered information on her to the Securitate while maintaining the illusion of true friendship. Tereza, very much like Lola, displays a voracity, an insatiable appetite for clothes, jewels, stories, everything that is connected to a life fully lived, to maintaining an appearance of youth and health in a body that is slowly rotting from inside, eaten by cancer. Similarly, the narrator clings on to Tereza and her support, in spite of knowing that her father is a well-connected sculptor and in spite of the very remote possibility of Tereza not having been already tainted and become an accomplice in the political hysteria that is threatening to molest everything, starting and ending with personal relationships. When reading the three female characters in The Land of Green Plums in a triadic connection, with the unnamed narrator, dying twice in the hypostasis of Lola and Tereza, the issue of survival at all costs
Herta Müller and Undoing the Trauma in Ceauúescu’s Romania
gains interesting connotations. Thus, it seems obvious that the death of former female friends is the price paid so that the unnamed narrator– hardly can she be called the “protagonist”, as she more often than once, in the economy of the text, takes great pains to secure for herself only the function of witness–may retain her bodily wholeness (she emigrates to Germany), even when, or probably because, psychologically, she is forever a cripple. As stated by Crystal, “the survivor’s identification with the opposite pole in the victim-oppressor polarization is the most difficult wound to heal” (1995:77). Significantly then, the narrative strategy employed by Müller, juxtaposing the depiction of trauma with poetic incursions into an even more traumatic past, comes full circle, as the beginning and the ending lines of the novel are identical: “When we don’t speak, said Edgar, we become unbearable, and when we do, we make fools of ourselves.” (Müller 1999:1;242)
The Appointment Although The Land of Green Plums is arguably the best-known and most-accomplished novel written by Herta Müller, The Appointment is also a relevant novel, especially from a gender perspective. Written in German and originally published in 1997, in Berlin, four years after The Land of Green Plums, The Appointment displays both similarities with and differences from the previous novel. In terms of plot (notwithstanding the difficulty, at times the impossibility to discuss plot, in Müller’s novels), The Appointment can be read as a counterpart, or a companion work to the other novel. The Land of Green Plum ends with the narrator’s emigration to West Germany, whereas The Appointment focuses even more on the horror of numerous interrogations by the Secret Police–Securitate, before emigration. Another common element in the two novels is the complex relationship between female characters, with the nameless narrator and her friend Lily constructed according to the pattern of the pairs Lola-narrator, Tereza-narrator from the previous novel. As stated by Marven, “the interpersonal relationships Müller examines tend to be between women: problematic mother-daughter relationship or female friendships” (Marven 2005:153). Dormant or overactive female sexuality in times of a dictatorship, which is not only political, but patriarchal as well, also connects the two novels. It is Thursday morning, and the unnamed female narrator of The Appointment has to take the tram to the headquarters of the secret police, as she has been summoned again. Her crime, that of sewing “Marry-me” notes in the hem of newly-made clothes to be exported to Italy, would be
comic under different circumstances, but in Ceauúescu’s Romania comic does become tragic. Comic and tragic thus mix, in the same manner in which Gothic as a mode “always concerns itself with boundaries and their instabilities, whether between the quick/the dead, eros/thanatos, pain/pleasure, real/unreal, natural/supernatural, material/transcendent, man/machine, human/vampire or masculine/feminine” (Horner and Zlosnik 2000:243). Pushing real events as a source of inspiration aside, Müller manages to engage the reader (the Western reader)–initially at least–through laughter. However absurd and hilarious this pathetic attempt to escape Ceauúescu’s Romania may seem to a Westerner, the author soon converts the incipient laughter into tragedy, as the nameless narrator abandons the present moment and takes a journey back to her traumatised past, triggered by her ritual confrontation with Major Albu. The two time dimensions overlap and it becomes increasingly difficult to pass a judgement onto the intensity of pain, despair, and alienation that they contain. That is why readers attempting to locate the exact meaning of what makes The Appointment unbearably unsettling, need to break the boundaries of the plot–elusive as it may be–and look behind it, into the fragmented and elliptical consciousness of the narrator. There seems to be hardly anyone “sane” in this novel, the narrator included. All the characters challenge average understanding of human nature and point to that ambiguous space between “normal” and “abnormal”, in terms of behaviour and interaction with the others. Major Albu, the Securitate officer who does the summoning, initiates his interrogation by both displaying his sense of masculine physical force and leaving the mark of bodily fluids on the narrator’s hand: “Major Albu lifts my hand by the fingertips, squeezing my nails so hard I could scream. He always kisses my hand the exact same way, but what he says is always different” (Müller 2001:3). Her second husband, Paul, although supportive of the ordeal of the narrator, is in fact a heavy drinker, in the habit of “barhopping late into the night”, who often “has to sleep off his drunk” and whose breath infests the kitchen with a stale odour reminiscent of the “bar downstairs” (Müller 2001:9). Lilli, a radiant beauty and the narrator’s friend, who had initiated a sexual relationship with her stepfather in her early teenage years, cannot escape her sexual past and endlessly replicates it by sleeping with much older men. The narrator’s father commits adultery with a young girl, his daughter’s age, a fact which brings about a most extraordinary offer from the daughter, who suggests taking the place of the father’s mistress: “I’m better than that girl with her braid, I thought, why doesn’t Papa take me. She’s dirty, her hands are green from all the vegetables” (Müller 2001:71). Although both Lilli and the narrator are
Herta Müller and Undoing the Trauma in Ceauúescu’s Romania
Lolita-s in spirit and body, only one of them acts upon her incestuous desires, while the other, after carefully constructing the seduction scene aimed at her father as a sexual prize, senses rejection and withdraws in bitterness. The Electra complex, long discredited in male narratives is reinstated in its own rights by Herta Müller, since both the narrator and Lilli actually attempt to “marry” the father/father figure so as to be saved from the either oppressive or oddly inefficient mother. Hence, the other type of important relationship between female characters is the one between the narrator and her mother, a relationship which can be very well defined according to one of the strands of female Gothic, concentrating on the absent mother. Although The Appointment refers to an absent mother only metaphorically, it may be said that the psychologically and affectively absent, yet physically present mother figure, and the ineffectual manner in which she connects with her daughter has more devastating effects on the narrator’s psyche than if she had been literally an orphan. Kahane claims that the missing mothers and the “ongoing battle” fought by heroines “with a mirror image that is both self and other” is at the centre of the Gothic structure, which allows her “to confront the confusion between mother and daughter and the intricate web of psychic relations that constitute their bond.” (Kahane 1985:337). The narrator’s mother is there to reinforce the feeling of inadequacy that the narrator has been experiencing throughout her life; one of the first memories about the mother is a whisper from the past which both “degrades” her and somehow has the power to render the adult narrator’s existence as surrogate: “It wasn’t until one day when I was eight years old that a boy with grazed knees was sitting across from us in the tram that mama whispered in my ear: If your brother had lived, we wouldn’t have had you” (Müller 2001:71). Later on, the daughter reciprocates, by commenting on the mother’s numbness of face and feelings and emphasizing her redundancy: “Neither happy nor sad–merely beyond all changes of facial expression. There was more life in a glass of water. When she dried herself she became like the towel, when she cleared the dishes she became like the table, and she became like the chair when she sat down” (Müller 2001:76). Ironically and obviously as a result of a failed attempt to “act” like the insensitive mother, the narrator, facing the long and tormenting process of coming to terms with her many ordeals, will also “become an object”, a permanent counting machine: I do a lot of counting. Cigarette butts, trees, fence slats, clouds, or the number of paving stones between one phone pole and the next, the windows along the way to the bus stop in the morning, the pedestrians I see from the bus between one stop and the next, red ties on an afternoon in
the city. How many steps from the office to the factory gate. I count to keep the world in order, I said. (Müller 2001:170)
Since both Gothic writings in general and Herta Müller’s special version of Gothic are about ambiguous meanings and interpretations, the reader and the critic alike are left to wonder about the function of objectification. De-humanization and hence an existence devoid of the most basic traits of what being human means, such as experiencing and displaying feelings and emotions, or the opposite, a well perfected methodology of resistance, a voluntary tuning in with the world of objects, meant to divert attention and thus confuse surveillance, even that initiated by the closest people. Müller does not clarify the meaning of this “confusion between mother and daughter” until the very end of the novel, when she intimates that this confusion has been creative and liberating, at least in the daughter’s case. All the narrator’s relationships, whether belonging to the past or the present, are relevant for an understanding of her almost daily trials. An introvert with no means to relate to the outside world, born only to fulfil the part previously played by a now dead brother, the narrator navigates through life completely alone and poisoned by hate, directed both towards self and the others: How often have I had to lie or keep my mouth to protect the people I love most–at the very times I could stand them least–to keep them from plunging headlong into some disaster. Whenever I wanted my hatred to last forever, a feeling of disgust would soften it up. With a hint of love on the one hand, and a heap of self-reproach on the other, I was already surrendering to the next hatred. I’ve always had just enough sense to spare others, but never enough to save myself from misfortune. (Müller 2001:74)
The problematic friendship with Lilli also deserves special emphasis. As mentioned before, the pair Lilli-narrator calls to memory the pairs Lola-narrator and Tereza-narrator in The Land of Green Plums. Even more poignantly than in the first novel, The Appointment focuses on the dynamics of physical beauty and body, to emphasize a sense of sad selfawareness, which may be said to poison the narrator’s sexual and physical existence. Lilli was everything that the narrator is not but painfully wishes she could be: Lilli’s beauty was a given, what your eyes saw wasn’t to blame for dazzling them so. Her nose, the curve of her neck, her ear, her knee, in your amazement you wanted to protect them, cover them with your hand, you were afraid for them and your thoughts turned to death. But it never occurred to me that such skin might someday wrinkle. Between her being
Herta Müller and Undoing the Trauma in Ceauúescu’s Romania young and her being dead, it never crossed my mind that Lilli might age. (Müller 2001:35)
The female gaze, the spectatorship that assesses Lilli’s physical charm, exceptional in itself, but painful to acknowledge is almost male in its intensity. The wish for protection, the idealization of the female overpowering beauty, the refusal to admit the possibility of the effects of biological aging, they all speak of unconsumed desire for possession. At the same time, they confess to the sorrows of self-awareness, and to the present moment becoming even more devastating when “enriched” by hypothetical dreams of substitution: Like all married people, Albu wears his narrow wedding ring at work […]. But jewellery at a job like that, tormenting people. It’s not an ugly ring by any means, and if it weren’t his it would be beautiful. The same is true of his eyes, cheeks, earlobes. I’m sure Lilli would gladly have stretched out her hands to stroke him; maybe even introduced him to me one day as her lover. (Müller 2001:34)
The implications of the narrator’s imagining a Lilli still alive, either taking her place, and being interrogated by Albu, or making his acquaintance under more benign circumstances are self-revealing; physical beauty in itself can deal with the patriarchal menace and thus avoid annihilation of both mind and body. Herta Müller’s narrator, in The Appointment, similarly to the narrator in The Land of Green Plums, apart from many other past demons that she needs to exorcise, confronts the readers with a primordial conflict: the attempts of the not-so-attractive female ego to rationalize the id’s non-ceasing laments over not merely a lost, but never possessed female beauty. Excessively preoccupied with the buying of beautiful clothes, in an attempt to render an average physique more attractive, the narrator cannot avoid noticing the futility of her efforts compared to the natural beauty of Lilli who needs no embellishments to shine: Even before, Lilli never had any time for clothes. Still, men would turn around to look at Lilli. I’d have noticed her too, if I had been a man. The worse she dressed, the more striking her beauty. It was all right for her, but I’d been vain since I was a child. When I was five I cried because my new coat was too big for me (Müller 2001:41).
The conflict that the narrator has become the centre of cannot be reduced to a simplistic antagonism, no matter how destructive, between Albu, the interrogator and herself. Similarly, the strategy of survival
cannot merely consist of physically escaping Romania; it has to include escaping the endless reproduction of the survivor’s guilt, in other words, accepting to live with guilt, as the penance she has to pay for the gift of survival. The Appointment depicts the life stories of two friends, out of whom only the not-so-beautiful one survives, whereas the carnal/ethereal beauty of Lilli becomes torn pieces of flesh: Lilli lay where she had fallen […] the prisoner was not allowed to sit, although he was permitted to look over at the grass where Lilli lay. Five dogs came running, their legs flying over the grass, which was as high as their throats. Trailing far behind, a number of hard-driven soldiers ran after them. By the time they reached Lilli, it was not only her dress that was in Tatters. The dogs had torn Lilli’s body to shreds. Under their muzzles Lilli lay red as a bed of poppies. (Müller 2001:58)
Significantly, the details of Lilli’s horrible death are imparted by her stepfather, the first man whom she had seduced and thus the first who had been granted access to her physical charm. Lilli was killed while trying to escape to Hungary with her much older lover–an officer, who cannot get enough of her stunning physical qualities and muses on the exceptional fate that brought them together, while trading with Death: “But his fear that death might desire Lilli as greatly as he did yielded to the conviction that Lilli could look Death in the eye and stare Death down, both for his sake as well as her own. He saw too much, and he was blinded.” (Müller 2001:57) Finally, the one who “cannot let go” and makes Lilli into a ghost haunting her already tormented psyche is the narrator, who had felt protective, desirous and envious, while Lilli was still alive. In The Appointment, even more poignantly than in The Land of Green Plums, the female body, especially when attractive and beautiful becomes but a locus of suffering and is doomed to die a brutal and untimely death. As previously stated, starting from the moment of Lilli’s horrible demise, the narrator–perhaps not named because willing to self-efface herself, to selfcensor her personality–experiences and defines what may be read as a “Gothic aesthetic” that is particularly close to Cathy Carruth’s definition of trauma and its corollary, post-traumatic stress-disorder (PTSD): […] there is a response, sometimes delayed, to an overwhelming event or events, which takes the form of repeated, intrusive hallucinations, dreams, thoughts or behaviours stemming from the event, along with numbing that may have begun during or after the experience, and possibly also increased arousal to (and avoidance) of stimuli recalling the event [. . .]. (T)he event is not assimilated or experienced fully at the time, but only belatedly, in its repeated possession of the one who experiences it. (Carruth 1995:4)
Herta Müller and Undoing the Trauma in Ceauúescu’s Romania
Although Carruth refers to the survivors of Auschwitz and Vietnam, the PTSD, following the communist terror behind the Iron Curtain, a historical atrocity of the twentieth century that spanned almost fifty years means displaying similar symptoms. The death imprint, the nightmares, the numbness and the constant search for meaning intensify the dramatism of the narrator’s journey into a labyrinth of memories, regrets, and frustrations. All of these together also fashion a contemporary Gothic phenomenon. As stated by Bruhm: Words, the building blocks of stories, rise and fall in consciousness, constituting horrifying returns and traumatic suggestions. The very act of storytelling itself has the resonance of multiple traumas that we […] cannot integrate into a coherent whole. What gets left in this blank space where our narratives cannot be is, paradoxically, a massive production of other Gothic narratives. In the process of trauma shattering us from one into a stunning multitude, we are forced to confront our demons, our worst fears about the agents and influences that might control and create us. (Bruhm 2002:171, italics mine)
The Passport The plot of this very short novel is deceivingly simple but rich in social, political and gender connotations. As the title itself suggests, the quest which shapes the text is focused on obtaining the much coveted document that could buy freedom and escape from Romania’s nightmare. The character engaged in the quest–yet again, one cannot exactly employ the word “protagonist”, as he is but one of the many fictional presences in the novel, and perhaps not even the most relevant–belongs to a community of East German Romanians and attempts to emigrate to West Germany together with his family. The Passport suggests a different type of Gothic frame from The Land of Green Plums and The Appointment. As mentioned by Skolkin-Smith, what mostly attracted the attention of contemporary critics to the literary substance of The Passport is its surrealism, not the Western European one, but that inspired by the Dadaist and Symbolist poet Tristan Tzara (Skolkin-Smith 2010:2). Kaye also claims that: “Post-war Europe and America were all too familiar with visions of death and mutilation, and art movements such as German expressionism, surrealism and Dadaism all reflect these obsessive nightmare images” (Kaye 2000:182). Müller appears to have employed the Romanian version of surrealism, so that instead of experimenting with “depicting dream-life through beguiling pictures and words”, she opts for reflecting “helplessness and disorientation in a world
destabilized by a foreign dictatorship demanding […] submission to the pseudo-reality of its imposed tyranny” (Skolkin-Smith 2010:2). The Gothic connection suggested before appears all the more obvious, since both Surrealism and Gothic (in literature as well as in art) rely on the imagination games inspired by the strength of human emotions, passions, and traumas, all situated in the “uncanny” human psyche, thoroughly analyzed by Freud. Müller’s world in The Passport is gloomy, desolate and stifling at the same time. Hopelessness and helplessness have come to reign supreme even over nature–despair and futility lend their laments to poplar trees, animals, clouds and rivers alike. From the very first paragraphs, when Windisch, the man desperately trying to procure a passport, is introduced to the readers, images of automatons attempting to regulate the world start inhabiting the text and the psyche alike: Every morning, as he cycles alone along the road to the mill, Windisch counts the days. In front of the war memorial he counts the years. By the first poplar tree beyond it, where he always hits the same pot hole, he counts the days. And in the evening, when Windisch locks up the mill, he counts the years and the days once again. (Müller 2009:7)
Windisch resembles the unnamed female narrator in The Appointment. Both of them, individuals under extreme external and internal pressure, endeavour to regularise chaos through rational exercises such as counting. However, both of them only manage to replicate life in an automaton-like fashion and hence they can be read as Gothic characters. Freud, in his seminal essay “The Uncanny” mentions Jentsch and his “doubts whether an apparently animate being is really alive; or conversely, whether a lifeless object might not be in fact animate.” (Freud 2010:5). Windisch is not very convincing as a character “alive”; on the other hand, in powerful surrealistic images, Herta Müller bestows volition, tragic life and selfdestructiveness onto trees: “Two hours after midnight the apple tree began to tremble. At the top, where the branches forked, a mouth opened. The mouth ate apples.” (Müller 2009:30) The symbolic presence, vampiric insertion of the apple tree, devouring his own “fruits-children” serves to introduce the reader to the intricacies of gender. Called to mediate the conflict between the apple tree and the wealthy peasants who would like to see it dead, the ecclesiastic source of authority, the bishop who “didn’t pray”, reported his implacable verdict: “God has known for a long time,” he cried, “God reminded me of Adam and Eve. God”, said the bishop softly, “God has told me: The devil is in the apple tree.” (Müller 2009:30).
Herta Müller and Undoing the Trauma in Ceauúescu’s Romania
Thus, the archetypal image of Eve, the lurking shadow of the first sinner, the temptress, the destroyer of the primordial harmony between man and God shapes the male perception of all female characters in the novel. Therefore, the apple tree and its desired doom is but a harbinger of yet another, equally desired, gender doom. Müller’s male characters, victims of the system victimize in return. Women in men’s houses, still alive or long dead, wives, mothers, daughters are the Other, the enemy, the malefic, diabolical presence that has to be cauterized if their male counterparts are to survive. The night watchman’s dreams on a full-moon night become nightmares, haunted by the images of his dead wife: “I knew,” he says, “that I wouldn’t be able to sleep. The moon is large. I dreamt of the dry frog. I was dead tired. And I couldn’t get to sleep. The earth frog was lying in bed. I was talking to my wife. The earth frog looked with my wife’s eyes. It had my wife’s plait. It had her nightshirt on, which had ridden up to the stomach. I said, cover yourself, your thighs are flabby. I said it to my wife. The earth frog pulled the nightshirt over its thighs. I sat down on the chair beside the bed. The earth frog smiled with my wife’s mouth. The chair is creaking, it said. The chair hadn’t creaked. The earth frog had laid my wife’s plait across its shoulder. It was as long as the nightshirt. I said: You hair has grown. The earth frog raised its head and shouted: You’re drunk, you’re going to fall off the chair.” (Müller 2009: 10)
For the manner in which Müller depicts the complex relationship between men and women in the domestic sphere, the above quotation is exceptionally relevant, especially as it appears at the very beginning of the novel. Bizarre substitutions “earth frog”–“dead wife”, petty marital bickering about the inevitable loss of female attractiveness versus male anti-social habits such as drinking, fabricating physical events such as chairs collapsing under dream-weights, all carried on when the moon as ancient female element is at its strongest, attest to a feeling of dread-cumdesire. The underlying gender dilemma, the trauma of difference that have marked since times immemorial the male-female interaction–are surrealistically depicted in The Passport and inexorably claim the narrative. Alive, women are life-destroyers, cheap whores selling their bodies to the highest bidder; dead they commit the even greater sin of an easy escape, and freeze their sinfulness for eternity: “Men are stupid,” says the night watchman, “and always ready to forgive.” […]. “I forgave her over the baker. I forgave her for what happened in town.” […]. “The whole village laughed at me. […]. I couldn’t look her in the eye any more,” […]. “Only one thing I didn’t forgive her–that she died
so quickly, as if she’d had no one.” “God knows” says Windisch, “what they’re for, women.” The night watchman shrugs his shoulders: “Not for us, not for you. I don’t know what they’re for.” The nightman strokes the dog. “And our daughters,” says Windisch. “God knows, they become women too.” (Müller 2009:10)
Further on in the novel, women–significantly of a different religion than the main male characters (Windisch and the night watchman)–are assimilated with the Jews, another historically oppressed “category”, the universal scapegoats. Thus gender and race overlap and “support” their mutual devaluation: “The ones with small hats are Baptists. They howl when they pray. And their women groan when they sing hymns, as if they were in bed. Their eyes get big, like my dog’s”[…]. “They’re all brothers and sisters” […]. “On their festival days they pair off. With whoever they catch in the dark.” [...]. “They do it on the carpet in the prayer house” […]. “That’s why they have so many children. This religion comes from America” […]. “Yes, […] the Jews are the ruin of the world. Jews and women.” (Müller 1999:63-64)
Clearly, women and Jews alike, as annihilating, ruinous monsters, neither human, nor animal (see the comparison with the dog’s eyes), worthy offsprings of Frankenstein, are not straightforwardly just “monsters”. In texts inspired by Gothic conventions, albeit not reduced to them, “monsters” actually illustrate the presence of certain cultural anxieties. In a Swabian community, the reference to Jews is symptomatic for the traumatizing effects of World War II, painfully reinforced by the quotidian trauma of living in Ceauúescu’s Dictatorship. Another issue that deserves consideration is the focus on women’s vilification which always, inevitably revolves around bodies and their questionable (from a male’s perspective) rights of engaging in free sexual intercourse. However, when directed towards the obtaining of certain advantages, women’s sexuality is pivotal and supported by patriarchal authorities. As noticed by Marven: “The sexual exploitation of women pervades all aspects of life, from the prostitution which guarantees a passport in The Passport, to the sexualized interrogation methods employed by Captain Pjele in The Land of Green Plums” (Marven 2005:58). Thus, Windisch, the protagonist of The Passport is complicit in his daughter’s prostitution. Amalie, with her father’s silent approval will sell her young virginity to the village officials in exchange for passports and freedom for her family. In this, she “uncannily” resembles her mother, who, prisoner of the Soviets for five years and submitted to various kinds of humiliations and tortures, was also forced to
Herta Müller and Undoing the Trauma in Ceauúescu’s Romania
negotiate her sexuality in order to survive. Ironically, although “sold female body” means “alive female body”, Windisch, the ruthless patriarch– himself engaging in multiple adulterous acts–will still believe that all women can do, including Amalie, is carry sadness and destruction with them wherever they go: “Windisch can feel her voice inside his head. He throws his coat into the suitcase. “I’ve had enough of her”, he shouts, “I don’t want to see her any more.” He lowers his head. And quietly adds: “The only thing she can do is make people sad.” (Müller 2009:86) The end of The Passport is highly ambiguous. In 1969, writing about Gothic and its conventions, Hume claimed that what defines Gothic is not necessarily “the sentimental fiction of the day fitted with outlandish trappings”, but rather “a complex villain-hero.” (Hume 1969:283,287). Windisch’s fictional destiny is depicted by Müller as trapped between the condition of the misogynist villain who parasitically draws the substance of life from his own daughter’s youth, and that of the undisputable hero who manages to defy the system and lead his family towards freedom and a better life: Windisch follows the beating wings of the small birds. They fly in ragged flocks. They’re searching for woods along the river flats, where there are only thickets and sand and water. The train travels slowly, because the rails criss-cross in confusion, because the town is beginning. Scrap heaps. Small houses stand in overgrown gardens. Windisch sees that many rails run into one another. He sees other trains on the confusion of rails. (Müller 2009: 89)
Just like the railways criss-crossing “in confusion”, Windisch escapes a language of resolution and a system of values; a modern Gothic character, he seems to partake from Manfred’s (The Castle of Otranto) substance and hence face the ambiguous verdict of morality. Read as a novel, with certain Gothic traits (setting, fantastic imagery, endless confrontation between villains and victims), The Passport may be said to “offer no conclusions”, but rather to preserve “a tangle of moral ambiguity for which no meaningful answers can be found.” (Hume 1969:288). However, the female characters appear to evade the ambiguity and “undo the trauma” in the end. Vilified, forced to prostitute themselves in order to either survive or ensure a normal life for their families, in faraway countries, held responsible for all the evil that poisons men’s world, the women in The Passport endure against all odds. As mentioned by SkolkinSmith: “The female is both whore and mother and, like the nature that subsists and endures despite its impoverishment, she is the carrier of seed
and sun, bringing regeneration and light to each family’s feelings of despair and discoloration.” (Skolkin-Smith 2010:3).
Conclusion This study suggested a Gothic perspective for interpreting Herta Müller’s novels. As mentioned in the Introduction, since a metatheory of Gothic is “under construction”, it is difficult and futile to clearly label the particular type of Gothic that pervades her novels. Never mentioned by the author herself, nor advocated by the considerable body of critical material inspired by Herta Müller’s works–considerable in view of her relative recent emergence into the Western world–Gothic and its tropes: trauma, doppelgänger, alienating urban settings, gender clashes nevertheless are easily discernable at both textual and intentional levels. The Appointment resonates with the nightmarish atmosphere of the Banat village in Nadirs, (not analyzed here, but definitely part of the trauma circle) and the never-expressed but all the more powerful feelings of remorse in The Land of Green Plums. In The Passport we witness the conflicts and tribulations of a powerfully genderized world, which nevertheless states women’s resilience, in both political and personal realms. The female self, after being literally and metaphorically torn to pieces at the hands of the secret police succeeds in forging a victorious strategy of undoing the trauma: “The trick is not to go mad.” (Müller 2001:214). And live to tell the story.
References An Alien Gaze. Retrieved November 16, 2010 from: http//www.redpepper.org.co.uk/An-alien-gaze. Baldick, C. and R. Mighall. (2000). Gothic criticism. In D. Punter (Ed.), A Companion to the Gothic. Malden, Ma: Blackwell Publishing. Becker, C. (1991). ‘Serapiontisches Prinzip’ in politischer Manier: Wirklichkeits-und Sprachbilder in “Niederungen”. In N.O. Eke (Ed.), Die erfundene Wahrnehmung: Annäherung an Herta Müller. Padeborn: Igel Verlag. Bruhm, S. (2002). Contemporary gothic; why we need it. In J. E. Hogle (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. New York: Cambridge University Press. —. (2006). The gothic child. Work in progress, Halifax, Nova Scotia: Mount St. Vincent University. Retrieved February 1, 2011 from faculty.msvu.ca/sbruhm/gothchild.htm.
Herta Müller and Undoing the Trauma in Ceauúescu’s Romania
Carruth, C. (1995). Trauma and experience. In C. Caruth (Ed.), Trauma: Explorations in Memory. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press. Crystal, H. 1995. Trauma and aging: a thirty year follow-up. In C. Caruth (Ed.), Trauma: Explorations in Memory. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Eke, N.O. (Ed.). (1991). Die erfundene Wahrnehmung: Annäherung an Herta Müller. Padeborn: Igel Verlag. Freud, S. The Uncanny. Retrieved November 14, 2010 from http://wwwrohan.sdsu.edu/-amtower/uncanny.html. Herta Müller on Growing Up in Ceauúescu’s Romania. Interview. Retrieved November 22, 2010 from http://www.rferl.org/content/Interview_Herta_Mueller_On_Growing_ Up_In_Ceauúescu’s_Romania. Hogle, J. E. (2002). The Undergrounds of “The Phantom of the Opera”: Sublimation and the Gothic in Leroux’s Novel and its Progeny. Basingstoke: Palgrave. Horner, A. and S. Zlosnick. (2000). Comic gothic. In D. Punter (Ed.), A Companion to the Gothic. Malden, Ma: Blackwell Publishing. Hume, R. (1969). Gothic versus romantic: a revaluation of the gothic novel. PMLA 84 (March): 282-290. Kahane, C. (1985). The gothic mirror. In N. Garner, C. Kahane and M. Sprengnether (Eds.), The M(other) Tongue: Essays in Feminist Psychoanalytic Interpretation. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Kaye, H. (2000). Gothic film. In D. Punter (Ed.), A Companion to the Gothic. Malden, Ma: Blackwell Publishing. Marven, L. (2005). Body and Narrative in Contemporary Literatures in German: Herta Müller, Libusé Monikova and Kerstin Hensel. Oxford: Oxford University Press. —. (2005). ‘In allem ist der riss’: trauma, fragmentation and the body in Herta Müller’s prose and collages. The Modern Language Review. Retrieved October 17, 2010 from http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-14403359_ITM. Massé, M. (1992). In the Name of Love: Women, Masochism and the Gothic. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Moers, E. (1976). Literary Women. London: The Women’s Press. Müller, H. (2001). The Appointment. New York: Metropolitan Books . —. (1999). The Land of Green Plums. London: Granta Books . —. (2009). The Passport. Croydon: CPI Bookmarque . Onisei, A-M. (2010). Herta Müller’s security officer. Adevărul, September 24, 2010
Punter, D. (1996). The Literature of Terror: A History of Gothic Fiction from 1765 to the Edwardian Age. London: Longman. —. (2000). Shape and shadow: on poetry and the uncanny. In D. Punter (Ed.), A Companion to the Gothic. Malden, Ma: Blackwell Publishing. Radio Romania International. 30/09/2010. Herta Müller and the Memory of Europe. Retrieved November 11, 2011 from http://www.rri.ro/art.shtml?lang=1&sec=12&art=59612.
(RE)ENGENDERING THE PAST/ RECOVERING WOMEN’S WRITINGS: THE WORKS OF FEMINIST CRITICISM IN BRAZIL RITA TEREZINHA SCHMIDT
Introduction In the 19th century, particularly in countries of the New World, literary narratives became a productive site for narratives of identity in that they responded to the demand for representations that would give form and meaning to the national ethos so as to project a distinctive sense of place and destiny intimately associated with the political legitimacy of the emerging nation-states. As a symbolical practice through which nationbuilding claims could be made, the novel played a major role in addressing the historical and rhetorical tensions attendant upon cultural identifications, negotiations and affirmations related to ideologemes of nationhood. If we consider that discussions around the notion of nationhood today converge to the question of how the signs of a nation are inscribed in its socio-texts and what cultural discontinuities and ambivalences they make visible one can understand how the investigation of past national cultural and literary histories, foremost what has been silenced at their margins, has become a fascinating venture. The category of the national is, from the point of view of recent scholarship, a privileged topic of inquiry. Even if global reorganizations, transnational capitalism, mass culture consumption and the new communication technologies seem to have weakened substantially the discourses on our imagined communities (Anderson 1983) with profound effects on national cultures, these effects have not signaled the end of the interest in the national. While the ever-growing interaction of local factors with non local ones is indeed producing socio-cultural identities that seem to erase national bonds, the resurgence of the national as a category in the production of knowledge on identity, culture and politics subsumed and fostered by the technologies of nationalism, past and present, cannot be
(Re)Engendering the Past/Recovering Women’s Writings
underestimated. Even if the concept of nationhood cannot be laid up so neatly as it used to be, particularly because nations are not so clearly distinguished by geopolitical boundaries or that cultural boundaries do not necessarily coincide with national ones as within national borders cultural and regional diversity might be the rule rather than the exception, new perspectives on the “national body” are on the rise. Among the relevant accomplishments within feminist criticism, in a number of geo-cultural locations, are two-related critical activities: inquiries into processes of canon formation and re-readings of fictional narratives that have produced structures of symbolical and metaphorical meanings in close alliance with the ideological apparatus of nationbuilding, on the one hand; on the other, the tracking down of silenced traditions and neglected narratives by women, works that had been once published but which have since then disappeared from literary histories and anthologies. On these grounds, much of the work of feminist criticism not only engages a form of intervention in hegemonic historiography and its models but also allows for counter-punctual readings of canonical/non canonical works, what means the possibility of supplementing the signification-function of the national sign-system (Spivak 1988:198). For some literary academics in Brazil, reading neglected texts by women and raising issues that unveil gender-biased discourses in defense of the canon are symptoms of the demise of literature and of aesthetic values. For feminist critics doing so are acts of resistance to the “internal colonization” that operates on the level of codes of interpretation and value institutionalized by literary culture and its practices. My intent in this essay is three-fold: first, to present a personal narrative of some developments and tendencies of feminist literary criticism with its focus on the recovery of women writers of the 19th century; second, to examine briefly the relations between national identity, gender and romantic nationalism in the 19th century arguing that these issues tend to enclose and contain the effects of internal otherness in the rhetoric of the universal national body as in the case of a canonical novel considered the master narrative of Brazilian identity; and third, to read counter-punctually two novels that engage in racial fictions, a canonical novel authored by a male writer and a non canonical one by a black female writer so as to show how strategies of signification inscribed in the politics of representation render visible the texts’ difference as well as the writers’ situated positionalities in relation to identity and empowerment in the context of the Brazilian history of the 19th century.
Rita Terezinha Schmidt
Mappings and Affiliations In 1986, the institutionalization of a women’s research team under the name “Woman in literature” sponsored by the National Association of Graduate Studies and Research in Linguistics and Literature gained momentum on the account of the upsurge of women scholars in the academy in the late 70’s and in the following decade. While some of us had had some involvement with feminist movements prior to academic positions, others had pursued graduate degrees abroad as part of the government’s educational policies that sought to boost a qualified national system of graduate studies, regarded as a strategic move for the country’s scientific and technological advancement. The local demand for womenbased scholarship was the result both of women’s awareness of their exclusion from the academic structures of knowledge and of the influx of theoretical feminist generated in the new international context of scholarship and research, what explains, to a large extent, why the positioning in feminism of this group of women scholars was not, as a rule, informed by political activism in social movements. The outgrowth of feminist literary critique in some universities located in the southeast and southern regions of the country from the 80’s onwards cannot be dissociated from the historical conditions that have determined its locus of enunciation in terms both of its directions and politics. In a society riddled with structural contradictions as the Brazilian society whose historical development was definitely shaped by the tradition of an oligarchic, demiurgic, authoritarian and despotic state that produced an arrogant and oppressive political culture in the course of centuries of slavery (Ianni 2003), feminist initiatives have always been regarded as something contrary to the so-called Brazilian way of life. The political “abertura” (democratization process) that paved the way for public debates about the reorganization of the social/political sphere after more than 20 years of dictatorship following the 1964 military coup d’état produced a modern liberal version of the strong tradition of patriarchal tutelage present throughout the country’s history. Tutelage took the insidious form of a paternalist indulgence towards minorities’ claims while government policies kept unchanged the conservative institutions that guaranteed the preservation of a strong hierarchical society, as discussed by Cynthia Sarti in her essay about feminism in Brazil (1989). This may be one of the reasons why the institutionalization of the women’s research team did not bring along either acceptance or credibility of feminist scholarship on the part of a vast majority of literature scholars for whom the ideological basis of a “woman in literature” project was regarded as a sign of the selling out
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of literary studies to a political agenda, what was deemed incompatible with serious academic undertakings. For almost two decades, the debates over theories among us who met in biannual conferences, workshops and in the national seminars “Woman in Literature” were intense, sometimes bitter, bringing to the foreground issues deeply rooted in the intellectual and political history of the country. These debates made visible a latent antagonism between those of us who grounded their readings in Anglo-American feminism and its focus on the representation of woman’s identity, drawing from a critique of patriarchy in the field of social history, and those who incorporated the French’s emphasis on the discursive production of femininity, predicated on the idea of a different libidinal economy. In addition to that, resentments in relation to those who worked with American and English literatures and who brought in theoretical formulations from the American context reverberated with what still sounds very familiar, that is, the unspoken fear of intellectual colonialism associated with the US historical presence as an imperial power south of the Equator and its decisive role in the 64 Brazilian coup d´état. The binary us/them underlying the responses to the appropriations from American feminisms inscribed a nationalist perspective that made tabula rasa of the theoretical differences within that context and reduced them to one extension of an imperial power. In spite of the fact that theories have always travelled across national borders and entered into transnational systems of production and exchange to reconfigure areas of research and produce knowledge at the cutting edge, the affiliations with feminist theories defined many of us as “colonized women”. It was ironic that by bringing up the unexamined issue of intranational otherness to literary studies with the intent of denaturalizing the premises upon which the national canonical had been founded we were looked at as mimicking the foreign other. It seems tautological to affirm that feminist critiques, outside the small circles of women feminist scholars, have often been seen with suspicion as if interrogations of the canon were considered a form of meddling into the country’s internal affairs and thus, a problem of national sovereignty. The need to establish common grounds to channel our insurgency against the sense of powerlessness vis-à-vis the absence of written records in Brazilian literature of women’s presence meant realignments in the late 90’s and the emergence of a consistent coalition of interests among scholars who belonged to the team. What I call “the historiographical turn” has meant a passionate commitment to bringing women writers from allegedly non-existence to visibility by making their texts available for scholarly work through re-editions and critical readings. The detectivesque-
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like nature of our search for names, texts and their material locations and the discovery of an enormous body of texts, unexamined and underestimated a priori, has constituted so far, a most significant challenge to the institutionalized mechanisms of literary culture which still consecrates literary activity, particularly in relation to the 19th century, as a bastion of lettered men and their virile styles. It is worth mentioning that major literary historians (Araripe Junior, José Veríssimo, Olivio Montenegro, Mario da Silva Brito e Alfredo Bosi) from the 19th century up to the 60’s of the 20th century, used the criteria of virile style to disqualify women’s writings. The effects of the analogy of good writing with a masculine essential attribute associated with power, physical and symbolic, are well known in terms of the historical effacement of female creativity and the reduction of its agency to a figure of a deviant writing body charged with weakness and negativity. Under different guises, the power of this analogy is hard to die as it keeps haunting the area of literary criticism, making of mainstream literary studies in Brazil a mine field of conservatism and resistance to change as far as the question of writings by women from the past is concerned. Prior to the 80’s, only three Brazilian women writers had received some critical attention: Cecília Meireles a poet who wrote more than 20 volumes of poetry between 1919 and 1964 and who was appropriated to the modernist canon; Rachel de Queiroz who started as a fiction writer in 1930 and who was acclaimed by her “virile text”; and Clarice Lispector who published extensively from 1944 up to her death in 1977 and whose work, largely acclaimed in other countries, still finds critical oppositions at home. To all of us in the research team it came as no surprise the fact that the majority of Brazilian literature scholars worked under the assumption that there had not been women writers before 1930 and that no male colleague could single out a major writer or even minor women writers as all had been banished from textbooks and literary histories. The publication in 1999 of the anthology entitled Escritoras brasileiras do século XIX (Women Writers of the 19th Century) by the Women Publishing Press, founded in 1996, after the models set by Virago in Britain, Des Femmes in France, the Feminist Press in the United States and Editorial Cuarto Propio founded in Chile in 1984, was regarded as a groundbreaking work. Sponsored by the National Council of Research (CNPq) this collaborative project that started out with a team of three and, in its development, engaged seventeen scholars from public universities located in several regions of the national territory, was followed by the publication of a second volume in 2004 and a third in 2009. The three volumes (3282 pages on the total) that cover 161 writers selected out of
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collected data have become major academic references for further research. As to our theoretical affiliations, it is worth noting that the debates around the binary model that captured the focus of feminist theories in the 90’s, that is, the opposition between essentialism and constructivism has not found anchorage in the Brazilian mode of feminist literary criticism. Suspicious of biological determinism without relinquishing to the nominalism that characterizes much of post-structuralism’s linguistic determinism, the current critical work is epistemologically based on identity politics. Even though this formulation is ridden with tensions that derive from ruptures with earlier forms of theoretical work on identity, charged on the grounds of its repressive logic, its philosophical essentialism and its eradication of difference to promote social normalization, identity politics can yield an affirmative position as far as it emerges, according to Bell Hooks’ statement, out of the struggles of oppressed people or exploited groups to have a standpoint on which to critique dominant structures, a position that gives purpose and meaning to struggle (1994:88-89). One of the charges against identity politics points out its inflexion by “white” feminism which would narrow down woman’s identity to determinants of gender while dismissing the interlocking issues of race and class. To a certain extent this charge is warranted if we consider the practices in the early phase of literary feminist criticism in Brazil. Yet, one might reason that this case must be examined in the light of the conditions of possibility that have overdetermined women’s race and class affiliations within the academy–mostly white scholars–and the prevalence of a focus on formal literary culture. By and large, the results of identity politics have been positive if we consider teaching curriculum and syllabus changes, projects of research as well as the increasing number of dissertations and theses that deal with women writers, a scenario that would be considered unthinkable three decades ago. A recent mapping of the situation of feminist criticism in graduate studies program appeared in the book that celebrates the 25th anniversary of the “Woman and literature” teamwork entitled Woman and literature–25 years: origins and directions (2010). The fact that feminist literary criticism among us has not become an influential trend in literary studies to the point of being acknowledged as one of the most powerful forces of the renewal of contemporary criticism, as observed by Jonathan Culler (1986) illustrates the difficulties on the part of scholars in the area of literary studies to validate critiques of dominant discourses in the context of the Brazilian social and academic practices. Nonetheless, by probing deep into the differing otherness of
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woman’s writing we might reach new understandings of the contradictions endemic to the development of the highly stratified and transplanted culture in which we are located.
Rethinking National Identity From the period of the Independence in 1822 to the consolidation of the Brazilian republican ideal in the 1880’s literature was at the center of the debates around which a national project could be envisioned for it was regarded as a matrix for national identity in terms of creating a tradition and a memory to inscribe the uniqueness of the nations’ experience around which the sense of belongingness could be forged. This period became the focus of two major critical studies in the 20th century. A most distinguished sociologist Sérgio Buarque de Holanda in Raízes do Brasil (Roots of Brazil 1936) presents a critique on the formation of national identity in the 19th century by examining the establishment of an intellectual elite, men of books and words who could not cope with the horrors of our day-to-day colonial under development and therefore fabricated an imaginary world of words, out of touch with the reality that surrounded them. For Buarque de Holanda all our thought in that period reveals the same fragility, inconsistency and indifference to the realities of the social world. The alienation of the intellectual class which sought by all means to maintain a distance from the people by asserting its affiliation with the metropolitan center by imitating its institutional, juridical and literary models was also raised by Nelson Werneck Sodré who wrote a literary history from the perspective of its economic base in 1938. As these two classical works make clear, the question of national identity cannot be dissociated from the conditions imposed by the historical experience of a colonial slave-holding state and its slave mode of production and by the hegemonic constellation of forces defined by a boundary of class-belonging that promoted the bourgeois ideals of progress and civilization which sustained a rigidly structured social organization in terms of class, gender and racial differences. The appropriation of nationalist discourses, couched on the ideals of the European Enlightenment, particularly on the romantic idea of the people “as one” advanced the image of a national body as an unproblematic unity of identity and culture. This image was functional to the state to the extent that the exercise of economic and political power welded to the exercise of cultural power as an elite segment of the population became the rightful custodian of cultural values predicated, as they were, on aesthetic standards set by European models. The question of producing a genuine
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Brazilian literature that would encompass the nation’s cultural difference in relation to the metropolis was taken up by the generation of the romantic writers (1836-1870). In effect, Romanticism introduced the idea of nationhood and the theme of nationality as interpretative filters through which cultural production could fulfill the historical and political demands of the new nation-state. Thus, at the service of a patriarchal and colonial state, romantic nationalism operated by means of fictional representations that made inclusionary and exclusionary interpellations whereby individuals’ subjectivites were to be inscribed as national subjects. The fictitious nature of the romantic universalizing claim becomes quite clear when one considers actual political structures and social organizations which reinforced racial hierarchies, class divisions and gender inequalities. In effect, the ideal of the unmarked national subject bore the imprints of white male ethnicity in relation to which all other forms of differences were interpreted and marginalized. In this sense, the alignment of romantic nationalism with the civilizing enterprise and its logic of conquest and ritual destruction lay bare, on the level of literary representation, the contradictions between the desired image of nationhood and the commitment to the interest of a privileged few. It comes as no surprise that the figuration of nationality was constituted in contiguity with the Portuguese empire building, what accounts for the violence that characterized the Brazilian institutionalized sphere of formal culture. The limitations of the ontological claim of the people as pluribus unum can best be examined in the literary representations of the so called “native current” within the Romantic literary movement. Writers like Gonçalves Dias, José Gonçalves de Magalhães and José de Alencar sought the autochthonous element as an index of Brazilian identity and heralded miscegenation as the bases of nationality. The novel Iracema, by Alencar, published in 1865, has been widely acclaimed as the master narrative of the Brazilian nationhood, that is, our myth of origins. A close reading of the novel identifies the sexual and racial politics embedded in the love story between a native woman and a white Portuguese colonizer during the wars waged by the Portuguese and allied tribes against resistant tribes, in the period of the Portuguese conquest and colonial expansion. The narrative arrangement of sequence, events and agents leads to a very disquieting closure: the death by childbirth of the native woman Iracema in the wilderness, the subjection and acculturation of the male native Poti and the victory of the Portuguese Martin who fathers a son and takes his new born child with him to found the Christian village of Mairi, the mythical settlement where the generation of the new Brazilian race is to be raised. Moacir as an emblematic icon of the encounter of the two races has
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become a major referent to the thesis of the Brazilian racial democracy. The problem is that miscegenation, particularly in the 19th century, spelled out assimilation and acculturation and as such, it articulated a subtle but no less violent process of expropriating and silencing the other. Although Moacir is half native, half Portuguese, he is his father’s son in line to carry out his father’s mission in the process of deracination and denaturalization complicit with the design of Eurocentric colonial protagonism. In the romantic myth-making of national origins, giving birth to a son is a woman’s duty, making a nation is a white hero’s task. Women, who were never invited to imagine themselves as part of this horizontal brotherhood had their value limited to their reproductive capacity, as pointed out by Mary Louise Pratt (1994). Alencar’s representation of Iracema bears the weight of the patriarchal cultural value attached to the feminine. As a topos, a figure that inscribes the space of the natural realm in which the hero moves about to fulfill his destiny, Iracema makes possible the social fiction of heterosexual (re)production required for nation-building and, in this sense, she remains a function of a narrative model where fathering a son/fathering a nation is premised on paternity as movement, agency, freedom, experience, culture, processes from which women were excluded. So, Iracema’s destiny, in the collective imaginary, is to remain an “other” to the nation, a naturalized difference by which distinctions between enabling and potent male cultural and racial identity and an identity defined by nature, female and native and therefore unfit to the design of national purpose are legitimized. In the romantic conception of the nation-state, making a nation is, after all, a white homo-social affair. Understandably, the novel has become a paradigmatic example of a narrative that functioned on the political level both as an efficient instrument of the colonizing process and as the genesis of the aesthetic and political ideology of racial democracy, a powerful myth that since the 19th century has kept inter-racial tensions and conflicts outside the political debate (Hasenbag 1992). According to this myth, the native-Portuguese mixed-blood subject was celebrated as an ideal of ethnic origin that projected at the grass-root level a universal sign of Brazilianness whereas the black subject was obliterated on the grounds that the race’s genealogy, both genetic and historical, was incompatible with the idea of civilization. As a rule, canonical literary works that have fulfilled the requirements of master narratives of identity illustrate to what extent formal literary culture in the 19th century participated in the allocation of social empowerment and was therefore constituted as a privileged site both for the production of subjectivities and for the enactment of a nationalist project that envisioned a totality that is not there.
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Writing Gender and Race, Rewriting Nationhood Published in 1875, A escrava Isaura, (The Slave Isaura) written by Bernardo Guimarães, was hailed as an abolitionist novel and since then has been celebrated in critical assessments such as a courageous and virile pamphlet (Candido 1997:218) for portraying the unbearable situations of captivity. Up to this day, Guimarães is considered, along with Joaquim Manuel de Macedo, José de Alencar and Machado de Assis, one of the masters of the Brazilian novel and of all his works, A escrava Isaura is the most popular one. According to contemporary scholars such as Alfredo Bosi (1998) the novel was received as the national Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) which was translated into Portuguese in a first edition published in Paris and in a second edition in Lisbon in 1856, soon to reach Brazil where it was widely read. For Bosi, Brazilian literature started depicting cruel masters and virtuous slaves under the impact of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel. A Escrava Isaura indeed focuses on the ordeals faced by a slave girl who suffers sexual harassment from a lecherous master, falls in love with a kind white gentleman who wants to marry her, is wickedly persecuted to the point of running away, is recaptured and, finally, after overcoming many obstacles, finds happiness with her deliverer, the white gentleman. At the time of its publication Brazil was the only nation in the Americas with a slave-holding system. The Law that forbade slave traffic had been proclaimed in 1850 but it would take 28 years more for the Abolition Law. In this period, anti-slavery campaigns were under way throughout the country and the novel became popular as a libel against the evils of the system. The plot that relies on the trials of an impossible love story provides situations of peril in scenes that recall Stowe’s novel but A escrava Isaura articulates a racial politics that flaunts its anti-slavery stand. From the start, the narrative inscribes the conventions of literary gentility associated to the sentimental genre which produced the cult of white womanhood. Isaura is depicted as a young lady of good manners and refined taste. The long descriptive opening scene focuses on her physical attributes in terms of traditional western images associated to female purity and enchantment: the angel and the siren. Sílvio Romero, one of the critics of the so called 19th-century “Holy Trinity”, referred to Isaura as a beautiful young lady, intelligent, charming, gifted and white, as a sample of the good Arian race (1943:309). In other words, the slave whose plight was to move the white readership was a white slave, an imaginary woman who did not exist under slavery. As the initial scene reiterates the whiteness of her body, there is an effacement of the slave
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body and its chattel status. Isaura becomes a representative of chastity and of pure sensibility cultivated within the benevolent walls of white domesticity. Even if the text’s explicit intention was to take a stand on the injustices of slavery and even if Guimarães tried to compensate the character’s social inferiority by whitening her, his characterization weakens or invalidates altogether that stand for if such a woman could be engendered in such a context, slavery was not that bad as abolitionists wanted people to believe. The opening scene opens with a dialogue between the white mistress who suddenly enters the sitting room where Isaura is playing the piano and singing a song. In a controlled rage after hearing Isaura explaining that the lyrics remind her of her mother left in Africa the mistress warns her of the consequences if she ever repeats the song: if she disobeys, she will be denied access to the piano. Even if we read the scene as an allusion to the dispossession of a slave’s soul it is hard to miss the assumption behind the prohibition, that is, a slave is not entitled to cherish family memories. This assumption, to which the mistress obviously subscribes, integrates the ideological apparatus on which the justification of slavery is predicated. What is disturbing but not at all surprising in the scene is the traditional white equation of beauty with the absence of black blood in the mistress’ speech, an equation fully supported by the authorial position that visibly refrains from establishing any distinction between the mistress’ and the narrator’s perspective. The narrator’s discourse is actually set in the void of the historical discourse on slave parent-child relationship and this absence makes him an accomplice to a silence of 400 years about the black individual as a human being. The fictional necessity that bears on Guimarães’ narrative script is intimately correlated with the social code of the text which aims at producing a meaningful structure that translates the cultural and historical demands of his time. In this context, the logics of whitening and the ordered silence about origins is coherent with the role assigned to a heroine who must be assimilated if she is to marry a white man. The impact of racial difference in the narrative had to be downplayed if the text were to make a mixed race marriage acceptable so the novel could fulfill effectively its purpose of engaging emotional identifications on the part of the white reading public of the time. By effacing the slave’s historical body so that it could be appropriated to the national body of the nation as a narration Guimarães’s condemnation of slavery ends up engendering its own brand of racial perversity as the paradigm of white ethnicity becomes an incontrovertible value for communal recognition and national selfdefinition.
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The first references to the novel Úrsula by Maria Firmina dos Reis which was first published in 1859 appeared in the classical reference source for the 19th century literature that is the Bibliographical Dictionary (1866) by Sacramento Blake. The recovery of this long forgotten narrative in a facsimile edition in 1975 brought to light the first novel by a black woman in Brazil and the first novel to treat slavery as a brutal and degrading system, what explains not only why the novel has been silenced in literary histories but also why many scholars and academics who work with Brazilian literature refuse to acknowledge its existence. The plot centers around a lovers’ plight, a white couple in peril, and its entanglements highlight the battle between chastity and seduction, virtue and crime, persecution and captivity, love and hatred, violence and resistance. There is no happy ending for the white couple but madness and death, as there are violent deaths inflicted to the mother slave Susana and her surrogate son Tulio, both of whom help out the white couple. In spite of romantic and melodramatic episodes, compatible with the sentimental genre, popular at the time, and which catered to the taste of the audience to whom Maria Firmina dos Reis addresses the novel–white readership– gender and racial violence is dramatically rendered from a point of view that leaves no doubt as to Reis’ position as a gendered and racial outsider in the racist patriarchal Brazilian society of the 19th century. The narrative is structured around a sequence of misfortunes, betrayals and crimes presented in layered narratives, a technique that allows for different narrative voices besides the one of the omniscient narrator. The presence of these narrators-protagonists who take up the word to tell their stories functions in two ways, to illuminate character and advance event as well as to draw a picture of what slavery was like in Brazil, that is, not as benevolent as official versions in history books. The first chapters highlight the extent of Úrsula’s difference from A escrava Isaura. The story begins with a white gentleman named Tancredo who suffers an accident from horseback while riding in a remote farmland region. His life is saved by a slave named Túlio who happens to be passing by and who takes the wounded man to be treated by Úrsula, the white girl with whom the white gentleman falls in love. As a reward, Túlio is freed from bondage and becomes by his own will the servant of his new master and friend. Túlio is the character focused in the first scenes and his representation deviates from the western cultural doxa of representing the racial other in terms of demonization, eroticization and infantilization. Contrary to Isaura’s meekness and submission, Túlio is described as a proud man whose inherited African blood cannot be pacified either by bondage or by the climate in a foreign land. Aware of his condition, he
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voices his rebelliousness in the first exchange with Tancredo, stressing his sense of homelessness and estrangement in a land which is will never be his own. Contrary to Guimarães’ narrator whose positioning sides with the white character in disavowing the slave’s origins, Reis’ narrator discloses a black subjectivity that bespeaks of anger in relation to the defilement of the enslaved body. From the material visible site and sign of his subhuman condition–the body–Túlio retrieves a sense of self and of humanity conveyed in performative speeches. In this sense, Maria Firmina dos Reis disturbs the value-coding system of race embedded in canonical fictional narratives by giving voice to the unspeakable “other” who narrates those stories that culture does not want to be told. The other black character, Mother Susana, tells of her memories of her African girlhood and family life, of her captivity and of the physical and psychological torments inflicted on board of the slave-trading ship, depicting in details the daily tortures under the implacable rule of the Brazilian white master. Unlike the communicative disability of Isaura who stammers in fear rather than by shyness, particularly in the opening scene of the novel, Túlio’s speeches and Mother Susana’s compelling narration are acts of resistance against the white’s silencing of the black voice. In Úrsula memory, singular and communal, claims its historical and cultural visibility against the hegemonic discourse of the un-marked national subject that presides over the allegedly homogenous Brazilian identity. In A Escrava Isaura, the whitening of Isaura is a necessary step for the collective forgetfulness necessary to bring together romance and nation-building. The romantic demand for love and conjugal unions in the 19th century was crucial for projects of national identity, as pointed out by Doris Sommer (1991) in her discussion of canonical novels in Latin America as master narrative of nationality because they figure national unification and stability. Contrary to Guimarães’ novel, in Úrsula the romantic plot slides inexorably to a foreclosure of doom as the white patriarchal family’s domestic space is turned into a space of violence, lust, betrayal and murder. The powerful white father/rich landowner/slave master causes his wife’s death, deceives and kills his own son and abducts his newlymarried wife with whom he had fallen in love, bringing upon the latter madness and death. There is no kinship, no love or peace within the white family but hatred, crime and continuous violence, particularly against the slave servants. The image of the ravaged white family and its house of horrors may be read as a symptom of the nation’s malaise as much as it functions as a metaphor and a metonym of the nation’s historical crisis during the First Empire, a time where internal revolutions and regional insurrections against the central government under the imperial rule of
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Don Pedro I made national unification and pacification a dream far off. As a narrative from the margins of the nation, Úrsula turns the association romance/nation-building upside down, exposing the fissures of an imagined community founded on a patriarchal slave-holding system. On these terms, the novel disturbs the dominant regime of representations in the wake of the material and symbolical violence that characterized the historical experience of nationhood and which produced the fictitious image of a homogeneous and consensual Brazilian (literary) identities, rather than heterogeneous and conflictive. If recovering women’s writing from the past means to question long-held assumptions as well as interpretative frames of reference of a literary culture that has, historically, operated under the prerogative of an exclusive male writing culture, the study of their texts may chart the absences and silences produced as effect of the processes of canonical formations which were and still are institutional forms of containment associated with structures of exclusion. The assumption of 19th century nationhood as the unproblematic horizon of a shared culture and of the literary canon as a key referent to cultural identity is to be undone as a new historiography is to be written.
References Anderson, B. (1983). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso. Bosi, A. (1998). História Concisa da Literatura Brasileira. São Paulo: Cultrix. Culler, J. (1986). On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Guimarães, B. (1992). A Escrava Isaura. São Paulo: Editora Ática, 18th edition. Hasenbalg, C. (1992). Notas sobre relações de raça no Brasil e na América Latina. In H. Buarque de Hollanda (Ed.), Y Nosotras Latinoamericanas? Estudos sobre Gênero e Raça. São Paulo: Memorial da América Latina. Holanda, S. B. de. (1998). Raízes do Brasil. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras. Hooks, B. (1994). Teaching to Trangress: Education as a Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge. Ianni, O. (2003). Tipos e mitos do pensamento brasileiro. In M. E. Moreira et alii (Eds.), Histórias da Literature: Teorias, Temas e Autores. Porto Alegre: Mercado Aberto.
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Pratt, M. L. (1994). Mulher, literatura e irmandade nacional. In H. B. de Hollanda (Ed.), Tendências e Impasses. Rio de Janeiro: Rocco. Reis, M. F. dos. (1988). Úrsula. Rio de Janeiro: Instituto Nacional do Livro/Edições Presença. Romero, S. (1943). História da Literatura Brasileira. Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio, Tomo 3. Said, E. (1989). Representing the colonized. Critical Inquiry 15(2): 225. Sarti, C. (1989). The panorama of feminism in Brazil. The New Left Review: 173. Sommer, D. (1991). Foundational Fictions: The National Romances of Latin America. Berkeley: University of California Press. Spivak, G. (1988). Subaltern studies: deconstructing historiography. In In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics. New York: Routledge. Stevens, C. (Ed.). (2010). Woman and Literature–25 Years: Origins and Directions. Florianópolis: Mulheres.
(LITTLE) RED RIDING HOOD: A BRITISH-AMERICAN HISTORY OF UNDOING ANDREEA ùERBAN
Introduction Representing an important part in the development of the individual, fairy tales offer an alternative universe where dread and enchantment coexist, where dark, evil forces fight and lose against light and goodness, and where death itself can be defeated. Inspired from everyday realities, and thus reflecting social practices and patterns, fairy tales were initially targeted to an adult audience, dealing with the desires and anxieties that grown-ups (not children) were preoccupied with, as well as with the social roles and identities they played. The popularity of fairy tales–argues children’s literature specialist Maria Tatar (1999:xi)–is due precisely to the fact that they fulfill specific social functions, ranging from preservation or criticism of social practices or hierarchies, to compensating the social reality and providing help for people who need to cope with family conflicts, social tensions or their own frustrations. Although endowed with “remarkable mercurial properties” (Orenstein 2002:12), i.e. changing from one epoch, fashion, mindset and culture to another, fairy tales and their multiple variants essentially deal with issues about men and women, about gender roles and how these change. This paper, therefore, will focus on gender stereotypes, as they appear in one particularly famous fairy tale, namely that of Red Riding Hood. The reason behind the choice of stories meant to be discussed is purely arbitrary. Belonging to different genres and trends–satire (American James Thurber’s The Girl and the Wolf), short story (British Angela Carter’s The Werewolf), parody (British Roald Dahl’s Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf) and film (American Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood)–, the four narratives selected share a unifying concept, that of Red Riding Hood, who has long come to embody one female stereotype: pretty, spoiled, gullible, helpless, wearing red clothes that single her out for potential predators. Moreover, these stories are significant either historically or
(Little) Red Riding Hood: A British-American History of Undoing
because of their present-day popularity and important lesson(s) they teach the target readership, by challenging the traditional pattern, thus trying to “undo” the girl’s predicament and suffering.
Fairy Tales as Social Schemata Before proceeding to the analysis of the stories proper, let us briefly consider the cognitive approach to literature. Associated with psychological writing related to memory and cognition, schema theory postulates that people organize everything–from people, places, and languages to skills and processes–into knowledge patterns and structures, known as schemata. Discussing the ways in which schema theory works within a literary text, Cook (1994:191-199) argues that, from the point of view of the reader’s schematic knowledge, literary discourse may, on the one hand, confirm and reinforce already existing schemata; in other words, discourse preserves or reinforces the reader’s schematic knowledge, with behaviour remaining conventional. On the other hand, it may break/disrupt old schemata, by establishing new connections between the already existing schemata or constructing new schemata, thus leading to schema refreshment. However, the refreshment of the schema may take place only if the discourse remains credible, otherwise, the result of schema denial would touch on the absurd with an evident humorous effect. Similarly, Semino (1997:153-154) posits that literary texts usually involve discourse deviation–i.e. schema disruption–and thus challenge the reader by creating a feeling of defamiliarization. Although Semino, unlike Cook, believes that literary texts often reinforce schemata rather than have the reader alter them, they both agree that schema refreshment is usually the result of the blending of two utterly different situations into one text world. Conversely, Miall (2006:50-53) explains that it is the readers’ emotions that play a crucial role in their relation to a defamiliarizing literary text, suggesting that affect (and not cognitive processing) triggers the construction of new schemata. When reading, readers automatically apply a schema they are familiar with to a certain text. If this initial schema proves inadequate, readers have to resort to their own feelings in order to find a more plausible schema based on their emotions. Deriving from schema theory is the gender schema theory, which provides insight into how stereotypes about the sexes develop, how they are maintained and how they are used. According to the gender schema theory, children blend their self concepts with the gender schema of their culture; in other words, children “use sex to organize their perceptions of
the world” (Rathus 2007:365). Ingrained during childhood years, gender schema postulates that children learn to process and interpret the information from the surrounding environment, adjusting their behaviour so as to fit in the gender norms (stereotypes) and expectations of their culture. Children will thus learn from the culture they live in the meanings of “male” and “female”, i.e. physical traits, sanctioned behaviour and personality traits. Psychologist Spencer Rathus (2007:365) explains that, “as soon as children understand the labels ‘girl’ and ‘boy’, they seek information concerning gender-typed traits and try to live up to them”. Consequently, boys and girls will build their gender-identity on what is expected from them, showing preference for gender-typed toys, clothes and colours, activities and occupations, with their self-esteem heavily depending on how they measure up to the gender schema. In a very interesting study on gender development, Martin and Dinella (2002:514) tackle the issue of gender schema in relation to memory and investigate how inconsistent gender-schema can be distorted by memory. When confronted with an inconsistent gender-schema situation, children would often change part of the information of a particular scenario in order to make it match gender schema: for example, a policewoman would be replaced in a later account with a policeman because man is the image of (supreme) authority. Even if the use of counter-stereotypic information may be expected to help children break gender-related stereotypes, Martin and Dinella (2002:514-515) prove that this actually reinforces such stereotypes, with children distorting information so that it confirms the schema they are familiar with. In the following section, I will explore how modern variants of the (Little) Red Riding Hood story try to “undo” the gender-stereotypes that we adopt in childhood and that, more or less consciously, apply in our adult life.
Refashioning Red. Red Riding Hood Usually associated with domesticity and “old wives’ tales” (Tatar 1999:xi) because they presented women’s perspectives (Zipes 1993:4), fairy tales were recorded by men writers, like Charles Perrault (in the eighteenth century) or the Brothers Grimm (in the nineteenth century), when the target audience of such stories began to shift from adults to teenagers and children. Consequently, these narratives had to be “sanitized” (Tatar 1999:x), or “refined” (Zipes 1993:21), with the overtly explicit physical functions, bawdiness and cruelty eliminated so as to fit the written literary text, as well as the younger readership, who have to
(Little) Red Riding Hood: A British-American History of Undoing
learn a vital moral lesson, together with proper behavioural patterns, through what Tatar (1999:6) calls “a pedagogy of fear”. Therefore, eighteenth and nineteenth-century versions of a fairy tale like Little Red Riding Hood disempower the peasant girl of the oral tale (The Story of Grandmother), who proves witty enough to outsmart the wolf all by herself. In the variants written down by Perrault or the Grimms, Red fully abides by the gender-schema, embodying a stereotypical image of womanhood: attractive, but naïve and gullible, she finally becomes a fallen woman, marginalized by society (Perrault), or needs a powerful man to save her from her predicament (Grimms). Nevertheless, modern texts appropriate, revise and refresh such old stories, keeping the pace with social changes in order to make them relevant to the world we live in, which involves negotiations of new social roles and identities. Modern re-writings of the twentieth century turn to the familiar text of the girl who falls prey to a rapacious wolf in an attempt to re-empower the young woman and undo her long-lasting victimization. Such rescriptings play with the gender schema–in particular with the conventional representations of femininity–and reverse roles. To better understand gender-reversals, let us briefly consider the conventional representations of masculinity and femininity. Coded femininity–as it is used by American psychologists (Moi 2001:103)–lists such adjective as “affectionate, cheerful, childlike, compassionate, flatterable, gentle, gullible, loyal, sensitive, shy, soft-spoken, sympathetic, tender, understanding, warm, and yielding”, whereas coded masculinity is “aggressive, ambitious, analytical, assertive, athletic, competitive, dominant, forceful, independent, individualistic, self-reliant, self-sufficient, and strong”. Comparatively, Ussher (1997:3,7) emphasizes the fact that femininity is highly sexualized, since “woman” is hard to separate from “sex” (i.e. sexual intercourse), “romance” and “beauty”. Women’s empowerment then, as it is presented in the texts under analysis, will often be read in masculine traits, equaling aggression, assertion, self-sufficiency, and even physical strength. Thus, while gender stereotypes are challenged and reversed, Red and the wolf switch places: whereas Red gains power and turns into a vengeful cold-blooded killer or a cynical hunter, the wolf becomes worthy of sympathy and victimized. Written before the Second World War, James Thurber’s variant of Red’s story gives readers a clue about schema disruption from the very title: The Little Girl and the Wolf. The heroine (an unnamed little girl, who is not associated with any red garment) and the wolf are equally important characters and, moreover, the latter knows from the very beginning that a little girl will come through the forest with a basket of goodies on her way
to her grandmother. True to the coded masculine behaviour, the wolf is the one that initiates the conversation and addresses the girl, while she dutifully answers him. Now knowing that she is taking food to her ill grandmother, the wolf disappears in the dark forest. But this is when the reader begins to experience the feeling of defamiliarization, as we are then told that, when Red arrives at grandma’s house, she sees “somebody in bed with a nightgown and a nightcap on” (Thurber 1939, my emphasis). Selfpossessed and shrewd, the girl notices that the person in the bed is actually the wolf, whose disguise has not fooled her; consequently, she takes “an automatic out of her basket and [shoots] the wolf dead” (Thurber 1939). The writer’s moral–“It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be”–provides the key to the interpretation: “The Little Girl” from the title is not “little” at all, nor is the wolf a real wild beast. The message conveyed is that modern women do not give in easily, that they have learned to play hard to get, which is why men have to think up new courtship strategies. Even if at a surface reading it seems that women have become more emancipated (in light of the suffragettes’ movement), this final remark is malicious and misogynist, the new story portraying Red as a soldier, who carries weapons (masculine attribute of power related to the masculine occupation of war-faring) in a basket destined to shopping (feminine occupation). Much like a gangster, Red gets control of the situation and kills the wolf in order to teach him a lesson that, otherwise, he would have taught her. Although Red is no longer a helpless “damsel in distress”, and although she empowers herself by acting, she no longer fits the gender schema of feminine behaviour, consequently being defeminized. Similarly, Angela Carter’s less known short story entitled The Werewolf again hints at the readers’ defamiliarization with Red’s story, since the focus is on the werewolf and not on the girl. Written 40 years after Thurber, Carter’s text puts forward a subtly feminist disruption of the schema. In this version, set in a village peopled with poor superstitious peasants and woodsmen, an unnamed, strong and fearless girl dressed in a sheepskin (again, no red outfit) is asked to take some food to her ill grandmother. Having lived all her life near a forest populated by wild beasts, she knows how to use a knife to defend herself against starving wolves. Yet, when she is attacked in the forest, the aggressor is not an ordinary wolf but a werewolf, whose front paw she manages to cut off before it escapes. Arriving at grandmother’s house, the girl finds the old woman feverish and raving, only to realize that the old woman is actually the werewolf she has recently wounded. Scared, the girl cries out for help and, when the neighbours come, they are the ones that drive the old
(Little) Red Riding Hood: A British-American History of Undoing
woman-cum-witch out of the house and beat her to death. Finally, the girl moves into the grandmother’s house and she “prosper[s]” (Carter 1990:110). The most important aspect in which Carter’s narrative breaks the readers’ familiar (gender) schema is by having the werewolf turn into a woman (not a man). Other than this shape-shifting ability of grandmother’s, her personality is non-existent throughout the story. The only indication of her being the werewolf is the wart on her index finger and the granddaughter’s word. The “witch” (not werewolf) sentence passed on grandmother is in accordance with her old age, as only old women, and especially old widows, who have lost the protection of their men, become suspect of unorthodox practices and can be labelled thus. Other disruptions are shown in the character of the girl, who is not good and naïve, but cool, calm and collected, as well as enterprising. Transferring the blame for the murder of her grandmother to other shoulders, the girl can inherit the old woman’s property, which she yearned for from the very beginning. Carter’s text is no longer about a girl who has to stay on the path and learn proper behaviour the hard way, but about a cold-blooded girl who has her own grandmother killed in order to inherit her property. This narrative speaks of old women’s marginalization as a result of their old age, and their becoming a burden for the rest of the family. At the same time, the story posits that the danger is not outside, but within the family–a dark side of the Self even–, finally revealing the real monster not in the old woman-cum-shape-shifter, but in the young girl, who is the real “wolf” in sheep’s clothing. Culturally speaking, the story demonstrates a current troublesome issue of modern society, which praises youth and shuns old age. Hinting at Carter’s native England, the very first sentence of the story, where the parallel structure juxtaposes “weather” and “hearts” (“It is a northern country; they have cold weather, they have cold hearts.” (Carter 1990:108)) may, in fact, point to any Western society that worships youth and maidenhood (through the veneration of the Virgin, mentioned in the text), while marginalizing and taking advantage of old people. Yet, when the girl moves into the grandmother’s house, she also takes the old woman’s place, suggesting that history will repeat itself, and, once she becomes old, she will also be rejected and marginalized, just as her grandmother. A few years after Carter, Roald Dahl’s parodic rewriting of Red’s story (published in 1982) again brings to focus both Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, suggesting the two characters as equally important, only to frustrate the readers’ expectations and schemata. Dahl’s text creates the
feeling of defamiliarization from the very beginning of the story, when “Wolfie”, a predator-wolf downgraded by hunger, goes straight to grandma’s house without meeting the girl. As his hunger is not appeased, he decides to dress into the old woman’s clothes and wait for “Miss Red Riding Hood”, who he already knows is coming, and who will taste “like caviar” compared to “small and tough” Grandmamma. While waiting, the ravenous wolf engages in stereotypically feminine activities: dressed in grandmother’s clothes and wearing her shoes, he brushes and curls his hair to complete his impersonation of the old woman. Although both the wolf and the girl seem to indulge each other in the question-game, he becomes extremely frustrated when the girl breaks the question pattern and admires the “lovely great big furry coat [he has] on”. Nonetheless, the moment he decides to grab and eat her, an American Western movie scene takes place, with the two opponents facing each other and testing their reactions: “The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.” (Dahl 2009:40) True to the cowboy scene, Red “whips a pistol from her knickers” (Dahl 2009:40) and shoots at the wolf’s head, killing him in cold-blood, mobster-like fashion. Yet the story does not end here. Some time later, the (presumably male) narrator meets “Miss Riding Hood” in the forest and has his attention drawn to the “furry wolfskin coat” that has replaced the “silly” red cloak. Even if Dahl’s heroine is often called “small” or “little”, the narrator and even the wolf call her “Miss Riding Hood” (Dahl 2009:38,40; my emphasis), the social deixis placing her on a superior position in relation to them. Red has changed a lot from the gullible little girl of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, now being a self-confident and seductive young woman, who initiates conversation to a male stranger. Furthermore, unlike Thurber’s Red who keeps her automatic in her basket, the pistol is Dahl’s Red’s best friend, the one she keeps closest to her body in a very feminine item of clothing. The text thus suggests that her femininity (i.e. sexuality) is the source of her empowerment. Here too, power equates aggressive behaviour, complete with assuming the responsibility of her actions (unlike Carter’s heroine who transfers the responsibility for her grandmother’s death onto other shoulders). Red does not kill the wolf only to teach him his place, but to take his pelt, thus turning into a cynical, trophy-seeking hunter. Simultaneously, the wolf’s initially aggressive predator behaviour is finally replaced by his victim status as oppressed animal, when he cannot escape the insensitive girl’s deadly shot. Rumours of Red’s feat will also reach the wisest of the Three Little Pigs (in Dahl’s homonymous poem), who calls for her help in his wolfproblem. Having had the experience of “wolf-hunting”, Red has taken the stereotypical masculine role of “the knight in shining armour”. But Red’s
(Little) Red Riding Hood: A British-American History of Undoing
insensitivity and greedy, materialistic nature are further emphasized when, after having saved the pig, she kills him too in order to make herself a travelling suitcase. Similar to Carter’s text, Dahl’s Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf has Grandma lose her life in the end, leaving her inside the wolf’s belly. No rescue is attempted for her, suggesting again that old people are marginalized in a society that venerates youth and that has no more use for the elder. Finally, the last (and latest) narrative under consideration, Catherine Hardwicke’s film about Red Riding Hood (2011) mixes fantasy with horror and romance, true to the pop fiction genre. This time, the story creates the feeling of defamiliarization first of all through the love triangle Valerie-Peter-Henry. Although in love with poor Peter, a wood-chopper and her childhood sweetheart, beautiful Valerie’s parents force her into an engagement with Henry, a rich blacksmith. Her plans of running away with Peter are overthrown by the death of her sister, who is believed to have been killed by the wolf that has been hovering around village. Help is asked from the authoritative wolf-hunter Father Solomon, who explains that the wolf is actually a werewolf, whose mind Valerie discovers she can read. Suspecting her of shape-shifting, Father Solomon uses a red-cloaked Valerie as bait to catch the beast, which threatens her with the destruction of the entire village if she does not run away with him. Valerie comes to suspect that Peter is the werewolf, but she is proven wrong when, during a visit to her grandmother’s, Valerie’s father steps out from behind the curtains revealing himself as the werewolf. Having followed Valerie through the forest, Peter fights her father and they manage to kill him together, but Peter gets bitten in the process. To protect her, they fill her father’s carcass with stones and throw it into the lake. As life resumes its normal pace, Valerie smilingly meets a werewolf in the dark forest. The film story includes references to domestic violence, youthful sexuality, incest and cannibalism, all of which featured in the oral tale of Red Riding Hood. Otherwise, the script recycles elements of previous variants of the narrative, touching on issues that male writers (like the Grimms) deleted when addressing these tales to a young audience, as argues Tatar (1987:364). Several such examples are the possibility of the wolf being the darker self of any individual (the girl’s included), the girl’s question-game with her grandmother-cum-cannibal, grandmother turned food, the killing of the wolf/predator, the stuffing of the carcass with stones and the throwing into the water. Still, the script breaks the schema in more than one aspect. The new twist this story brings is the rendition of the father as the (were)wolf, even
if the movie constantly suggests that anyone can be the evil beast. Although marginalized and downgraded (through associations with (heavy) drinking), the father-figure is present in the story. His suggestion– uttered both in his human and in his werewolf shapes–that Valerie run away with him touches on incestuous desires. The viewers’ feeling of defamiliarization is further in focus, with the downgrading of Valeriecum-Red’s mother. No longer standing for the image of authority in the absence of the father, the submissive mother is reduced to the image of unfaithful wife, who needs to be punished for her disloyalty. Connected to this, is the existence of “Red”’s sister (actually only a half-sister, the result of the mother’s infidelity), whose death at the claws of the werewolf sets the story going. Comparatively, Valerie/Red seems the only character that breaks the gender-stereotype. The teenaged girl is negotiating her way into marriage and womanhood: in love with poor Peter, she is forced into an engagement with rich Henry. Her behaviour as a young girl shows her as straddling the boundary between masculinity (exploration of the world) and femininity (domesticity): she seems to enjoy helping her mother with house chores, while she also has fun going hunting with her friend Peter. Growing up, Valerie proves to be a determined and conventionally rebellious teenager, by disobeying her parents and planning to run away with the man she loves. Moreover, she is an extraordinary young woman, not only because of her beauty (village girls envy her for it), but also because she has paranormal, witch-like abilities to read (only) the wolf’s mind. Traditionally associated with old age and marginalization, witchcraft is here manifested in a young person, singling her out as a strong-minded young woman that poses no real threat to the villagers. On the contrary, this abnormality of hers, highlighted by the fact that she has to wear an iron wolf-mask, is what helps the men devise a plan to capture the real monster, i.e. the werewolf. However, when she kills the father-cum-werewolf, she does not do it by herself, but with the help of two men: Peter, who has stabbed him in the back, and Father Solomon’s severed metal-nailed hand she thrusts in his heart. It is thus suggested that the girl must kill her father (both physically and metaphorically) in order to move on to the next stage in life; yet this can only be achieved with the help of another man who will take the father’s place–a possible husband. This is confirmed by the ending of the story: Peter, who has taken the place of the father-cum-werewolf, has come to woo a more than willing Valerie. Ultimately, the film script confirms “Red” as embodiment of a “romantically obsessed” (Ussher
(Little) Red Riding Hood: A British-American History of Undoing
1997:21) young woman, who is willing to be seduced by a (literally) beastly man.
Conclusion As we have seen above, all these texts challenge and break gender and social schemata, challenging the reader to find new schema that can be applied to Red’s story. Yet, although they attempt to restore agency to the young woman, thus giving her the upper hand, such narratives ultimately show Red in worse light: from the naïve, gullible, helpless girl awaiting her male rescuer, she has come a long way, transforming successively into a cold-blooded killer (Thurber), a murderer (Carter), a cynical hunter (Dahl), only to reach the climax with Hollywood’s latest adaptation that shows her as telepathic versatile witch (Hardwicke). Twentieth-century rewritings of Red’s story challenge the gender schema and reverse gender roles, seeking to empower the woman by giving her back the ability to control her behaviour through choice. However, although they challenge the readers’ familiar schemata and break the traditional gender schema, all these narratives seem but shallow attempts at “undoing” Red’s trials and tribulations, ultimately demonstrating that gender-consistency embedded in childhood memory plays a crucial role in confirming gender-related stereotypes. The power Red gains comes at the expense of her socially sanctioned femininity.
References Carter, A. (1990). The werewolf. In A. Carter, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. New York: Penguin. 108-110. . Cook, G. (1994). Discourse and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Dahl, R. (2009). Little red riding hood and the wolf. In Revolting Rhymes. London: Puffin Books. 36-40.  —. (2009). The three little pigs. In Revolting Rhymes. London: Puffin Books. 36-40.  Grimm, J. and W. (1993). Little red cap. In Zipes, J. (Ed.), The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood. New York and London: Routledge. 135-138. . Martin, C. L. and L. Dinella. (2002). Gender development: gender schema theory. In Worell, J. (Ed.), An Encyclopedia of Women and Gender. vol. 1. San Diego and London: Academic Press.
Miall, D. S. (2007). Literary Reading: Empirical and Theoretical Studies. New York: Peter Lang. Moi, T. (2001). What is a Woman? Oxford: Oxford University Press. Orenstein, C. (2002). Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked. Sex, Morality and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale. New York: Basic Books. Perrault, C. (1993). Little red riding hood. In Zipes, J. (Ed.), The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood. New York and London: Routledge. 91-93. . Rathus, S. A. (2008). Childhood and Adolescence: Voyages in Development. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth. Red Riding Hood (film). (2011). Directed by C. Hardwicke. Semino, E. (1997). On schema theory and poetry. In Language and World Creation in Poems and Other Texts. London: Longman. Tatar, M. 1987. The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. —. 1999. The Classic Fairy Tales. New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company. The grandmother’s tale. In Orenstein C. (2002). Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked. Sex, Morality and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale. New York: Basic Books. 65-67. [French folktale collected around 1885]. Thurber, J. (1939). The Little Girl and the Wolf. Retrieved October 13, 2010 from http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/quotes/picnicba.htm. Ussher, J. M. (1997. Fantasies of Femininity. Reframing the Boundaries of Sex. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Zipes, J. (Ed.). (1993). The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood. New York and London: Routledge.
CHAPTER FOUR: UNDOING INTERLOCKING SYSTEMS OF OPPRESSION
POWER PLAYS: TWO BLACK FEMINIST PLAYWRIGHTS (EN)COUNTER INTERSECTIONALITY AMBER WEST
Introduction The black feminist movement in the United States reemerged in the late 1960s and early 70s through the efforts of diverse African American women including political activists, academics, laborers and artists, and through their efforts came the “first contemporary articulations of […] race, gender, and class as intersecting identities” (Springer 2005:16). Described by black feminist theorists as dual positioning, a double burden, multiple jeopardy, or–more recently–intersectionality, the understanding of black women’s distinct position at the crossroads of multiple forms of oppression is fundamental to the political goals of black feminism, which are to “construct and empower a political sensibility that opposes misogyny and racism simultaneously” (Crenshaw 1997:567). In current black feminist theory, intersectionality is “a core concept both provisional and illustrative” that “links contemporary politics with postmodern theory” (551) while creating a space within which black women’s experiences of oppression can be articulated, analyzed and resisted. In this way, intersectionality can be described as a theory/framework that both results from and engenders the political sensibility necessary to understand and challenge black women’s systemic, multiplicative subordination. In order to elucidate intersectionality, Crenshaw delineates it into three forms–structural, representational, and political–while acknowledging that these “boundaries are neither finite nor rigid” (1997:552). These three forms of intersectionality are often experienced by members of marginalized groups who are subject to multiple, interrelated forms of oppression based on categories of difference such as gender, race, class and sexual orientation. Crenshaw’s work is rooted in her belief that intersectionality constructs “a better means of conceptualizing and politicizing violence against women of color” (552). Intersectionality is
Two Black Feminist Playwrights (En)Counter Intersectionality
also an effective means of conceptualizing and politicizing other forms of subjugation black women experience, such as political marginalization, and the three forms of intersectionality are particularly useful for developing an understanding of the complex manner in which this marginalization occurs. Taking Crenshaw’s work as a model, and building on Springer’s study of the emergence of the contemporary black feminist movement, I will explicate structural, representational, and political intersectionality through a discussion of two black feminist playwrights, Adrienne Kennedy and Ntozake Shange, whose first plays were produced during the black feminist political resurgence that occurred in the wake of the Civil Rights and women’s movements, which had marginalized black women based on their gender and race, respectively. According to Springer, the public controversies regarding works by black feminist authors contributed to the birth of the black feminist organizations that developed during this period. She writes that “[r]eactions to black women writers are illustrative of the hostile environment in which the black feminist movement reemerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s” (2005:5). Though Springer focuses primarily on fiction writers, her assertion that many writers of this period were “pioneers of the contemporary black feminist movement for daring to assert […] a gender consciousness integral to the struggle for black liberation” (5) is equally applicable to playwrights such as Shange and Kennedy. Because Kennedy’s work has been largely overlooked (both by black feminists and theater scholars), this essay answers hooks’ (1992) call for more work to be done to recognize Kennedy’s significance as a groundbreaking black feminist artist. Shange is better known, however analyses of FCG continue too often to focus almost exclusively on the anti-black male controversy that served to distract from her message of black female empowerment. Because of these issues, I explicate Kennedy’s work in greater detail, while my discussion of Shange is consciously grounded in for colored girls’ original intent as a celebration of black women’s resistance/survival. In the first section of this essay, I argue that Kennedy and Shange deserve acknowledgement as groundbreaking black feminist theorists for the ways in which they represented and critiqued black women’s experiences of structural intersectionality in their first plays. Both writers’ social critiques, however, were largely suppressed through representational intersectionality when they were vilified as race traitors, as I discuss in the second section. Through representational intersectionality, Kennedy & Shange’s critiques of structural intersectionality were marginalized, thus resulting in political intersectionality, the silencing/erasure of women of color, an experience that had consequences
for these two artists but also more broadly for the political progress of black women as a whole, as I discuss in the third section of this essay. Understanding the degree to which groundbreaking black feminist artists such as Kennedy and Shange were misunderstood and vilified due to (and through) intersectionality will provide insights on the importance of their work in countering the controlling images that justify and reproduce oppression while contributing to our understanding of black women’s complex experiences of intertwined forms of subjugation, which occur both through and as a result of structural, representational and political intersectionality.
Structural Intersectionality Crenshaw defines structural intersectionality as “[t]he material consequences of the interaction of […] multiple hierarchies in the lives of women of color” (1997:552). Because African American women are situated at the bottom of structures of subordination based on their race and gender, their experiences of racism and sexism, as well as their reactions to these experiences, differ from that of black men and white women. The “material consequences” of intersecting structures of subjugation are manifold, and include both external experiences of oppression and internal responses to those experiences. I will describe structural intersectionality through an examination of Kennedy and Shange’s debut plays, which opened in New York in 1964 and 1976 respectively. The extent and variety of the material consequences of intersecting structures of oppression on multiply marginalized peoples are illuminated in the pioneering works of Kennedy and Shange. Adrienne Kennedy’s first play, Funnyhouse of a Negro (FhN), which opened off-Broadway in 1964, represents one of the earliest examples of contemporary black feminist theorizing on intersectionality. Through her protagonist, Negro-Sarah, a well-educated young woman whose mother “looked like a white woman, hair as straight as any white woman’s” and whose father “is black, the blackest one of them all” (1969:6), Kennedy depicts the deleterious effects of intersecting oppressions on African American women. In the midst of a mental breakdown, Sarah’s psyche fractures into multiple, warring “selves” represented by European and African icons such as Queen Victoria and Patrice Lumumba. Sarah’s madness stems from her inability to fit into, and/or to be on the “winning side” of, white patriarchy’s hierarchical binary systems (e.g. good/evil, male/female, white/black, etc.). Kennedy’s critique of structural intersectionality is rooted in exposing the constructed and unstable nature
Two Black Feminist Playwrights (En)Counter Intersectionality
of these oppositional binaries, which, as Collins (2000) discusses, are part of the foundation of intersecting systems of oppression. Sarah’s biracial heritage prevents her from fitting into a single racial category, thereby calling attention to the false and socially constructed nature of race and hierarchical racial binaries, as well as to America’s oft-silenced history of miscegenation. In this way, Kennedy creates a subversive revision of the tragic mulatto figure in order to depict the complex and distinct manner in which black women experience intersecting forms of oppression. As Brown explains, “Kennedy’s tragic mulatta does not suffer from the mighty drop of Black blood as do the light-skinned literary heroines of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but rather from her attempt to escape the African American part of her heritage in favor of a whiteness that, in Kennedy's oeuvre, does nothing less than kill” (2001:282). Through Sarah’s interaction with her disintegrated European and African “selves,” figures she has created in her mind much like race and gender have been constructed in Western thought, both she and the audience realize the impossibility of self-integration/wholeness for those located at the bottom of, or in the cracks between, structures of oppression that fragment people into categories which are then used to subordinate them. Kennedy’s depiction of structural intersectionality centers on the ways in which overlapping systems of oppression inflict physical and psychic violence on black women in order to maintain their subjugation, particularly through internalized oppression. Sarah’s internalized oppression is evidenced foremost in her obsession with whiteness and her desire to appear white. She says, “I long to become even a more pallid Negro than I am now […]. In appearance I am good-looking in a boring way; no glaring Negroid features […]. My one defect is that I have a head of frizzy hair, unmistakably Negro kinky hair” (Kennedy 1969:8). Sarah considers herself good-looking because her features are not “glaring[ly] Negroid,” but sees her hair as a “defect” because it marks her as black. [H]ooks (1989) discusses the ways in which some blacks’ obsession with straight hair was seen by black activists in the 1960s to reflect a colonized mentality. This critique is certainly evident in Kennedy’s depiction of Sarah. Sarah’s feelings of self-hatred and inadequacy, which lead to her mental breakdown, also cause her and her selves’ hair to fall out during the play. In this way, Kennedy utilizes hair and hair loss as a recurring motif in FhN to represent the material consequences of intersecting forms of oppression in black women’s lives. Additionally, this portrayal helps to place Kennedy in the tradition of black women writers, as Collins (2000) discusses, who “[portray] the range of ways that African-American women experience internalized oppression” through the “theme of the suspended
woman […]. Pain, violence, and death form the essential content of these [suspended] women’s lives. They are suspended in time and place; their life choices are so severely limited that the women themselves are often destroyed” (93). By this definition Sarah is certainly a suspended woman, trapped both literally in her apartment and figuratively in the funnyhouse of her mind, and debilitated by madness resulting from internal and external oppression. As FhN pre-dates all but one of the works Collins discusses, Kennedy deserves recognition as a foremother of the tradition of contemporary black women’s resistance and feminist theorizing through literary art. Sarah is not the only suspended woman in FhN. Sarah’s hair loss connects her to her mother, who has passed the mental illness that Kennedy depicts as being the result of a colonized mentality down to her daughter. As the mother haunts Sarah, crossing the stage in a trance while carrying a bald head, she says, “Black man, black man, I never should have let a black man put his hands on me. The wild black beast raped me and now my skull is shining” (Kennedy 1969:7). Both Sarah and her mother have internalized the Eurocentric myth of the black beast rapist, causing them to vilify and reject Sarah’s dark-skinned father, represented by Patrice Lumumba, an anti-colonial African leader murdered at the time that Kennedy was writing FhN. In her stage directions, Kennedy describes Lumumba as “a black man [whose] head appears to be split in two with blood and tissue in [his] eyes. He carries an ebony mask” (9). Kennedy merges Sarah’s father with Lumumba, who is also one of Sarah’s selves, in order to critique the black beast rapist myth by depicting the father as a Lumumba-like figure, a heroic martyr who has been wrongly punished. Sarah’s belief that her father raped her mother, and that she is a child of that rape, causes her to reject her father. Because he is also one of her “selves,” this also represents Sarah’s rejection of herself. The ebony mask that Lumumba carries throughout the play is at once the African heritage that haunts Sarah, the side of herself that she hates, and the weapon with which she believes she has committed patricide. Sarah’s Lumumba/father “self” says, “[I]f I did not despise myself then my hair would not have fallen and if my hair had not fallen then I would not have bludgeoned my father’s face with the ebony mask” (15). Sarah’s fear that she may have bludgeoned her father to death with an ebony mask is a metaphor for the self-hatred that destroys her relationship with her father leading to his murder/suicide, as well as to her own suicide at the play’s conclusion. For Sarah and her mother, the material consequences of the interaction of multiple hierarchies are the worst imaginablehair loss, self-hatred, isolation/familial estrangement, mental illness and death. Sarah’s suicide
Two Black Feminist Playwrights (En)Counter Intersectionality
by hanging at the play’s conclusion is both a devastating depiction and a scathing condemnation of structural intersectionality. While Kennedy painted a nightmarish portrait of the physical and psychological trauma inflicted on black women through structural intersectionality, Ntozake Shange celebrated the resiliency of black women able to adapt and endure within multiple, interlocking systems of oppression in her 1976 choreopoem, for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf (FCG). Through seven women’s interwoven stories of joy and struggle, Shange’s intended message was a positive one, in her words “an affirmation of the black woman’s possibilities […] [T]hat to survive in the face of the double burden she faces gives her a unique feeling of victory’” (qtd. in Ribowsky 1976:45). Though the seven ladies of FCG, like the “colored girls” to whom Shange dedicates the play, may have considered suicide, they have found ways, as the lady in brown puts it in the play’s final lines, of “movin to the ends of their own rainbows” (Shange 1975: 64), that is, of surviving and thriving in the face of systemic racism and sexism. Shange’s analysis of structural intersectionality, then, focuses on agency, and particularly on the acquisition of agency through self-expression. The material consequences of black women’s experiences of intersecting hierarchies include their creative forms of resistance to subjugation within these hierarchies. Springer (2005), Alexander-Floyd (2007), and others have discussed the critique of black male-female intimate relationships at the root of much of the controversy around FCG, which I will examine later in this essay in relation to representational intersectionality. Here, however, I call attention to Shange’s focus on women’s agency in resisting structural intersectionality, which has been less often discussed, perhaps in part because this message was buried beneath the “man-hater/race traitor” controversy used to frame discussions of the play in the mainstream/white and black media. My goal is to contribute to a more nuanced understanding of Shange’s black feminist theorizing by re-rooting the focus in her original intent with FCG–to celebrate black women’s resistance to intersecting forms of oppression. FCG opens with the lady in brown’s discussion of the urgent need for black women to give voice to their distinctive experiences of intersecting forms of oppression. She says, somebody/anybody// sing a black girl’s song// […] sing her song of life// she’s been dead so long// closed in silence so long// she doesn’t know the sound// of her own voice// her infinite beauty” (1974:4). Like Kennedy, Shange critiques and resists black women’s silencing by depicting it as a form of death (“she’s been dead so long”), while drawing connections between this silencing and
black women’s experiences of inadequacy in the face of white standards of beauty (“she doesn’t know […] her infinite beauty”). Voicelessness is a material consequence of black women’s location in the interstices of overlapping structures of oppression that have been constructed as mutually exclusive identity categories. Black women are often made to feel that they must choose between their race and gender, or that they do not truly belong to either category because they simultaneously reside in both. Shange emotes this feeling of not belonging, of “falling between the cracks,” another material consequence of black women’s subordination within multiple hierarchies, through anaphora and metaphor. The ladies, one after another, name a city in which they do not belong: “i’m outside chicago// i’m outside detroit// i’m outside houston// i’m outside baltimore// i’m outside san francisco// i’m outside manhattan// i’m outside st. louis” (5). The repetition of “i’m outside” reinforces the severity of the physical and emotional consequences of intersectionality, while the metaphor of being outside various US cities entrenches black women’s experiences of race and gender discrimination in American political, economic and social systems. At the same time, by articulating to one another their frustrations with being “outside,” the FCG ladies discover that they are part of a community of women who share similar struggles. Their expression in this way becomes a form of consciousness-raising that allows them to resist subjugation while mitigating feelings of isolation. Tera Hunter (1997) discusses the ways in which working class black women sought freedom in the post-Civil War South through “resilient and creative […] thwarting [of] oppression [and] their use of a variety of survival strategies [and] tactics to achieve liberty and justice” (238). Black women’s innovative and ever-changing modes of resistance, then, have historically been an aspect of the material consequences of their oppression. One of the most subtle and creative strategies of resistance Hunter examines, which Shange also depicts in FCG, is dance. In another moment of unifying their experiences through anaphora, the women say, “we gotta dance to keep from cryin// we gotta dance to keep from dyin// so come on// come on// come on// hold your head like it was ruby sapphire// […[[we] come to share our worlds witchu// we come here to be dancin// to be dancin// to be dancin” (Shange 1975:16). Shange depicts forms of personal expression such as dance as not merely effective but absolutely necessary forms of resistance. In this way she links black women’s contemporary struggles against structural intersectionality to those of their foremothers, the recently freed slaves Hunter discusses who developed new forms of blues-inspired dance in “jook joints” in order to “reclaim their bodies from appropriation as instruments of physical toil and redirect
Two Black Feminist Playwrights (En)Counter Intersectionality
their energies toward other diversions” (1997:178). The characters in FCG must (“gotta”) express their experiences, through language or through action/movement such as dance, in order to survive their oppression (“to keep from dyin”). This expression of agency and resistance, whatever form it may take, is a material consequence of black women’s experiences of intersectionality. Kennedy’s FhN and Shange’s FCG provide nuanced analyses of the many and varied material consequences of intersecting structures of subjugation in the lives of black women. Both writers are particularly interested in examining black women’s wide-ranging internal responses to their external experiences of oppression, placing them in the tradition of black women writers whose works provide a “comprehensive view of Black women’s struggles to form positive self-definitions in the face of derogated images of Black womanhood” (Collins 2000:93). Examining these two plays in tandem makes clear that black women’s responses are wide-ranging, including both life threatening internalized oppression and personally empowering resistance through creative expression. Though they do so in different ways, both Shange and Kennedy depict structural intersectionality while challenging the myth that black women are inherently liberated. Estranged from her family and cut off by her biracial heritage, Kennedy’s Negro-Sarah has no outlet or community through which to express herself. As a result, Sarah suffers a psychic implosion, fragmenting into disparate selves who exacerbate her feelings of isolation and hopelessness. Because Sarah’s mental illness is in part inherited from her mother, Kennedy shatters the black superwoman myth, challenging “the assumption that Black women are towers of strength who neither feel nor need what other human beings do, either emotionally or materially” (Smith 1983:41). Sarah and her mother have been severely wounded by their experiences, and neither has found a way to resist their deeply internalized racism and misogyny. Though Shange’s ladies have developed creative strategies as a consequence of their oppression, they too refute the black superwoman myth. The lady in orange challenges this myth with humor, stating, “i cdnt stand bein sorry & colored at the same time// it’s so redundant in the modern world” (Shange 1975:43), while the lady in purple demands love despite her human imperfections: “lemme love you just like i am/ a colored girl/ i’m finally bein// real/ no longer symmetrical & impervious to pain” (44). Though their communitybuilding has allowed them to survive and thrive despite their oppression, FCG’s ladies, like FhN’s Sarah, experience the pain of discrimination both personally and politically. Both Shange and Kennedy experienced this
pain as well, in part due to the response their art received due to its misconstruction in the press.
Representational Intersectionality Crenshaw (1997) defines representational intersectionality as “the way that race and gender images […] converge to create unique and specific narratives deemed appropriate for women of color” (554). Collins (2000) describes these narratives as “controlling images” and locates their origins in slavery, wherein black women were constructed as mammies and jezebels in order to maintain their subjugation while justifying their exploitation. Heavily circulated through social institutions such as the media, controlling images have morphed over time–the matriarch and hoochie are more recent variations on the mammy and jezebel, for example–but continue to serve their original purpose, placing black women in the position of Other in order to “provide ideological justification for race, gender, and class oppression” (70). Through representational intersectionality, controlling images both justify and distract from intersecting structures of oppression that marginalize and discriminate based on socially-constructed identity categories such as race, gender and class. As black feminists in the 1960s and 70s began to articulate their experiences through intersectionality theory and activism within and beyond the Civil Rights and women’s rights movements (Springer 2005:16), the matriarch image–a sort of failed mammy–evolved to squelch potentially dangerous social change activism by constructing assertive black women as emasculating, unfeminine, and the root of what was deemed dysfunction in the black family (Collins 2000:77). As previously discussed, Kennedy and Shange were actively depicting and critiquing black women’s experiences of structural intersectionality in their art during this period. Due to their innovative silence-breaking regarding black women’s simultaneous experiences of racism and sexism, both writers experienced representational intersectionality in the ways in which they and their work were largely misconstrued and negatively depicted by black and white critics, scholars and audiences alike. As Crenshaw explains, controlling images like the matriarch “not only represent the devaluation of women of color, they may also reproduce it by providing viewers with both conscious and unconscious cues for interpreting the experiences of ‘others’” (1997:557). In this case, representational intersectionality occurred when Kennedy and Shange were labeled race traitors and man haters, their perspectives devalued in order to squelch
Two Black Feminist Playwrights (En)Counter Intersectionality
their critiques of systemic race and gender oppression. Building on Alexander-Floyd’s (2007) analysis of the Black Malinche as a variation of the matriarch figure, I will discuss the ways in which Kennedy and Shange’s works were misunderstood and they themselves vilified in the press as traitors to their race due to their critique of the racism and sexism black women experience simultaneously. Collins (1989) discusses the ways in which black women have “a different view of material reality than that available to other groups” (747). Black women experience and interpret reality differently due to their distinct place at the crossroads of multiple systems of oppression. As Collins explains, “[A] subordinate group not only experiences a different reality than a group that rules, but a subordinate group may interpret that reality differently than a dominant group” (748). Kennedy and Shange both sought in their first plays to depict black women’s distinct realities through dramatizing their experiences of subjugation. In order to do so, both writers created new forms in which to express these realities. Kennedy mixed a variety of avant-garde European literary forms such as absurdism, surrealism and expressionism with elements of American minstrelsy and African mask traditions in a play that operates more like an extended lyrical poem than a traditional narrative drama. Shange invented a new form, the choreopoem, which is a mixture of poetry, drama and dance that she felt was better suited to depict black women’s experiences than the traditional play structure, which she rightly associated with the white patriarchal system she sought to critique. These new forms were the grounds upon which some mainstream theater critics dismissed their works. John Simon wrote of FCG, “Is this poetry? Drama? Or simply tripe? [I]t is no more theater than it is poetry […] it strikes me as amateur night in Harlem” (1976:21), while George Oppenheimer described FhN as “[an] inept enigma […] [a] dismal charade […] [a] non-play [with a] nonplot” (1964:2C). The responses of these critics assume that the playwrights’ formal choices are mistakes rather than intentional innovations required to express their worldview, perhaps because both writers were young black women and so based on their age, race and gender, atypical American playwrights. Black women’s differing experience and interpretation of reality is arguably a form of structural intersectionality, a “material consequence” (Crenshaw 1997:552) of their experience of interlocking forms of oppression. While Kennedy and Shange’s bold and unique articulations of their alternate experience of reality exemplify structural intersectionality, their revolutionary standpoints were discredited and suppressed through representational intersectionality, most often through their depictions as race traitors or Black Malinches.
Alexander-Floyd (2007) describes the Black Malinche as a figure that “emerged [post-1965] as a result of and within the interplay of two competing tendencies: Black nationalism and feminism […] Black women [are] said to betray the Black community through their betrayal of black men” (115). Emasculation and unfeminine behavior are important aspects of the Black Malinche image that connect it to the controlling image of the matriarch. As Collins writes, “[T]he black matriarch serves as a powerful symbol […] of what can go wrong if White patriarchal power is challenged. Aggressive, assertive women are penalized–they are abandoned by their men, end up impoverished, and are stigmatized for being unfeminine (2000:77). Matriarchs are depicted as both willfully and naturally aggressive. It is their overbearing behavior, rather than the political/economic inequalities they experience due to their social position, that is the root cause of their victimization. Likewise, the Black Malinche is sometimes depicted as maliciously betraying her race by aiding whites in oppressing black men, while other times she is figured as a naïve sucker who does so unintentionally, incapable of recognizing how whites are using her to assist in oppressing black men. Kennedy and Shange were figured in both of these ways in response to their first plays. FhN was anomalous and hard to categorize, both because of its aforementioned experimental form and because it predated both the black feminist resurgence of the late 1960s and the feminist theater movement of the 1970s. Besides being dismissed by many mainstream white critics like Oppenheimer who seemed suddenly to doubt the quality of experimental avant-garde theater when, for the first time, it was created by a black woman, Kennedy and her play were also framed as neurotic and out of step with the black nationalist movement of the time. Brown explains that many critics “argued […] that her plays were not didactic, as proponents of the Black Arts Movement expected and desired […] [But] the very fact that Kennedy refuses the triumphant or at least more uplifting ending we have come to expect of some of her sister playwrights—Childress, Hansberry, and shange—is neither a marker of her “apolitical naivete, […] nor an indication of her allegiance to white culture” (2001:283). Representations of Kennedy as naïve, apolitical, and Europhilial stem from a conflation of the author and her protagonist. Though Sarah’s suicide at the end of the play is a denunciation of structural intersectionality, Kennedy’s critique was suppressed by equating the author with her protagonist in order to depict her and her play as naïve, self-loathing and apolitical. As Collins explains, “One key reason that standpoints of oppressed groups are discredited and suppressed by the more powerful is that self-defined standpoints can stimulate oppressed groups to resist their
Two Black Feminist Playwrights (En)Counter Intersectionality
domination” (1989:749). Because she created groundbreaking plays that in subject and form critiqued complex and interlocking structures of oppression, Kennedy was largely overlooked in both academic and theater circles from the late 60’s to the late 80’s, and these issues continue to severely limit the number of productions of her work to this day, largely suppressing her important black feminist political message. Kennedy’s experience of representational intersectionality, then, came mainly in the form of the naïve/accidental Black Malinche, resulting in her work’s marginalization and erasure, whereas Shange experienced a more violent public assault due to the unprecedented commercial success of FCG, which ran on Broadway for two years. Though every character in FCG is female, the play a celebration of black womanhood, much of the mainstream/white press coverage framed it as a “battle of the sexes” and a case of feminist male-bashing. Perhaps in part because of this, many black (particularly male) scholars accused Shange of “promot[ing] racist stereotypes of Black males as innately violent and uncontrollably licentious […] characteriz[ing] […] Shange’s feminist views as racially treasonous” (Alexander-Floyd 2007:127). The title of Mark Ribowsky’s 1976 article in Sepia magazine exemplifies this. In enormous block print it reads, “A poetess scores a hit play on ‘what’s wrong with black men’” (46). Shange was figured as a malicious Black Malinche, purposefully dragging black men through the dirt for her own gain. An anonymous theater reviewer in the NY Amsterdam News wrote that he had overheard black men in Harlem discussing their opinion that “the CIA was behind that girl’s play” (1977:D7). Because Shange created a groundbreaking play focused specifically on black women’s simultaneous experience of racism and sexism, both in their personal relationships with black men and in the larger white culture, she was labeled a “race traitor,” a vilification that embodies her experience of representational intersectionality. The race traitor/man-hater frame that was wedded to Shange and her play exemplifies many of the complexities of representational intersectionality. The misogynistic mistreatment of black women, by their black male partners as well as the white patriarchy, appeared justified when attributed to Shange’s purportedly aggressive attack on black men. In this way Shange was portrayed as a castrating Malinche, a matriarch who is to blame for her own victimization because of her “inability to model appropriate gender behavior” (Collins 2000:76). At the same time, this frame obscured Shange’s message of revolutionary female resistance while “divert[ing] attention from [the] political and economic inequalities” (76) that have systemically subjugated black women. Shange and her play’s depictions of black women’s oppression were devalued and her
political critique diminished when the complexity of her work was ignored by placing her into a pre-existing “narrative deemed appropriate for women of color” (Crenshaw 1997:554)–the Black Malinche. In the final section of this essay I will discuss the larger political implications of “pigeonholing” the complex works of black feminist artists in this way through a discussion of progressive art in relation to political intersectionality.
Political Intersectionality Political intersectionality “refer[s] to the different ways in which political and discursive practices relating to race and gender interrelate, often erasing women of color” (Crenshaw 1997:553). In the case of Kennedy and Shange’s debut plays, the interplay of structural and representational intersectionality led to the marginalization of their black feminist critiques. Political intersectionality occurred for these two artists as individuals, but the erasure of their views also had larger political consequences for black women as a whole. Angela Davis (1998) discusses the ways in which “the history of Afro-American culture reveals strong bonds between art and the struggle for black liberation” (236). She provides myriad examples of the “community of resistance” black people developed through their music during and since slavery, “which in turn encouraged and nurtured a political community of active struggle for freedom” (237). The contemporary black feminist movement has long recognized progressive art as an effective space for black feminist theorizing and a means by which to resist intersecting forms of oppression. This is evident, for example, in Collins’ (2000) discussion of black women writers’ responses to the controlling images that serve as ideological justifications for their oppression. Progressive art, then, is crucial to the political goals of black feminism as a means of “construct[ing] and empower[ing] a political sensibility that opposes misogyny and racism simultaneously” (Crenshaw 1997:567) and therefore potent with revolutionary potential to challenge the status quo. As Davis (1998) explains, art is “a special form of social consciousness that can potentially awaken an urge in those affected by it to creatively transform their oppressive environments. Art can function as a sensitizer and catalyst, propelling people toward involvement in organized movements seeking to effect radical social change […]. [T]he function of art [is] the socializing of the human instincts and the educating of human emotions” (236). In contrast, much of mass media/popular entertainment arguably co-opts the “stuff” of art (e.g. aesthetics) to colonize human instincts and emotions in
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order to uphold politically oppressive systems of white patriarchal capitalism through the circulation of controlling images. Suppression of progressive art like Kennedy and Shange’s plays diverts attention from systemic inequalities, thereby delaying progress towards social change. In this way, the marginalization/erasure of progressive black feminist artists’ political critiques has implications for black women’s progress as a whole because their silencing limits black women’s ability to fully exercise their rights as citizens. Progressive art as a means of inciting political activism, breaking the silences of political intersectionality, and challenging deeply entrenched controlling images is particularly important in today’s mass media-driven culture. For example, the social control/psychic colonization exerted through representational intersectionality is evident when a controlling image, such as the myth of the welfare queen, is interpreted by politicians and their constituents as hard fact and then used to obscure and justify anti-welfare legislation that hurts poor single mothers and children of all races. Ange-Marie Hancock (2004), for example, provides a detailed analysis of recent American political policies based on the myth of the welfare queen.
Conclusion Having examined the ways in which representational intersectionality was utilized to suppress Kennedy and Shange’s critiques of structural intersectionality, as well as the implications of this suppression in terms of political intersectionality, I will conclude by briefly discussing what was lost through such suppression, and what might be gained by preventing it. In her story of the consciousness-raising retreats organized by the Combahee River Collective in the late 1970s, Springer (2005) discusses the ways in which participants utilized literary art by writers such as Toni Cade Bambara and Toni Morrison in order to discuss lesbianism and homophobia in the black community, an issue that often challenged the effectiveness of black feminist organizations at the time. Springer suggests that reframing discussion through the concept of the woman-identified woman and “[c]hanging the direction of the question[s] allowed participants to move beyond sex as the defining characteristic of sexuality and explore what it meant to have intimate relationships with mother, sisters, aunts, and sister-friends who were all interconnected through struggles against racism and sexism” (108). I would add that it is often through art, such as the groundbreaking writing of black feminists such as Bambara, Morrison, Shange, and Kennedy, that we discover new models and theories that allow us to reframe our views and see things from a
different perspective. I think this occurs because there is a certain distance that is provided through art because it is not “real.” Retreat participants uncomfortable with discussing homosexuality/homophobia, for example, were able to do so by using literary fiction as their springboard. Though it is not entirely real, the best art, as is evident in the works of the playwrights discussed here, is entirely truthful. It is also a necessary and effective means of countering the controlling images constructed through representational intersectionality. The complex manner in which art, particularly politically progressive art, is suppressed through dismissal, misinterpretation, and vilification should be considered a sure sign of its potential effectiveness in challenging systems of oppression. Greater attention to developing and disseminating progressive art–art that provides images to counter and critique the pervasive and damaging controlling images of African American women–would be a useful manner in which black feminist theory and activism might continue to evolve. In seeking solutions to the myriad structures of oppression that inflict subjugation and violence on marginalized populations while preventing America’s achievement of true democracy, we must look to artists like Kennedy and Shange, whose works are often misunderstood, ignored and vilified, for the much-needed insights they provide.
References Alexander-Floyd, N. G. (2007). Gender, Race, and Nationalism in Contemporary Black Politics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Anonymous. (1977). Colored girls and comments: separate views. New York Amsterdam News 9/3: D7. Brown, E. B. (2001). Passed over: the tragic mulatta and (dis)integration of identity in Adrienne Kennedy's Plays. African American Review 35.2 (Summer): 281-295. Collins Hill P. (1989). The social construction of black feminist thought. Signs 14(4): 745-773. —. (2000). Mammies, matriarchs, and other controlling images. In Black Feminist Thought. New York: Routledge. Crenshaw, K. (1997). Beyond racism and misogyny: black feminism and 2 live crew”. In Cohen, C, K. Jones and J. Toronto (Eds.), Women Transforming Politics: An Alternative Reader. New York: New York University Press. Davis A. Y. (1998). The Angela Y. Davis Reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.
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Hancock, A-M. (2004). The Politics of Disgust. New York: New York University Press. hooks, b. (1988). Straightening our hair in Z Magazine September. —. (1992). Critical reflections. In P. K. Bryant-Jackson and L. More Overbeck (Eds.), Intersecting Boundaries: The Theatre of Adrienne Kennedy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 179-185. Hunter, T. W. (1997). To ‘Joy My Freedom. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Kennedy, A. (1969). Funnyhouse of a Negro. New York: Samuel French, Inc. Oppenheimer, G. (1964). Funnyhouse of a negro at the East End. Newsday 1/15: 2C. Ribowsky, M. (1976). A poetess scores a hit with play on what’s wrong with black men. Sepia 25 December. Shange, N. (1975). for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf. New York: Macmillan. Simon, J. (1976). Enuf is not enough. The New Leader 59. July: 21-22. Smith, B. (1983). Introduction. In Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology. Brooklyn, NY: Kitchen Table Women of Color Press. Springer, K. (2005). Living for the Revolution: Black Feminist Organizations. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
UNDOING THE HISTORY OF THE ENGENDERED NATION IN THREE NARRATIVES OF CARIBBEAN FEMINISM: IN THE NAME OF SALOMÉ BY JULIA ALVAREZ, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MY MOTHER BY JAMAICA KINCAID, KRIK? KRAK! BY EDWIDGE DANTICAT IZABELLA PENIER
Introduction “Nation and nationalism” are most debated topics in contemporary Caribbean theory. Understandably questions of national coming-intobeing, cultural emancipation and the emergence of national consciousness were of paramount importance for all West Indian literatures in the nationalist period from the 1950s to 1970s. Since at that time authorship was considered to be mostly a masculine enterprise, it is not surprising that the majority of national narratives fundamental to the national formation were authored by male writers. All of them consistently overlooked issues of gender and insisted on seeing freedom in terms of patriarchal rhetoric that equated colonialism with emasculation and liberty with free expression of patriarchal desires. In the 1980s and 1990s, when the first narratives of Caribbean feminism entered West Indian discourse, the ethos of nationalism came under serious scrutiny from debutant female writers. Their texts, I will argue, criticize the gendered configuration of nationalism and demystify nationalist discourses by showing that they masked gender complexities and inequalities in West Indian societies. I am borrowing my critical perspective from the nation-and-gender studies that emerged in the 1990s and particularly from Elleke Boehmer, whose groundbreaking study Stories of Women: Gender and Narrative in the Postcolonial Nation, illustrates distinctive tropes of nationalist male
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writing and analyzes different techniques of subversion through which postcolonial women writers world-wide seek visibility and selfempowerment. I am going to apply Boehmer’s observations to the analysis of the work of three contemporary women writers from the West Indies: Dominican-American Julia Alvarez, Haitian-American Edwidge Danticat and Antiguan-American Jamaica Kincaid. All these writers are domiciled in the United States, but despite their exilic status they share a preoccupation with the joint experiences of colonization and decolonization in their countries, and their narratives address the theme of national selfassertion. Their work is also distinguished by their concern with how gender is inscribed in their postcolonial nations. Alvarez, Kincaid and Danticat explore the tangential relationship of Caribbean women to the national structures in their countries through elaborate family dramas that focus on the so-far underrated and peripheral daughter figure within the framework of national narratives. These writers, I will contend, revise the West Indian national bildungsroman that brings to the foreground the pre-eminent status of national sons whose struggles for self-hood and independence often mirrored the national struggles for emancipation and self-determination. Conversely the three female authors discussed in this essay highlight the fate of national daughters, who, in the male-authored national allegories, were often relegated to a downgraded and subordinate position–home-bound and tradition-bound they were passive recipients of national definitions, their experiences completely inconsequential to the formation of national identity.
Gender in the Postcolonial Nation: Archetypes of Men and Women Nobody described better the dangers besetting the emergent postcolonial nation than Frantz Fanon who claimed that the postcolonial bourgeoisie stepped into the role of the colonizer, using the rhetoric of nationalism to consolidate its own power. In effect the bourgeoisie created “a monocular and sometimes xenophobic view of identity and a coercive view of national commitment” (2010:117). Patriarchal structures and gender distinctions rooted in colonialism were endorsed by the new rulers, who were often western-educated intellectuals alienated from the masses they came to govern. As Elleke Boehmer maintains, these male leaders often associated the true power with the colonizer–rational, disciplined, assertive and masculine, while the ex-colonized people were feminized– they were inert, weak, derivative and emasculated. Thus in the postindependence period the newly empowered elites built their self-esteem on
the rejection of all feminine attributes. As the idea of the nation was correlated with the idea of masculinity, the transformation of postcolonial space into the postcolonial terrain failed to remove traditional patriarchal hierarchies. The national freedom was male freedom–the transition from the colonial society to the postcolonial nation failed to liberate women who remained entrapped by dominant gender roles and stereotypes. As Elleke Boehmer demonstrates national narratives interpolated men and women differently. In national scripts men were pictured as procurers of national liberation. They were leaders, statesmen or activists. Invariably they were epitomes of patriotism and national authority, endowed with almost exclusively positive values, such as courage, resilience and resourcefulness. First and foremost they were characterized by virulent masculinity. According to the same gendered symbolism of nationalism, women occupied radically different positions–they personified either national virtues or vices, falling into what Boehmer calls “the mother or whore pattern” (2003:46). Both concepts, as Boehmer argues, were obviously reductive for women, as they imposed on all women preconceived identities. The venerated and worshipped mother figure apostrophized in national discourses as mother Africa, mother India or, in the Caribbean context, as mother-island (for example in Kamau Brathwaite (Barbados) Mother Poem of 1977)) served to feminize the country as a nurturing maternal presence. That ideology compelled many women to embrace the idealized and monolithic definition of their role that was projected on them by their nationalist fathers, husbands or sons. The statuesque nationalist mother was expected to be nurturing, selfeffacing and supportive of her men’s goals. Since the nationalist mother was considered to be an incarnation of the most cherished cultural values of the nation, her main task was to pass on these values to future generations. At the same time however, despite her elevated status and important symbolic role, the national mother was completely shut out from the normatively masculine citizenship. Confined to the domestic space, often treated as a bastion of cultural authenticity, the nationalist mother was simultaneously emblazoned just as she was marginalized and ignored. The opposite of the fetishized national mother in the nationalist imagery is the deviant woman or the whore. In contrast to the seemingly privileged mother endowed with reproductive sexuality but otherwise purged of corporeality, the over-sexualized deviant woman is not capable of applying herself in the service of reproductive domesticity. She is reduced to a body that is disorderly and savage because it cannot control its atavistic, animal-like or deviant-lesbian instincts. This body refuses to be socialized through the imposition of manners, “conjugal marriage and
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the ‘science of domesticity’” (Alexander 1994:77). Primitive, decayed and unclean, the deviant woman is seen as a source of disease, corruption and degeneracy. Her body is a medium through which the failures and dysfunctions of the postcolonial nation are exposed. As Boehmer concludes, configuring national affiliation through such carefully designed archetypes of men and women is an extensive apparatus of control, as the allocation of gendered roles entails a codification of gendered power. Both the deviant woman–a lesbian or a whore–and her inversed image the nationalist mother are disempowered by deeply embedded gender-specific structures. In the following part of this essay I will attempt a comparative reading of three texts: In the Name of Salomé by Julia Alvarez, The Autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid and Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat. My strategic juxtaposition of these novels serves to recast colonial and patriarchal symbolic legacies in three distinct yet similar versions of postcolonial nationalisms. Kincaid’s and Danticat’s texts present two different and to a certain extent divergent and oppositional strategies to combat normative female gendering. Whereas the protagonist of The Autobiography of my Mother rejects motherhood to sabotage the national family at its roots, the women of Danticat’s short story collection Krick? Krack! invest in motherhood to create an alternative matrilineal history of their nation. Alvarez’s novel, on the other hand, marks a number of differences in relation to the other two texts, as it argues for the continuing relevance of the nation for women. Alvarez’s female protagonists, who seek self-fulfillment within national structures, may be seen as harbingers of a new order and a hope of regeneration of the postcolonial nation, even though they are confined by nationalist dogmas. All three novels are disturbing family dramas that question the patriarchal nation and the prescriptive national identities of men and women. The novels focus on the relationship between the daughter and her family, community and nation. In other words, they work out the daughterly position in relation to the wider national society, often symbolized by the father-led family, a microcosm of a patriarchal society. The ambivalent relationship between the daughter and her mother, who is often absent, and her autocratic father, frequently becomes in these novels a metaphor of what it means to be a daughter of a Caribbean nation. Furthermore I will argue that the writing of these feminist authors marks a significant shift in the approach to the post-independence national eschatology created by their male predecessors, who entertained a quasireligious belief in the actual existence of the nation and the people. Those male writers saw the development of their nations in allegorical terms, as
an extension of their own process of growing up: the progress of history culminated in the national coming-into-being, just as their growth culminated in reaching maturity. As I will demonstrate, the women writers whose work is analyzed in this essay opt out of the much celebrated national bildungsroman for the sake of a new more advanced vision of the nation. Their writing endorses Homi Bhabha’s belief that nation is narration i.e. that narration constitutes the nation. By rewriting their role in the national script, these women subvert traditional paradigms of nationhood away from the totalizing and monolithic definitions of manhood and nationhood. They validate Benedict Anderson’s theory of the constructedness of the nation, trying to forge, despite their diasporic status, an affiliation with an imagined community of women. They also make creative use of Michel Foucault’s theory of nation as a discursive formation. In the words of Belinda Edmondson, if “‘nation’ is a discursive formation more so than mere allegory or imagined construct, then the writing of the Caribbean [women] is paramount in the production of the nation” (1999:2). Therefore by entering the national discourse, these women subvert the nationalist and patriarchal rhetoric and upgrade the position of women.
Julia Alvarez’s In the Name of Salome Julia Alvarez is a middle class Latina woman whose family fled the Trujillo regime when she was barely ten years old. While most of her books are autobiographical, her 2000 novel In the Name of Salomé is a fictional biography of a famous patriotic Dominican muse Salomé Ureña Henríquez (1850-1897) and of her daughter Salomé Camila (1894-1973), who spent most of her life in exile in the USA and Cuba. Both are presented as great revolutionary women, whose lives were severely circumscribed by nationalist and patriarchal strictures. While Salomé bears the burden of the idealized national muse, her daughter Camila grapples with the negative stereotype of the deviant woman, trying to come to terms with her lesbian identity. In the words of Cherie Meacham, Camila “labors to resolve her passion for women with her desire to serve her island’s culture. Both issues play out in her quest to know her mother [. . .] who died when Camila was three years old” (Alvarez 2000:147). The novel is made of two narrative threads. The story of Salome is narrated chronologically by Salome herself–it starts when Salome is six years old and her country reaches independence and it finishes when Salome dies. The story of Camila is traced in inverse order in the third person–it starts at a crucial point in Camila’s life, when she retires from
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the prestigious Vassar College and is about to join Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba. The two narrative reçits converge when the mother and the daughter are separated by Salome’s death. This separation is the most painful event in the life of Camila, who becomes obsessed with keeping her mother’s memory. She devotes her entire life to getting to know her mother through her poems, family papers and stories that are fragmented, incongruent and often censored by her father and her older brothers. In the “Epilogue,” in which the aging Camila returns home to the Dominican Republic to die, she comes into her own narrative voice, which, together with her acceptance of her full name “Salomé Camila,” a name which she so far has refused to use, can be seen as a sign that the quest for the truth about her mother and her own stable identity are complete. Salomé’s first person autobiography can be seen as a foundational nationalist text, the autobiography of the nation. It is also a bildungsroman based on the analogy between the progress of the individual and the entire nation, as Salomé’s poetic talent flourishes at the time of her nation’s emancipation. However, contrary to the male bildungsroman, Salomé’s story does not optimistically end with her country’s liberation from Spain. On the contrary, it sets off at the time of the liberation and depicts fractures and uncertainties involved in the construction of a new nation. Just as Salomé’s delicate health starts to wear out under the strain of too many betrayals and responsibilities, so the newly born country gradually starts to disintegrate, ravaged by civil wars and exploited by notorious dictators. Thus Salomé’s life can be seen as a symbol of the difficulties faced by a nation in the process of becoming. Her story is disruptive of the conventional male narratives of the nation’s unity and well being. It represents a debased condition of freedom, in which men are engaged in a meaningless competition for power in the name of mutually antagonistic nationalist forces. “Lost in the muddle of politics,” (Alvarez 2000:134) ready to sacrifice their lives and their families to achieve their ambitions, men are shown as miscreants responsible for internal divisions that virtually tear the newly-born country apart. Salomé’s painful story of national division is written from the point of view of a self-consciously patriotic woman, who wholeheartedly identifies with the emergent nation. It is replete with evidences of political despotism, cultural repression of blackness and sexist discrimination. Salomé’s lifestory makes abundantly clear the exclusionary nature of Dominican national identity, which is based on the ideology of Domincanismo or blancismo i.e. on the xenophobia directed against neighboring Haiti and its alleged socio-cultural flaws. Salomé is “a plain mulatto woman” (Alvarez
2000:205), but her nation pretends not to see “Africa in [Salomé’s] skin and hair” (Alvarez 2000:94). After her death, this desire to erase her African lineage becomes even more evident, as her husband commissions a portrait of Salomé with “the telling features”–her dark oval face, the fulllipped mouth, broad nose and discernible kink in her hair–removed. This posthumous portrait enhances Salomé’s idealized image, it is “a beautifying and whitening of the great Salomé” (Alvarez 2000:201-205). Salomé’s life-story also proves that in the postcolonial Caribbean nation the emancipation of women took second place to national struggles. Though Salomé is an object of her nation’s adoration, her narrative gives many examples of her and other women’s political repression and social exclusion. Even though women participate in the national life in a very limited way, they can easily become political victims. The Dominican Republic is a country “where national heroines tie their skirts down as they are about to be executed” (Alvarez 2000:139), as the example of the seamstress who sewed the national Dominican flag poignantly illustrates. It is a country where women are considered intrinsically inferior to men and therefore fit only for conjugal life. The novel presents only failed marriages–Salomé’s mother and Salomé herself end up heartbroken after their marriages with charismatic men end up in ruins, both due to the infidelity of their husbands. As all wayward husbands are at the same time statesmen or fighters for freedom, men’s promiscuity, the ideology of machismo, are linked to the authoritarian nationalist system of government. While men indulge in their passion for war, politics and for women, having numerous extramarital affairs and fathering many illegitimate children, women are subjected to rigid codes of propriety and trained to see their future exclusively within the confines of marriage. When the young Salomé secretly starts to pursue the poetic vocation she so strongly feels, she inadvertently transcends the boundaries of her gender, claiming a privilege so-far reserved only for men. With her patriotic poems, she consciously embarks on the feminist quest for selfemancipation and self-fulfillment. By breaking the silence surrounding Dominican women, Salomé articulates her own agency. Salomé’s verbal self-assertion pulls down some of the confinements of her life, yet it does not entirely set her free. As a national muse, whose poetry is appropriated by various nationalist leaders, Salomé faces other kinds of handicap. She never becomes an actor on the political scene–her role, even in her husband’s eyes, is limited to being a mascot, a figurehead, a put-on-the-pedestal provider of patriotic verses. When “weary of the moral throne everybody wanted [her] to sit on” (Alvarez 2000:144), Salomé ventures beyond patriotic themes to write about love
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and female desire, she gets angry responses from her countrymen, shocked to discover that “[she] has a real body” (Alvarez 2000:144). For Salomé writing these passionate poems for her would-be-husband, is also an act of self-revelation and feminist awakening: “I had released the woman inside me and let her free on paper,” says Salome, suddenly aware “[there] was another revolution to be thought if our patria was truly free” (Alvarez 2000:145). Salome’s endeavors to reject her status of desexualized icon fail. Her “personal poems” are put away in the family trunk and never published–it is Camila, Salome’s only daughter, who after decades of hesitation makes a corrective of the official, censored story of Salome’s life and finally sends these poems to the national archives “to let the true story [of her mother] be told” (Alvares 2000:44). It almost takes Camila a lifetime to discover the true sense of her mother’s mission. When she decides to go to Cuba “to start over” (Alvarez 2000:32) she expresses a wish “to be a part of what her mother started” (2000:35). In Cuba she becomes an activist in Castro’s anti-illiteracy campaign and realizes that it has brought Cuba “one step closer to the patria [they] all wanted” (Alvarez 2000:347). She is proud that through her tireless endeavors “[her] mother’s instituto [has] grown to the size of the whole country” (Alvarez 2000:349). Camila does not put down Castro’s revolution is spite of its obvious drawbacks of which she is aware, stating simply that “we have never been allowed to govern ourselves [so] [we] were bound to get it wrong the first few times around” (346). In her adoptive homeland Camila discovers what patriotism means for such women as her mother: “[it] is that continuing to struggle to create the country we dream of that makes a patria out of the land under our feet. That much I learned from my mother” (Alvarez 2000:350). This insight makes it possible for Camila to become “a part of national selfcreation” (Alvarez 2000:121) and to “[pull] [herself] of the pit of depression and self-doubt” (Alvarez 2000:335). Camila’s recovery of her mother’s message is an effect of a long process of disentangling herself from essentialist definitions of national and feminine identity. First and foremost Camila has to free the story of her mother from fixed nationalist and patriarchal appropriations. As a young person Camila is led to believe that her mother was an embodiment of the patriarchal ideal of womanhood–a bearer of traditional culture and conventional gender roles. This patriarchal objectification of Salomé is used by the Henriquez men in a very manipulative way. Camila is urged to see her mother as “a moral compass” (Alvarez 2000:250), an ideal she should aspire to. Whenever Camila swerves from the path outlined by her father and brothers “the memory of their noble mother and her suffering
country” (Alvarez 2000:210) is used to coerce Camila to comply with her family’s plans and wishes. At that stage of her life, the young Camila sees her mother as a hegemonic force and a voyeuristic “oppressive ghost” (Alvarez 2000:207), constantly reminding her that “[duty] is the highest virtue” (Alvarez 2000:207). She becomes a paragon of feminine respectability and patriotic self-abnegation, but feels “an occupied territory” (Alvarez 2000:207) and a “nobody in the family” (Alvarez 2000:38), unable to “follow the voice of her heart” (Alvarez 2000:80). Camila’s low self-esteem is also a result of her failure to achieve the ideal of proper Dominican femininity and adhere to the romance fantasy of heterosexual love, motherhood and domesticity. When “an aging woman blinks back at [her]” from the mirror, “a girl wails in the wings of her heart for all the important things she was promised that have not yet happened: a great love, a settled home, a free country” (Alvarez 2000:79). To fulfill this desire Camila, who longs to be “one of the happy heroines of love stories” (Alvarez 2000:161), embarks on several doomed affairs with men only to find “the familiar where she did not expect it” (Alvarez 2000:250). She falls in love with Marion, an eccentric American, who remains Camila’s life long-friend. However, their romantic liaison, quickly ends, as Camila cannot ultimately accept this passion “she always yearned for, but did not expect to feel for another woman” (Alvarez 2000:250). Camila, who can see herself only “through [her family’s] eyes” (Alvarez 2000:243) i.e. through the prism of her family’s values and the Dominican ideal of womanhood, perceives her desire for physical and emotional intimacy with another woman as an aberration and violation of her mother’s ideals that would further separate her from her mother and the chance of living up to her legacy. Though Camila achieves success in becoming a great revolutionary in the tradition of Hostos, Martí, Bolivar and Salomé, she does not entirely live up to their ideal of “the new woman.” She resolves the conflict between her national identity of a revolutionary and her personal identity of a lesbian by sacrificing the latter. “[Enslaved] to her family’s smallest demands and fighting for larger freedoms,” Camila remains a victim of the coercive form of Caribbean nationalism, exercised by her “autocratic [brothers]” and such national leaders as Fidel Castro, who regulate the discourse about great national figures and in this way define the normative gender roles. She gives in to the requirements of her culture and selflessly serves others putting trust in her mother’s assertion that “[the] best lives involve surrender” and “[whoever] gives himself to others lives among the doves” (Alvarez 2000:236). But the novel does not quite bear out this belief–“doves fly off,” when Fidel Castro, who looks like Camila’s father,
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“tilts his head” (Alvarez 2000:46). Camila dies with a fractured personality and a conviction that in the established world of Dominican or Cuban patriarchy, she could become only an incarnation of symbolic but circumscribed motherhood, a “childless [mother] who [helps] to raise the young” (Alvarez 2000:351), or nobody, a deviant woman pushed to the margins of national life. Whether this conviction is true is open for debate. Through the character of Camila, Alvarez illustrates how difficult it is for Caribbean women to “imagine themselves into” their postcolonial nations, when the national affiliation is configured through the normative female gendering and a demagogy of race. The postcolonial nation, as Alvarez demonstrates, can be a forbidding place for women, it is a place of patriarchal domination, heterosexual dysfunction, racial and homophobic repression. Yet, as Camila’s life shows, there is no alternative to “the struggle to love [that] flawed thing” (Alvarez 2000:349) that is la patria. Camila who initially sees exile to the U.S. as a chance to escape from “the dark love and shame that binds us to the arbitrary place we happen to be born” (Alvarez 2000:349), gradually learns the truth of her brother’s complaint about “the terrible moral disinheritance of exile” (Alvarez 2000:112)–Northern America is “a world without sufficient soul or spirit, as Marti put it” (Alvarez 2000:343). Therefore despite the en-gendering of the nation, Alvarez makes a point that national commitment is the only viable option for Caribbean women because only their own countries can help them to “[forge] identity and achieve social justice” (Boehmer 2005:4). Both Boehmer and Alvarez seem to think that it is possible for women to transform the nationalist agenda so that it includes female desires and goals and not only interests of the anti-colonial patriarchal state.
Jamaica Kincaid’s The Autobiography of My Mother Jamaica Kincaid, one of the most popular Caribbean women writers living in the U.S. is one of few dissident authors with Caribbean pedigree whose deepest views of life are not in accord with either nationalist or post-nationalist ideologies. Kincaid’s 1996 controversial novel The Autobiography of My Mother grapples with such issues as the birth of national consciousness, the post-national valorization of creolization and the marginalization of women in both discourses. The novel, which contains the quintessence of Kincaid’s dark vision of the colonial past and its influence on Caribbean people, focuses on the underside of Caribbean reality, on the colonial history of cruelty in which Caribbean people themselves have been drawn as accomplices. It takes place on the island of
Dominica in the pre-independence period and shows a nation that is deeply mired by the overriding logic of exploitation and deception. The plot centers on the narrator Xuela Claudette Richardson, who recounts the story of her life from the vantage point of her old age. She is a woman of mixed ethnic origin who is “the abstraction of Caribbean people’s history of wretchedness and denigration” (Paravisini-Gebert 2000:157), described in detail by Frantz Fanon in Black Skin, White Masks, a study generally considered to be a subtext to Kincaid’s novel. Other characters have also historically assigned roles–they illustrate what Fanon identified as the different conditions of the colonizing and colonized people. Xuela’s Carib mother, Claudette, who dies at childbirth, exemplifies the tragic fate of Caribbean Indians as representative of the human cost of colonization. Xuela’s half-Scottish half-African father, Alfred, named by his Scottish father after Alfred the Great, represents the middle class Creole elite that help to rule the colony. The father, who starts his career as policeman and finishes as a magistrate, is an opportunist, who hates the black people in his power. He uses his position to amass a sizeable fortune and in doing this “he wears the mask of benign colonial power that covers his pleasure in robbing and humiliating others” (Kincaid 1996:40). Through this character Kincaid mounts a fierce attack on the degenerated mulatto elites, intoxicated by beliefs and values of white civilization and determined to keep the social hierarchies bequeathed by colonialism intact. While the father allies himself with the myths of white civilization, Xuela gives preference to the forces that oppose the expansion and triumph of these myths. She chooses “savagery” and asserts: “whatever I was told to hate I loved and loved the most. I loved the smell of the thin dirt behind my ears, the smell of my unwashed mouth, the smell that came from between my legs, the smell in the pit of my arm, the smell of my unwashed feet. Whatever was native to me, whatever I could not help and was not a moral failing I loved with the fervor of the devoted” (Kincaid 1996:32-33). She also passionately believes in Obeah, a religion which Xuela’s father considers to be “the belief of the illegitimate, the poor, the low” (Kincaid 1996:18). For Xuela it is an alternative epistemological frame that undermines the colonizer’s ontology. It is an emblem of her resistance, her refusal to be confined within the Western grids of knowledge. Xuela’s deepest wish is to bridge the fissures created by the upheavals of history through the recuperation of her matrilineal ancestral lines. She knows that her mother, brought up by French nuns was a “long-suffering, unquestioning, modest and wishing-to-die-soon person” (Kincaid 1996:199).
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Just like other native people, she was one of the “the living fossils” (Kincaid 1996:197). Xuela imagines “her sadness, her weakness, her longlost-ness, the crumbling of ancestral lines, her dejectedness, the false humility that was really defeat” (200). Still she believes that the death of her mother and the loss of matrilineality contributed to her acute sense of alienation. Through an imaginative recuperation of the past, Xuela wants to find a remedy for the obliteration of memory and rupture of history. She tries in vain to reinvent the past by conjuring up events from her mother’s life or the simplicity of life before the European conquest. Xuela realizes that “to know all [about the past] is impossibility, but only such a thing would satisfy [her]. To reverse the past would bring [her] complete happiness” (Kincaid 1996:226). She would like to see her dead Carib mother, who often comes to visit Xuela in her sleep, but shows her daughter only the hem of her dress and her heels, as she descends a ladder. Xuela never sees her mother’s face, which emphasizes the futility of her wish–it is impossible to transcend the pain of history or wipe out the crime of creolization. For Xuela, there is no escape from “the big, dark room [of] history” (Kincaid 1996:61). Orphaned by her mother and estranged from her father, Xuela epitomizes her people’s lack of belonging, the unfruitful alienated condition of pre-independence. She becomes the aberrant mother of the novel’s title, who aborts every child she conceives. She has consciously chosen not to give birth to the next generation of men and women, who will carry around the stigma of defeat attributed to the colonized people. In the words of Lisabeth Paravisini-Gebert “she refuses to bear children through whom the chain of destruction and degradation can perpetuate itself” (2000:151). Like her father, who set himself on the course of becoming a master of his own life, so the childless Xuela, “becomes her own lifelong abortionist” (Segal 1996:24) and “an expert at being a ruler of [her] own life in this one limited regard” (Kincaid 1996:115). Xuela’s rejection of maternity is the only way that she can manifest her lack of national affiliation: “Each month my body would swell slightly, mimicking the state of maternity, longing to conceive, mourning my heart’s and mind’s decision never to bring forth a child. I refused to belong to a race, I refuse to accept a nation” (Kincaid 1996:225; emphasis mine). Xuela repeatedly emphasizes her disavowal of black nationalism and pours scorn on the “natives” who “bogged down in issues of justice and injustice,” and who “had become attached to claims of ancestral heritage, and the indignities by which they had come to these islands, as it they mattered, as if they really mattered” (Kincaid 1996:117).
For Xuela her body is the only possible venue for resistance, so she makes a strategic use of it. She not only refuses to be defined by motherly functions but also brandishes her nativism, which finds primary expression in her uninhibited sexuality that taps into the stereotype of sexual wantonness of black females, the Jezebel paradigm. This stereotype, bequeathed by slavery, perpetuated by colonial plantocracies and enhanced by repressive Victorian sexual mores, often contrasted the alleged promiscuity of black women with the idealization of the body of a white lady. The stereotype is reinforced in the novel, as Xuela uses her sexuality to draw a line between herself and Moira, the English lady for whom Xuela works and whom she stealthily poisons in order to marry her husband-Philip. “[Moira] was a lady and I was a woman and this distinction was to her important; it allowed her to believe that I could not associate the ordinary, the everyday–a bowel movement, a cry of ecstasy– with her, and a smallest act of cruelty was elevated to a rite of civilization” (Kincaid 1996:158). That definition is at variance with the way Xuela perceives herself: “I was a woman and as that I had a brief definition: two breasts, a small opening between my legs, one womb, it never varies and they are always in the same place” (Kincaid 1996:159). Xuela defiantly repudiates middle class notions of propriety and morality and embraces the racist stereotype of the deviant black woman. In the colonial discourse this oversexualized native woman was often abused by the white man, but Kincaid deftly subverts the dynamics of the typical colonial sexual encounter. In the case of Xuela, her sexual confrontation with the white man, Philip, does not entice her sexual subjugation. On the contrary, in her relationship with her white husband, it is Xuela who wields control. Philip is not the dominant subject who projects his sexual fantasies on the racial other, but a sexual slave enacting Xuela’s wild fantasies. Xuela uses the power that she derives from her sexuality to wrap around Philip her own sense of alienation. She not only refuses to reciprocate his love for her but also locks him in complete isolation. The social ostracism that follows their marriage, which is a misalliance, is never compensated by the intimacy of conjugal life: “I blocked his entrance to the world in which he lived,” says Xuela, “I blocked the entrance into all the worlds he had come to know” (Kincaid 1996:224). In this way Xuela acts out her revenge on the white race. Kincaid allows Xuela to hold on to the Manichean economy of colonialist discourse and the racist stereotype of black female sexuality. Xuela, however, does not let herself be reduced to a subaltern position. Through her renunciation of maternity and her narcissistic and predatory sexuality, she defies the colonial power and the native bourgeoisie that
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perpetuates colonial hierarchy and stratification. She consciously chooses to become everything that people like her father deem despicable. As a deviant woman she succeeds in exercising agency, and though it is the wrong sort of agency, based on self-destructiveness and moral deformity, for Xuela, it is preferable to no agency at all, to the state of zombification, which is Kincaid’s metaphor for spiritual death, passive resignation and impotence. The novel, in which all characters are constituted by the process of colonization and imperialism, demonstrates that the epistemic violence in the form of the Manichean logic of binary coding wreaked on the Caribbean people resulted in psychological damage and trauma that shall not be redressed by the sheer belief in the redemptive potential of Black Nationalism or creolization. The Autobiography of My Mother shows that both positions–national yearning for authenticity and cultural purity, and the more current trend to see mixing of races and cultures as a positive phenomenon–are utopian fallacies.
Edwidge Danticat’s Krik? Krak! Edwidge Danticat is a Haitian American writer whose whole literary career has been committed to the recovery of the voices of women, particularly those oppressed by the ideology of Haitian nationalism. Her 2001 collection of short stories entitled Krik? Krak! could serve as an illustration of Alison Donnell’s assertion that “for Caribbean women as historical subjects the struggles of nationalism were always gendered” (2006:147). Danticat’s collection engages with the political, social and cultural history of Haiti–the first black republic in the world, a republic which came into being as a consequence of the only successful slave revolt. From its very inception, this black republic was seen as an aberration by the white world and was politically and economically isolated. Subsequent Haitian governments struggled to get recognition for Haiti in the eyes of the white world in order to attract foreign capital and bring the country out of its torpor. Modernizing the country by means of suppressing its indigenous culture and particularly the local vodou religion was the way in which Haitian leaders wanted to obtain legitimacy for Haiti. After Catholicism was adopted as an official religion of Haiti, the state combined forces with the Catholic Church in an effort to eradicate vodou “superstition.” Since vodou was associated mostly with rural areas and with women, it was peasant women who were targeted in the so called Anti-superstition Campaigns. The persecution of vodouissants, that is
witches in the official nationalist discourse, began after the independence, increased after Concordat in 1860 and continued well into the 20th century. Therefore Modernity and its most significant developments, the concept of the nation and nationalism, turned out to be inimical for Haitian women proving that “[regardless] of what role or status [women] had in their traditional society, inclusion into expanding Western sphere in their countries usually meant loss of status [. . .]” (Donnell 2006:139). Most of the stories included in Krik? Krak! focus on the Haitian history of the 20th century which began with the American occupation (1915-1934). This occupation, as Michael Dash claims, was Haiti’s “irruption into Modernity” (2008:35). Haitian intellectuals and politicians, such as Jean Price-Mars, reacted to this disruption by creating the myth of Haitian exceptionalism (noirism and indigenism) that cherished Haiti’s specificity and celebrated its uniqueness–the idea of Haiti as unfinished Modernity. The neo-colonial American presence in Haiti also brought to power François Duvalier, Haiti’s most predatory dictator whose national despotism mirrored U.S. cultural models and archetypes. Duvalier imitated American nationalism that was based on a strong sense of identity, rooted in history and founded on the belief in the exceptionality of American socio-political institutions. He applied these assumptions to transform Jean Price-Mars’s noirism into the ideology of Black Nationalism and pretended to forge an alliance with the peasant culture. He wanted to validate vodou as a national religion but in fact he used his knowledge of history and vodou to control the lower classes who were vodou followers. He ordained his own priests (hougans), organized his own religious meetings and infiltrated other vodou societies presided over mostly by vodou priestesses. As Chancy points out, Duvalier tried to wipe out these predominantly female societies, which he treated as a rival power. (1997:208) In effect, as Francis observes: The Duvalierist state (1957-1986), [. . .] ushered a shift in the reigning paternalistic construction of women as political innocents to women as “enemies of state.” Under his administration when women voiced opinions in support of women rights or the opposition party, they were defined as “subversive, unpatriotic, and unnatural.” (2004:78)
In Krik? Krak! Danticat exposes Haitian nationalism, before and after Duvalier, as exceptionally hostile towards women. It not only actively persecuted Haitian women and deprived them of their status but also erased them from the Haitian historiography. By creating a matrilineal tradition as an alterative to the patriarchal tradition that historically
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dispossessed women, Danticat offers a corrective to the male-centered history of Haiti. In her reckoning of the history of Haiti, she sidesteps the whole gallery of national heroes such as Boukman Dutty, Jean Jacques Dessalines, Toussaint Louverture, Henri Christophe and others. Instead she recovers from obscurity Haitian women who have remained only a token presence in the collective memory of her country. In this way Danticat narrates her own gendered history of Haiti and puts herself in the role of feminist historiographer and revisionist, who clears a space for Haitian women in the national mythology. In Krik? Krak! Danticat creates a female lineage that goes back to a historic figure, Défilée-la-folle–Défilée Madwoman, to talk about women’s involvement in anti-colonial insurgency and their contribution to national struggles. Défilée-la-folle’s real name was Dédée Bazile. Having lost all her sons to the cause of revolution, she followed the troops of one of the leaders of the Haitian revolution–Jean-Jacques Dessalines–the first black president of free Haiti. Danticat rehabilitates Défilée as a mother of Haiti and a female figure of resistance. Contrary to the fathers of the Haitian revolution most of whom looked to France for models in their project of nation building, Défilée, as a vodouissant, was a representative of Haitian creolized ethnicity. Danticat’s collection shows imaginary histories of women descended from Défilée. One of the most memorable incarnations of Défilée is her namesake in the story “Nineteen Thirty-Seven.” There is an ancestral lineage between the two women that is more than one hundred and fifty years long. The contemporary Defile owns a Madonna statue passed down from the historic Défilée, who got it from “a Frenchman who had kept her as a slave” (Danticat 2001:34). The title of the story refers to the so-called Parsley Massacre–the ethnic cleansing organized that year by the Dominican regime of El Generalissmo, Dios Trujillo on Haitian cane cutters working in the Dominican Republic. It is deeply ironic and paradoxical that having survived the massacre, Defile is now incurring a slow death at the hands of her own compatriots in the prison of Port-auPrince, the capital of Haiti. The irony is exacerbated by the fact that the prison in which she is incarcerated was built by the American marines during their occupation of Haiti. As Josephine, Defile’s teenage daughter, who is the narrator of the story, observes “by the end of the 1915 occupation, the police in the city really knew how to hold human beings trapped in cages, even women like Manman, who was accused of having wings of flame” (Danticat 2001:35). In this way the violence leveled at women is connected with its political sources: the American occupation that showed the weakness of the Haitian state and taught it how to
effectively turn against its own citizens; and the 1937 massacre, when the Haitian government again failed to take any action to defend its citizens from whole-scale slaughter. Defile is accused of being a “lougarou” or “lougawou” from the French word “loupgarous” meaning “werewolf.” She is believed to be a mythical figure who “[flies] in the middle of the night, [slips] into slumber of innocent children, and [steals] their breath.” (Danticat 2001:37-38). In the prison there are many other women like her. They slowly starve to death but their emaciated, ghostly figures evoke irrational fear in their male guards who watch them closely for any signs of their nocturnal transmutations. The guards, who represent the authority of the state, not only genuinely believe in the culpability of the women in their charge but also fear their reputed powers which they associate with their femininity. They physically abuse the women and shave their heads not only to mark them as violators of gender roles but also to de-feminize them “I realized,” claims the narrator–Defile’s daughter–“[the guards] wanted to make [the women] look like crows, like men” (Danticat 2001:39). Defile’s granddaughter–Marie from the story “Between the Pool and Gardenias”–suffers a similar fate. The childless Marie left the village of Rose-Ville where, her grandmother and mother used to live, in order to escape from an unhappy marriage. She works as a maid for a rich couple in Port-au-Prince. They enjoy the taste of the countryside that she puts into the food she cooks for them but at the same time they remain deeply distrustful of her and her countryside ways: “She is probably one of those manbos,” they say when [Marie’s] back is turned. “She’s probably one of those stupid people who think that they have a spell to make themselves invisible and hurt other people. Why can’t none of them get a spell to make themselves rich? It’s that voodoo nonsense that’s holding us Haitians back” (Danticat 2001:95). As members of the middle class, particularly active in the Anti-superstition Campaigns, they disdain vodou as the illegitimate religion of the poor, illiterate and backward peasants who can nevertheless be potentially harmful. They are bound to the idea of progress which makes the erasure of indigenous traditions imperative and frames the future in terms of material advancement. The title of the story–“Between the Pool and Gardenias”–alludes to the limited space that Marie is allowed to occupy in this new, modernized model of the Haitian nation. She is a prisoner of stereotypes associated with vodou as well as of the traditional model of Haitian femininity where a woman’s worth is measured by her ability to bear children. These presuppositions make Marie an outcast in all communities in which she tries to find a home for herself. Rose-Ville is “the place that [she] yanked
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out of [her] head” because her infertility made her feel “like a piece of dirty paper people used to wipe their behinds” (Danticat 2001:96). Her deficiency as a woman is made painfully clear by her wayward husband who “got ten different babies with ten different women” (Danticat 2001:96), as she grieved over all her miscarriages. The alternative home she finds in Port-au-Prince does not even give an illusion of being a protective space. While the life in the village circumscribes the protagonist’s life with patriarchal notions of wifehood and motherhood, the city delimits her existence with nationalistic prescriptions and assumptions. Marie’s migration from the country to the city does not help her to get outside of society’s limiting structures or create a sense of possibility. On the contrary, it only deepens her sense of alienation and displacement. The city is an even more constricted and hostile place, marked by the absence of any meaningful human relationships. For most people it is a place of poverty and corruption that forces women to “throw out their babies because they can’t afford to feed them” (Danticat 2001:92). At the same time it is a place of luxury and comfort for few others who, like Monsieur and Madame, own a lavish house with a swimming pool that overlooks the sea with “the holiday ships cruising in the distance” (Danticat 2001:96). Marie, who dreams about domestic happiness and fulfillment in her role as a wife and mother, can only “pretend that it was all [hers]” (Danticat 2001:96). Thus Monsieur and Madame’s house becomes a symbol of middle class entitlement and lower class disempowerment. The city is first and foremost the place of death, where one has to enter an imaginary world in order to survive. Severed from her family and relatives, Marie imagines a community of dead women, descended from her great-great-great grandmother Défilée, who watch over her and comfort her in the face of the loneliness and misery that engulf her. She is introduced to them in her dream by her own dead mother Josephine. As the old women lean over her bed, she can “see faces that [. . .] knew [her] even before [she] ever came into this world” (Danticat 2001:97). They are a family of women who worship Erzulie–the protector of women and children, embodied in the statue of Madonna in the story “Nineteen Thirty Seven.” It is a sense of despair at being “the last one of [them] left” (Danticat 2001:94) that prompts Marie to “adopt” a dead baby she finds in a Port-auPrince sewer. As soon as Marie rejects the idea that the baby is a wanga– an evil spirit sent by her husband’s lovers–she accepts another explanation for the sudden appearance of this lovely baby in her life. Rose becomes an embodiment of all the children she has lost. She thinks of all the names
that she wanted to give to her unborn children: “I called out all the names I wanted to give them: Eveline, Josephine, Jacqueline, Hermine, Marie Magdalene, Célianne.” (Danticat 2001:92). In the names that she chants, “noms de famille et de guerre”, as well as the faces she sees in her dreams the reader can recognize the characters from other stories from the collection drawn into “one ancestral fabric” (Evans Braziel 2005:84). Finally a more plausible explanation for Rose’s appearance is provided. In reality, Rose seems to have been discarded by some rich people–“she was something that was thrown out aside after she became useless to someone cruel” (Danticat 2001:93)–people whom Marie associates with her own employers because the baby smells “like the scented powders in Madame’s cabinet, the mixed scent of gardenias and fish that Madame always had on her when she stepped out of her pool” (Danticat 2001:94). For a few days Marie’s life oscillates between dream and reality, life and death until the decay of Rose’s body forces her to face the facts and abandon the fantasy world in which she seeks compensation for the deprivations of her life. This is when she is betrayed by a Dominican gardener, reminiscent of the Dominican soldier who killed Marie’s great-grandmother Eveline, who condemns her as a witch who eats children and calls the gendarmes. As they “wait for the law,” the world of patriarchal and nationalistic dictates closes in on Marie. Such women as Marie or her grandmother Defile evoke fear because as they cross the boundaries between rural and urban settings, they appear to deviate from the Western model of normative femininity–they are aligned with witchcraft, with transgressive female power. As Gauthier argues in his article “Why Witches?” witches always occupy a transgressive position in society: “If the figure of the witch appears wicked, it is because she poses a real danger to phallocratic society” (1981:203). In traditional African religions the position of a witch, or more precisely speaking a “conjure woman,” used to be associated with positive power. The conjure women were often visionaries who possessed the gift of seeing with the so-called “third eye”. As Boyce Davies concludes: a conjure woman “stands between the community and what it is unable to attain” (1994:75). Hoever, in Haiti, whose dominant forms of cultural experience have been mired in the Western ideals of a homogenous nation state, the position of the visionary conjure woman has been reduced to that of a witch–an epitome of transgressive female power to be penalized. It is consistently associated with evil by the regressive national realpolitik that contains and represses women to impose uni-centricity on the Haitian cultural cauldron. The witch can be therefore seen as a rebel against the nationalistic order and patriarchal dominance. In the words of Evans Braziel:
Three Narratives of Caribbean Feminism Defilee, historically resistant to colonial oppression, becomes a revolutionary revenant in Danticat’s diasporic literary narratives. In Krick? Krack! the figure of Defilee is martyred by cultural forms of violence that suppress both femme d’Ayiti and Haiti; by rewriting Defilee, who is tortured and imprisoned, Danticat resists those national and imperial forms of violence’s that have destroyed alternative historical lines in Haiti. By doing so, Danticat offers feminist resistance to national, neocolonial and feminist violence’s in 20th century Haiti–specifically the US Marine occupation of 1915-1934, the Haitian Massacre of 1937 and the Anti-superstition campaigns of 1940-41. (2005:85)
Danticat’s characters defend the cultural sovereignty of Haiti and are posed in opposition to the ideals of the nation state. Her narratives of confinement and political persecution expose the Eurocentrism of the political and cultural agenda of nationalism, the construction of a nationalist teleology that insists on grounding the nation in one fixed point of origin and on forging one single worldview. The city of Port-au-Prince with its villas for the rich and the prison for the poor becomes a trope of Haitian nationalism that serves to problematize the vision of the modern mono-cultural nation.
Conclusions The ideas of nation and nationalism have been adopted by many postcolonial countries that reproduce Western knowledge of the nationstate with its institutions and its strategies of nationalizing identity. Caribbean countries are no exception to this rule–in the words of Boyce Davies (1994:12): “nationalism was a ‘trap’ within which the growing independence movements in the Caribbean were interpellated.” National affiliation was always configured through narrowly defined inscriptions of manhood and womanhood that served to conceal gender bias and dissymmetry in power. Nationalism, as Boyce Davies persuasively contends was “a male formulation” and “a male activity with women distinctly left out or peripheralized in the various national constructs” (1994:12). The three expatriate women writers discussed in this essay, each a daughter of a different West Indian nation, engage in various ways with insurgent nationalisms in their countries. The plot of their novels unfolds in the Caribbean in the pre- or post-independence period at the time of the rise of militant embattled nationalism. Each novel explores the relationship between gender, sexuality and the emergent nation; each presents a different Caribbean nation and “dismembers” its recent history. The authors expose the seductive dream of a monolithic nation, bringing to the
foreground what Boehmer calls “the transformative instability of nation” (2005:17). The nation is often pictured as an authoritarian regime that replaces the colonial regime and reproduces its racial, social and gendered hierarchies and structures of power. More often than not, these states-inthe-process-of-becoming are characterized by material scarcity, social injustice, corruption and institutionalized violence, compounded by absurd displays of the megalomania of their male rulers. The novels show that various brands of Caribbean nationalism: blancismo, noirism or Black Nationalism, are crippled by similar drawbacks. All of them are elitedriven, exclusionary, racist, xenophobic and misogynist projects, based on ideologies carried over from the colonial state. In their stagnant patriarchal societies, women continue to be marginalized and oppressed. Alvarez, Kincaid and Danticat re-vision the concept of the nation constantly drawing the reader’s attention to its constructedness. They expose the desire for unsullied national origins, for ethnic roots and cultural purity, as an attempt to elide the truth about the imaginative status of the nation. Their books remind us that, to quote Boehmer again, “a nation operates as a fiction unifying people into a horizontally structured conglomerate into which they imagine themselves” (2005:7). When faced with the patriarchal apparatus of control in the form of fetishized tropes of motherlands and culture-bearing women or the cult of motherhood and domesticity, Caribbean women, black or Creole, find it difficult to “imagine themselves into” their nations. In the three national family dramas, analyzed in this essay, the odds are always against women, against their self-determination and self-fulfillment. None of the texts offers a vision of equal participation of women on the national stage. None of the female protagonists, torn by contrasting pulls of different markers of identification, is able to achieve a coherent sense of self. Their life-stories are an antithesis of the myth of national unity–childless and/or deviant (morally lax, lesbian or accused of witchcraft) they do not fit into the monolithic nation. The three novels are also linked by the trope of the absent mother. Their motherless protagonists are engaged in the quest of getting to know their absent mother and disentangling the mother image from the national male iconography. The mother, conspicuously absent in these feminist texts, may be seen as a counterpoise to the symbolic language of male rhetoric that associates the mother with the grand history of the nation. Though often appropriated by patriarchal tradition, the national mother is often unknown and irrevocably lost in the turbulent colonial and postcolonial history, full of violence and ruptures. Where the matriarchal lines have “crumbled,” the preservation of an authentic indigenous culture
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is an impossible task, and the icon of the national mother, a repository of traditional values, loses its legitimacy. Instead of “subscribing to [this] unitary icon,” that, as Boehmer writes, could “threaten to defeat [women’s] own particular mode of being,” (2005:93), contemporary Caribbean female writers confront the patriarchal story of the nation with their own narratives that are less totalizing or unitary. They refuse to idealize the nation or the national mothers and point to the necessity for women to move beyond familiar markings of gender. For them writing is an effort to arrive at an understanding of the self in relation to mother and motherland, an understanding that is free of given symbolic roles for women. It is a subversive and political act which allows these women writers to achieve autonomy outside patriarchal networks and come to their own as national citizens. In the words of Elleke Boehmer: [through] writing, through claiming a text–and a narrative territory–women sign into and at the same time subvert a nationalist narrative that excluded them as negativity as corporeal or unclean, or as impossibly idealized. (2005:94).
References Alexander, M. Jacqui. (1994). Not just (any)body can be a citizen: the politics of law, sexuality, and postcoloniality in Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas. Feminist Review 48 Autumn: 5-23. Alvarez, J. (2000). In The Name of Salomé: a Novel. New York: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. Boehmer, E. (2005). Stories of Women: Gender and Narrative in the Postcolonial Nation. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press. Boyce Davies, C. (1994). Black Women, Writing and Identity, Migrations of the Subject. London and New York: Routledge. Brathwaite, K. (1977). Mother Poem. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Chancy, M. J.A. (1997). Searching for Safe Spaces, Afro-Caribbean Women Writers inExile. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Danticat, E. (2001). Krick? Krack! New York: Soho Press. Dash, M. (2008). Fictions of displacement: locating modern Haitian narratives. Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 27: 32-41. Donnell, A. (2006). Twentieth-Century Caribbean Literature. Critical Moments in Anglophone Literary History. London and New York: Routledge.
Edmondson, B. (1999). Making Men: Gender, Literary Authority, and Women’s Writing in Caribbean Narrative. Durham and London: Duke University Press. Evans Braziel, J. (2005). Re-membering Défilée: Dédée Bazile as revolutionary lieu de memoir. Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 18: 57-85. Fanon, F. (1967). Black Skin, White Masks. Translated by Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove Press. —. (2010). National culture. In Ashcroft, B., G. Griffiths and H. Tiffin (Eds.). The Postcolonial Studies Reader. London and New York: Routledge. Francis, D. A. (2004). Silences too horrific to disturb. writing sexual histories in Edwidge Danticat's breath, eyes, memory. Research in African Literatures 35 (2): 75-90. Gauthier, X. (1981). Why witches? In Marks, E. and I. de Courtivron (Eds.), New French Feminisms. An Anthology. New York: Schocken Books. Kincaid, J. (1996). The Autobiography of My Mother. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Meacham, C. (2003). Crossing yet another border: the critique of compulsory heterosexuality in the novels of Julia Alvarez. Hispanofila 138. May: 135-152. Paravisini-Gebert, L. (2000). Jamaica Kincaid: A Critical Companion. Westport, Connecticut & London: Greenwood Press. Ray, S. (2000). En-gendering India: Woman and Nation in Colonial and Postcolonial Narratives. Durham, New York and London: Duke University Press. Segal, L. (1996). The broken plate of haven. The Nation, February 5: 2325. Shea, R. (1997). Traveling worlds with Edwidge Danticat. Poets and Writers Magazine 25 (1): 31-42.
CHAPTER FIVE: CHALLENGING THE CURRICULAR CANON
ENGLISH CULTURAL/GENDER STUDIES: AN EASTERN EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVE NÓRA SÉLLEI
“You are yourselves the problem”: Introduction As is well-known, Sigmund Freud could never answer the question of what a woman wants. He made attempts, but the answers never satisfied even him, so the question haunted him all his life, and instead of of reconsidering his blind spots: his (certainly patriarchal and even misogynous) presuppositions that prevented him from providing an answer, he “blamed” women, saying: “you are yourselves the problem”, what is more, he rendered the authority to solve the problem exclusively in the hands of men, saying that they have been worrying over “the riddle of the nature of femininity” (1973:146). Not as if it could be claimed that English cultural/gender studies is only done by women scholars either in Eastern Europe or anywhere else, the differences of these scholarly areas in their approaches to cultural phenomena “other” them, and “gender” them in their relation to long-established scholarly disciplines, and frequently turn them into “puzzles” from the perspective of dominant academic discourses. As a special angle, the rootedness of cultural studies in Raymond Williams’s cultural materialism, let alone the explicit link between gender studies and feminism, suggests a gendering and a “suspicious” political edge to these disciplines that make their positioning in the Eastern European academic context perhaps even more problematic than in the “western” context, and their reception and treatment in the Eastern European national academic communities reverberates connotations not dissimilar to how Freud related to femininity: as a riddle to be solved by those in authority position, with the exclusion of those involved in these disciplines. Furthermore, whereas in Europe scholars of English tend to cherish illusions of being a part of a democratic scholarly community where we work under similar conditions, what I mean to articulate is that the recent history of Eastern Europe (as the ex-socialist bloc) creates special
English Cultural/Gender Studies: An Eastern European Perspective
circumstances for doing research in areas that are both interdsiciplinary and admittedly political–notions that are almost equal to contamination in some countries. (I am using “Eastern European countries” as an umbrella term to emphasise common features, but without the intention either to homogenise developments in English cultural/gender studies “Eastern Europe”, or, by implication, to homogenise the “West”, let alone to reevoke the East-West binary opposition. Whenever I can, I will point out national specificities). This phenomenon, in turn, creates a difference of English cultural/gender studies scholars not only within their respective Eastern European national academic communities but also within the framework of the international community of English scholarship as well. The problem is that the mainstream theoretical approaches, priorities and agendas of the national and international academic communities may not coincide, or may not even be reconcilable. I will analyse this situation from two different perspectives: firstly, using Bourdieau’s terms of sociology of culture, I will investigate the chances of academic institutionalisation in the case of English cultural studies; secondly, I will explore how a gender-conscious approach can make its way into the theoretical canon in countries where the impact of second-wave feminism cannot be taken for granted. With this twofold approach I hope to shed light on the complexity of the academic cultural discourse which defines our self-positioning as scholars in an academic environment where the implications of theories of gender and popular culture informing English cultural/gender studies may be counterproductive to institutionalisation. The marginalisation of these disciplines, at the same time, implies that they resist, mar–and as such implicitly undo–structures that seem to be, historically, ingredients of the academic hierarchy that is still defined in terms that figure as neutral, whereas they are rather masculine. In this way, the exploration of the positioning of English cultural/gender studies also points to a special history of–not yet fully successful–undoing.
A Moment of Self-reflection In the history of each discipline, particularly in our post-modern age, there emerges a moment of self-reflection when we stop and reflect on what we are doing, why we are doing it, how we are doing it, and under what conditions we are doing what we are doing. As several sessions at several conferences have been recently devoted to this moment of selfreflection problematising our Europeanness in various disciplines within English studies, and from various perspectives at that (research, teaching,
institutional system), the question emerges: why has this moment come now? Without exploring the reasons in their entirety, an obvious cause is that the two decades since the fall of the Berlin wall, ending the political division of Europe, provides some historical distance to explore the emergence of a European community of–among others–English scholars, which had promises of equality in the long run. The last two decades, however, created almost as many problems as they solved. Asymmetries emerged at the level of higher education, including professional and student exchanges, all obviously deeply embedded both in the national and the European educational systems, whereas there is a tendency to regard scholarship as an arena “pure”, as such free of politics and apparently more independent of the institutionalised framework it is part of. Pierre Bourdieu, however, reminds us of the contrary: the academia is an institution with its own rules and playing field, and once this is recognised, one cannot be surprised at the claim that in the case of Eastern European countries, their geopolitical location in the second half of the twentieth century has an impact even today on the discursive construction of all the institutions, including, among others, culture in the broad sense of the word, and within that on the academia, with its relative independence, which, however also entails its embeddedness in the social context. As a result of this embeddedness, in turn, our historical past more or less indirectly also has an effect on the construction of what is considered scholarship within the various national frameworks, and the currently dominant academic discourse inflects our positioning as scholars of English cultural/gender studies.
The Playing Field: the Intersection of the National and the International The field which defines the positioning of scholars of English can be found at the intersection of at least two circles: that of the international scholars of English and the national community of literary, cultural studies and gender studies scholars. The crucial question is how much of the two respective circles is covered by their intersection in various countries and cultures. At one extreme, they may fully coincide (which may be the case in England), in another extreme, there is none or hardly any common ground between the two circles, and even to create a cross-section, serious negotiations are needed; whereas in most cases we can suppose some cross-section where basic assumptions coincide, and thus there is an easily reconcilable and substantial area at the intersection.
English Cultural/Gender Studies: An Eastern European Perspective
For scholars of English, both the national and international circles are crucial and are not unrelated to each other since international achievements obviously have an impact on our national positioning, and vice versa: our national positioning also paves the way to our international presence. The question is what happens if the rules of the two playing fields reveal substantial differences. Using these metaphors, I am evoking terms that Pierre Bourdieu uses to describe the functioning of social institutions, among others the academia. I will sum up his ideas by relying on Toril Moi, who applies Bourdieu’s terms to the interpretation of gender in her chapter “Appropriation of Bourdieu” (in Moi 1999). By “field”, Bourdieu writes, “I mean an area, a playing field [espace de jeu], a field of objective relations among individuals or institutions competing for the same stakes” [where t]he aim is to rule the field, to become an instance which has the power to confer or withdraw legitimacy from other participants in the game (Moi 199:269-270).
In this sense, what is at stake in the field is power: the power to confer legitimacy on the players. The rules, however, are not always transparent. In spite of the fact that in most academic institutions there are written rules of what you need to do to achieve a certain status in academia (or in any other social field), there are always unwritten, unsaid rules implied as well. In Bourdieu’s definition, [a]n institution, or an action, or a usage is legitimate when it is dominant but not recognized as such [méconnu comme tel], in other words tacitly recognized (Bourdieu cited in Moi: 270; emphasis added).
Furthermore, as Moi goes on with her interpretation, legitimacy is achieved by amassing the maximum amount of the specific kind of symbolic capital current in the field. [. . .] The intellectual and educational field, like any other such, have their own specific mechanisms of selection and consecration. Intellectual legitimacy as a symbolic value is produced by the field itself, and may be defined as that which is recognized–or in Bourdieu’s terms, consecrated–by the field at any given time. In order to achieve legitimacy, the agents in the field have recourse to many and varied strategies. [. . .] [E]ach field generates its own specific habitus, which Bourdieu defines as “a system of dispositios attuned to [the] game [of the field]” (Sociology in Question 18). “For a field to work”, he writes, “there must be stakes, and people ready to play the game, equipped with the habitus which enables them to know and recognize the immanent laws of the game, the stakes, and so on” (1999:270-271).
Habitus, in turn, in Moi’s interpretation may be seen as the totality of general dispositions acquired through practical experience in the field. At one level, then, habitus is practical sense (sens pratique) [. . . and] may be compared to what educationalists have called the “silent curriculum”: those norms and values that are inculcated through the very norms of classroom interaction, rather than through any explicit teaching project. For Bourdieu, however, habitus is an active, generative set of unformulated dispositions, not a store of passive knowledge [. . . , the ] “cultural unconscious” (1999:271).
In this sense, as Moi argues, both written and unwritten (“unspoken and unspeakable”) rules define what can be legitimately said, what is more: what is perceived by the already legitimate players in the field or, in turn, what is “cast as stupid or naive” (1999:271), and this latter comment has a major role in the academic positioning of cultural/gender studies in the Eastern European context. The ones who make such judgments are, as Moi goes on with her summary of Bourdieu, agents equipped with a legitimacy and sharing in “a particular distribution of a specific capital”; as such, they are “the spokesperson for the doxa”, and are capable of enacting and having the effect of “symbolic violence”–also “a form of censorship“ (1999:271), and they struggle to relegate challengers to their position as heterodox, as lacking in capital, as individuals whom one cannot credit with the right to speak. The powerful possessors of symbolic capital will be the wielders of symbolic power, and thus of symbolic violence (Moi 1999:271).
Paradoxically, however, [t]hat different fractions within the (battle)field fight to the bitter end over politics, aesthetics, or theory, does not mean that they do not to some extent share the same habitus: in the very act of engaging in battle, they mutually and silently demonstrate their recognition of the rules of the game (Moi 1999:272).
In my view, this latter statement obviously makes the game all the more interesting because on the one hand even the challengers can be seen as complicitous in the very power game in which they seem to question the doxic authority, whereas, at the same time, they refer to them as power figures. On the other hand, however, the very presence of the players with heterodox views can be seen as an indicator that the field is not governed by exclusive and totalitarian rules: in the long run, there is a chance to stake out legitimacy even with ideas that are first rendered as heterodox,
English Cultural/Gender Studies: An Eastern European Perspective
and as such relegated into invisibility instead of being acknowledged as a distinguished achievement – the real stake in the field. As Moi argues, [t]he whole point of the process of imposing legitimacy is to reach a point where the categories of power and distinction merge. Legitimacy (or distinction) is truly achieved when it is no longer possible to tell whether dominance has been achieved as a result of distinction or whether in fact the dominant agent simply appears to be distinguished because he (more rarely she) is dominant (see Distinction 92) (1999: 272).
Not by chance, Distinction is also the title of a monograph by Bourdieu, indicating the siginficance of this element in the playing field, how deeply it is implicated in this power game, how it is not “pure”, how distinction is the result of explicit and implicit practices–as Foucault would say: power discourses. Yet, distinction in the academia, that is: positions, promotions, degrees gained, granted and conferred still tend to figure as based on “pure” and “objective” criteria and disinterested values because no one questions the underlying assumptions of either explicit (written) or implicit (tacit, hidden) rules, in this way disguising their own politics, covering up their own vested interests and ideology. And whereas culture and the academia tend to hide their own implicatedness in politics, paradoxically, as Moi claims, [i]n late capitalist societies [. . .] symbolic violence flourishes not so much in the general social field as in the domains of art and culture, perceived as sacred refuges for disinterested values in a hostile, sordid world dominated by economic production (see The Logic of Practice 133-4) (1999:272).
It is not difficult to recognise, though, that symbolic violence (either in more violent or more soft forms) is an attribute not only of late capitalist societies, but inevitably of all societies–it suffices just to recall how certain texts were banned and prohibited (or at most tolerated) in various communist and socialist regimes, whereas others were explicitly supported and promoted on a political basis. Following this logic, by now it must be clear that in post-socialist countries the ideological and political implications–a backpack of a heavy cultural heritage–are manifold, and as a result, not only English cultural, let alone gender studies is problematic, but also English studies in general, even if called by the respectable name “literature”.
The Position of English Studies/Literary Scholarship The main reason for the ambiguous positioning of English studies, and within that English literary scholarship in Eastern Europe is that departments of English are frequently considered ELT-institutions, not only by students applying for admission (and then disappointed that they do not simply have to do language classes), but also by colleagues–as confirmed by almost all of my informants from several countries in Eastern Europe (see: references). In a more generous case, we are seen as pure mediators of a kind of a knowledge, picked up from authentic sources (abroad, of course: in the country of that particular culture), and simply transferred, without any originality, to home grounds, into our national context of literary studies. This either explicit or implicit denial of originality and innovative ideas and approaches often results in denying us the very legitimacy that is needed for the sense of achievement, and thus distinction, ending in a general lack of recognition and symbolic capital, which, in turn, folds back upon itself at the institutional level as well. The experience of this evaluation may be shared by all in a non-English context, though: it is difficult to vindicate the right to talk about a culture not of one’s own, and this “right” may be questioned both by members of the (foreign) culture concerned, and by the professional members of one’s own culture. In post-socialist countries this basic situation is aggravated by a recent past of about forty years, when English (and “western” languages in general) were suspicious: in some countries even at major universities western-language departments were abolished in the 1950s, and when later they were restored, their size, including the number of staff and students, was artificially kept down, and had practically no access to financial funding, academic sources (books, journals), let alone scholarships and study trips abroad (generations of English majors left university without practically even hearing a word of English uttered by a native speaker). The effect of this policy is tangible even today: there are major gaps in our resources (only partially made up for by electronic databases and the internet); there is still a discontinuity in the history of scholarship, which has an impact upon what areas we can do research in as the choice of research objects is severely delimited by the availability of both primary and secondary sources. Let me give an example: we went to annual conferences in Romania for eleven consecutive years a couple of years ago, and what struck us was the disproportionately great number of papers by our Romanian colleagues on contempory fiction. Asking about the reasons, we were told that writing
English Cultural/Gender Studies: An Eastern European Perspective
on contemporary fiction they were in a relatively less disadvantaged position in terms of previous scholarship and secondary sources: as in the case of contemporary fiction not much has been written on anything in proper scholarly terms, they could apply some theory in addition to doing close reading, so they could come up with new ideas, and, at the same time were not frustrated by the lack of the bulk of critical literature on classics, for example. Under such circumstances, all we can do is negotiate the “field” to achieve some legitimacy, which is not easy even though Bourdieu claims there are many and varied strategies. Not even the fact that in most Eastern European countries there emerged a sudden demand for English in higher education after the political changes is of much help: the increase of departments of English (both in size and in numbers) was interpreted as a decrease in quality, as a dilution, and also ELT-training gained the upper hand. As another “side-effect”: the pyramid of distinction or promotions (junior lecturers, lecturers, senior lecturers, readers, professors) is distorted: very few academics in English studies are at the top of the hierarchy, which reflects the proportion of colleagues in certain age groups rather than the quality of the state of the art because a few decades ago, when today’s full professors were supposed to have entered the field, there were hardly any job openings because English studies (even English literature) was suppressed. This could be accepted as a natural fact. Seen from the outside, however, it looks as if there were hardly any worthy candidates for senior positions, which, in turn, has an impact upon the structure of hierarchy: there are very few academics in top positions (professors in decisionmaking bodies) in English studies who could have the power to confer legitimacy on others, to consecrate their achievements, and to grant symbolic capital on junior colleagues. Even within English studies, if we examine some statistics just from two countries (Hungary, Slovakia), we can see the claim above supported and proved. In Hungary, it is the Hungarian Academy that grants the highest post-doctoral degree (academy doctorate, following PhD and habilitation), which at some universities is the precondition (or the most “valuable” precondition) to be promoted as full professor. The statistical data worked out from the website of the Hungarian Academy go as follows: Doctor of the Academy in literature: 103, out of which: in English: 8; out of which: feminist literary theory-oriented: 1; candidate member of the Academy (a rank granted on the basis of academic recommendations: you cannot apply for it): 67, out of which: in literature: 4, out of which: in English: 1 (and none in gender/cultural
studies); regular member of the Academy (the ultimate peak of academic achievements): 296, out of which: in literature: 4, out of which: English: 0 (one in comparative literature, with a strong focus on English literature, and none in gender/cultural studies). Another rather telling contrast is that although in terms of student and staff numbers English departments weigh as much as (if not more than) Hungarian literature departments, at our university, currently we have six full-time professors in Hungarian literature, as opposed to one full-time professor in English (and American) studies. In Slovakia (and in some other countries, like the Czech Republic) professorship has a double meaning: both a post-doctoral degree and a position, so conferring this title has a crucial meaning. From this perspective it is more than telling that in between 2001 and 2010 the number of full professorships granted by the President of Slovakia was 984, out of which only one was granted in English studies (informant: Janka Kašþáková). As the logic of the system dictates, it is obvious that lack of promotion and entitlement at the top of the hierarchy counts not in and for itself only, but from the pespective of English studies it also affects disadvantageously accreditation processes and the ditribution of research grants as these processes highly depend on the presence and availability of people with distinction. This is what further Slovak data prove (informant: Kašþáková): the body called KEGA (Cultural and Educational Grant Agency of the Slovak Ministry of Education) provides funding annually for 150 research grants, out of which in 2006 there was one project in English Studies (not including ELT projects), in 2007 none, in 2008: one; in 2009: none, whereas 2010 was a success with its three grants gained. And similarly: another funding body: VEGA (Scientific and Scholarly Grant Agency of the Ministry of Education and Slovak Academy of Sciences) provided grants in the following proportion: Year 2005-2007 2008 2009 2010 * no data
Overall number of successful projects 1871 Approx. 700 Approx. 850 Approx. 850
Project in the Humanities
Projects in English Studies
* * 162 158
2 3 2 2
English Cultural/Gender Studies: An Eastern European Perspective
As is clear from these data, even what should be a prestigious and established shcolarly field: English literary studies is an area (or arena) where the rules of the academic power games in the field do not consecrate achievements in the field due to the lack of proper academic recognition, which makes the status of new areas: English cultural/ gender studies even more problematical.
Two Types of Contamination: Interdisciplinarity and Politics In terms of gender, whereas the following stories look anecdotal, yet they are rather symptomatic: in 1992, I was accosted by a linguist friend of mine, and he kindly enquired what I am writing my doctoral dissertation on, and to the answer (on Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf) he responded with almost disgust: “that is not for you” (implying women writers are not a proper study for me: I should do something more worthy and serious). Similarly, in the late 1990s, a Slovak colleague was told that Jane Austen was not a worthy topic for a PhD dissertation; she listened to advice, but was adamant, and wrote her PhD on Katherine Mansfield, causing herself a lot of trouble, also because she wrote it in English: in some countries, as a rule, dissertations (PhD and/or post-doctoral dissertations) should be written in the native language, and a special appeal has to be submitted if one wants to write it in a foreign language, which, in turn has an effect on when a young scholar from these countries can enter the international community of scholars. The last two “anecdotes”, apart from problematising English literary studies within the Eastern European national frameworks, also point to gender troubles within the academia partly caused by disciplinary classifications reflecting the 19th-century notions in their neat and nice differentiations. In Hungary, for example, English literature is categorised under the umbrella term “modern philology”, in a pair (or binary opposition) with the other main category within literature: Hungarian literature. The term modern philology in itself seems to be an oxymoron, reflecting on the status of the discipline: in spite of the adjective, it radiates out-dated concepts of what can be done, with “modern” only referring to “modern” literatures as opposed to ancient classical literature. The concept, thus, neither facilitates or caters for innovation. In this classificatory framework, it comes as no surprise that anything blurring the neat boundaries, like interdsiciplinarity, is not favoured, which, again, is not a Hungarian specificitiy. As Reghina Dascăl from Romania recalls,
The interdiscipinarity of cultural studies, of gender studies is seen as potentially disestablishing and not scientific and objective enough (also too ideological and politicized) for the traditional serenity of monodisciplinary academe. An anecdote from my own professional life: years ago (1997) when I defended my thesis and submitted the whole doctoral file to the ministry for official recognition I had problems with its title which contained the pernicious and subversive word: interdisciplinary. Although most of the former directors in the ministry are more or less the same, ‘interdisciplinary’ has become a very fashionable word, if not the magic ingredient of scholarly work. Still, the intellectual elite often vituperate against cultural studies, multiculturalism and feminism, all circumscribed to the ideology of political correctness. (unpublished information – emphases added).
It is rather ironic to observe how “hard” sciences move more and more in the direction of interdisciplinarity, whereas the humanities seem resistant. Cultural studies is non-existent in several national academic frameworks, and as a result, not even within English studies is it easy to get it institutionalised either in the form of gaining and conferring degrees or in the form of programme accreditations. A Hungarian colleague had a hard time pushing through even the idea of a PhD proposal on forensic crime fiction: an idea like this lacks institutional support, but the situation is not different in other countries either. Both Slovakia and the Czech Republic have accredited programmes only in English language and literature, which also means that no PhD, habilitation or professorship can be gained in cultural, let alone gender studies. It is not surprising, then, that in a climate of competition for positions and grants, the basic attitude is simply to “sneak in” cultural studies into the “normal” teaching programmes and also in research: For me and the majority of my colleagues as researchers this then means that our principal aims in research and publishing to produce work towards habilitations and professorships cannot primarily focus on cultural studies, but rather on literature, linguistics or translation studies with cultural studies as a useful adjunct, a source of additional tools, but no more than that” (informant: Franková).
This attitude, however, only confirms the status quo, reproducing the same patterns that make the institutionalisation of cultural studies impossible in the current structure. I admit the situation may be similar in some non-post-socialist countries as well. What makes the situation specific, however, and functions as a further obstacle is the implied political and ideological agenda at work. In the ex-socialist bloc cultural
English Cultural/Gender Studies: An Eastern European Perspective
studies is problematic not only because of its interdisciplinarity but also because of its methods and subject matter (or object of investigation). By including popular culture as an object of study, cultural studies blurs the division between high (elite) and popular culture and literature, making the study itself less sublime; it also blurs the boundaries between the subject and the object: the object of investigation is not only a cultural phenomenon at a distance but also how it appeals to, how it addresses or (to rely on Althusser’s term) “interpellates” the subject. The consequence is that the notion of “disinterested objectivity” cannot be maintained, furthermore, what needs, in the long run, to be admitted is the political and ideological implicatedness of what is still considered as pure scholarship. For all these reasons, cultural studies, also in its interdsiciplinarity, represents a dangerous and suspicious contamination in the post-socialist system of the academia, and as such is interpreted as a return to the highly (and homogenisingly) politicised-ideological discourse of the communistsocialist period, when the interpretation of literature was only possible from the perspective of Marxist indoctrination, and this institutional assumption is almost impossible to do away with. The insight this interpretation of cultural studies lacks is that cultural studies–and within that gender studies–is quite the opposite of the ideological indoctrination of the socialist period even though the approach is admittedly and self-reflexively political. Instead of political indoctrination, however, cultural studies is a critical investigation of the political implications of cultural texts in the broadest sense of the term, even if cultural studies heavily relies, among others, on new Marxist theories just as well as on cultural semiotics, post-structuralism, postcolonialism or psychoanalysis. But almost all of these, from the perspective of mainstream academic discourse (which denies its own ideological stakes), threaten with a falling back upon ideological discourse considered identical with political indoctrination and with blurring (or destroying) the boundaries of pure scholarship. It is for these reasons that all levels of the academia in the humanities resist both interdisciplinarity and cultural studies either by paying lip-service to it, or passing off film studies, for example, as cultural studies even if a particular mode of film studies is done in a way most resembling New Criticism-like close readings applied to films, as pointed out by Dávid Levente Palatinus (unpublished information). As follows from the analysis of the status of cultural studies above, from the perspective of institutionalisation within faculties of humanities, liberal arts, or the faculty of philosophy (as humanities faculties are called, for example in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia), gender studies is even
more problematic: beacuse of its obvious relation to feminism as a socialpolitical movement, it is not favoured, rather frowned upon both by the academia and people in general, making the implicatedness of the discipline in politics explicit. In the socialist period feminism was used as a shorthand both for the forced emancipation of women, which basically meant women’s forced entry in the job market, without restructuring the private, so it only boiled down to the double workload as a basic experience. No wonder that after the changes we can see a conservative turn in gender terms in most countries: a return to the traditional family models, and almost complete unawareness of the insights of second-wave feminism, having had none. Women’s movements and NGOs are usually weak and/or rare, and mostly centred in the major cities, perhaps just the capital. Feminism, if present at all, is rather limited to intellectual circles, so it can be looked upon as an import from the “west” that bears no relation to the national culture, and even EU-directives (like gender mainstreaming) are experienced as a cultural imposition, even colonisation, this time not from the East (Soviet Union) but from the West. As it is apparent even from this concise summary, the socialist past harks back in a negative way when it comes to gender studies as a formative set of thoughts and as a discipline. The Hungarian Academy acknowledges its existence in a limited way: it exists as a disciplinary category, but only within social sciences, which is symptomatic because social sciences in general are conceptualised as an area having more to do with “life” and “reality” than the humanities with their abstractions, which would be threatened by the contamination of “real life” or the social context, the extratextual. The other limitation, on the other hand, is that even the institutionalisation of gender studies within social sciences is half-hearted: it is not recognised as “science” only as “research”–this was the strategy of “sneaking” it into the Academy. Interdisciplinarity does not fare better in the case of gender studies either than in the case of cultural studies: drawing on social or psychoanalytic theories when interpreting cultural texts of all kinds makes the scholar in this (inter)discipline look a Jack (or Jill) of all trades, master (mistress) of none, an evaluation resonant with Bourdieu’s description how certain heterodox sets of knowledge are made out as “stupid” or “naive”, on the basis of which legitimacy can be denied. Not surprisingly, programme accreditations in gender studies are not smooth processes either. Although in Hungary there is a gender stream within the English studies MA programme at Szeged University (and a sociology-focussed non-degree gender programme at Corvinus University), and also in some other countries a lot of effort has been
English Cultural/Gender Studies: An Eastern European Perspective
invested into creating programmes and gender studies collections, except for very few of them, they either ceased to exist after a time, or remained token institutions. The successful part of the story in Romania, for example, is that the Faculty of Political Sciences and Administration in Bucharest, the centre for curricular development and gender studies Filia that they initiated, the creation of the GS collection within Polirom Publishing house, etc. all contributed to translating, analyzing, circulating, coining new words and phrases” (informant: Dascăl),
whereas, on the other hand, the Gender MA in Timiúoara was closed down, in the same way as in Târgu Mureú (Romania) the original Master’s Degree Program on Gender Studies and Managerial Performances [. . .] stopped running being replaced by another ‘fashionable’ program on Gender Studies from an Intercultural Perspective and then by a Master of English and American Studies: Intercultural Perspectives (the latest version)” (informant: ùtefanovici).
The transformation of the latter also means a gradual elimination of the focus on gender: whereas the first name centres on gender studies, in the second one it is marginalised, and in the third version it totally disappears from the name. In some cases, however, the establishment of gender studies and women’s studies institutes were quite successful, as in Serbia and Croatia, where these institutes emerged independently of universities and the academia, yet, on the basis of personal and professional contacts, they maintain some links with the academia (as in the case of Biljana Dojþinoviü-Nešiü). In some other cases, gender studies centres have come about within universities as in Tallin (Estonia), Timiúoara (Romania), Bratislava (Slovakia) or in Szeged and Debrecen (Hungary), but none of these centres can offer degree programmes, except for Szeged, where gender studies functions as a “stream” within the MA in English studies; nor are they officially (nationally) accredited centres; furthermore, they are not proper institutes in the sense that they have no budget with research money. This is what Mariana Szapuova calls “virtual centres”, which are rather the results of speech acts declaring: once there exists a team working in gender studies, we can call ourselves a research group or centre. The details of this half-hearted acceptance of these centres symptomatically indicate the positioning of gender studies within this cultural context. I can fully agree with Reghina Dascăl who says that there is no symbolic capital that accrues to this position,
and she also emphasises the hidden tokenism in this ambiguous institutionalisation, paying lip service to what is considered politically correct within the European framework. Tokenism, however, does not undermine the doxa. Quite the contrary, tokenism resembles the phenomenon that Moi, relying on Bourdieu describes in this way: [t]he existence in every educational institution of a tiny percentage of what Bourdieu likes to call “miraculous exceptions” (des miraculés–highly successful members of disadvantaged groups) is precisely what allows us to believe that the system is egalitarian and meritocratic after all (276).
Quite like miraculous exceptions, tokenism–the token presence of gender studies institutions–rather reinforces the rule than changes it because it maintains the appearance that the intellectual field is democratic. This is why it not only does not change or challenge the doxa, but even makes us believe that the field is transparent, egalitarian and democratic. Indeed, some of us are recognised to some extent (perhaps even distinguished) as the feminist of the faculty (like Biljana DojþinoviüNešiü, Leena Kurvet-Käosaar, Reghina Dascăl or myself), which obvbiously does not change the structure of how legitimacy is granted, or who have the power either to confer symbolic capital or to commit symbolic violence in accordance to the explicit or hidden rules of the playing field called the academia.
Conclusion The final question remains: what can we as scholars of English cultural/gender studies in Eastern Europe do to promote the presence of our discipline in academic circles in a situation when the field is obviously limited, heterodox, and there hardly accrues any symbolic (let alone financial) capital to it. If Bourdieu–mediated by Moi–is right, however, “the agents in the field have recourse to many and varied strategies” (Moi 1999:270). The only question is what the specific circumstances, deriving from the complexity of this situation as analysed above, allow us to apply as strategies. Considering the intersection of the national and international communities of scholars, one strategy may be to disregard the apparently rather hostile national communities, to accrue symbolic value in the international field, and hope that this international presence will have an impact on our positoining on home grounds as well. As an alternative, we can play a double game, or speak a double discourse (as several of us feel when we have to translate our ideas from English to our native culture or tongue), and try to do the almost impossible by complying to two separate
English Cultural/Gender Studies: An Eastern European Perspective
sets of rules of the two fields. This strategy, whereas to a certain extent is inevitable, is, at the same time impossible: once the two systems are irreconcilable, using both “languages” to perfection may result in a professional schizophrenia. As a third alternative, we may try and renegotiate the cross-section of the two circles in various ways: by transferring tools, concepts and terminology on home grounds, to readjust them, to apply them, to appropriate them by getting involved in the debates of the national community, which includes publishing in our native language, and appealing to the wider community of scholars and readers, not only professionals of English studies. At the same time, we may also venture and articulate our special positioning and perspectives within the international community–as is done now. On the basis of this review and these options, no matter how desperate our state may look, we must acknowledge that although the field is not fully ours as yet, the choice itself is ours, and we have already gained some symbolic capital and legitimacy, and we can only hope that Bourdieu is right, and heterodox challengers of the doxa, in the long run, have a chance of changing the rules of the game. We must, nevertheless, be aware that what is at stake is not only our own personal vested interests as academics to achieve distinction, but also–because distinction is also implicated in power–the potential power to contribute to changing certain dominant modes of thinking both in our own country and how the international community conceptualises that country’s scholarly communtity, which, in turn, raises the question again, but now in a different light: are we (Eastern European scholars doing cultural/gender studies), ourselves, the problem, indeed?
References Freud, S. (1973). Femininity. In J. Strachey (Ed. and Trans.), New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. Penguin Freud Library. Vol. 2. Harmondsworth: Penguin. . Moi, T. (1999). What is a Woman and Other Essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Unpublished written information (not always named in the text) from: Alb, A. (Oradea, Romania), Dascăl, R. (Timiúoara, Romania), DojþinoviüNešiü, B. (Beograd, Serbia), Franková, M. (Brno, Czech Republic), Kašþáková, J. (Ružomberok, Slovakia), Kiššová, M. (Nitra, Slovakia), Kurvet-Käosaar, L. (Tallin, Estonia), Palatinus, D.L. (Hungary; Ružomberok, Slovakia), ùtefanovici, S. (Târgu Mureú, Romania), Szapuova, M. (Bratislava, Slovakia).
LOITERING WITH INTENT: GENDER STUDIES AND ENGLISH STUDIES IN THE ROMANIAN ACADEME REGHINA DASCĂL
Introduction It was once said that “vagrants” are persons that “wake on the night and sleep on the day, and haunt customable taverns and ale-houses, and rout about; and no man wot from whence they come, ne wither they go.” While the Vagrancy Act no longer refers to idle and disorderly persons, rogues and vagabonds and incorrigible rogues, it nevertheless continues to regulate and punish “persons considered to be ‘vagrants’ [...] and conduct amounting to acts of vagrancy”. To loiter with intent, meaning “to stand or wait around with the intention of committing an offence” is a legal phrase derived from an 1891 Act of Parliament and it is also used figuratively and humorously of anyone who is waiting around for some unspecified purpose. I will use the phrase metaphorically to refer to the Gender Studies vs. the wider Academe relationship as this is basically what many people think about the position of Gender Studies in the academic curriculum and about its struggle to institutionalize itself as an interdisciplinary field in a disciplinary university, with knowledge organized into disciplines, in a traditional university striving to preserve traditional standards of excellence and scholarly integrity, untainted by “contingent realities and discourses”, in its allegedly “value-neutral” pursuit of beauty, truth and goodness, of scientific, rational and objective paradigms. Is it a discipline at all? A transdiscipline? An interdiscipline? What we know for certain is that it is unfixed, slippery and contested. Its status is also questioned in terms of the relationships it sets between theory and practice, between activism and scholarship. In The Professor of Parody Martha Nussbaum accuses feminist theory of not being political enough: it no longer does anything, the philosopher thinks, for the real problems faced by real women and therefore it fails its original
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promise of activism, of striving towards a more just social order, towards social and political change (1999). It has a huge subversive potential as it aims to empower students to understand and ultimately transform the “interlocking systems of oppression” that distort contemporary life. In a most disestablishing and subversive manner Gender Studies resorts to highly contested pedagogies (such as transformative pedagogy) to put its curricula into practice, since the assumed objective of feminist research and teaching is to develop critical consciousness and critical reading, to expand consciousness, to challenge patterns of domination and privilege, to foster active citizenry, to frontally challenge the traditional banking model of education within which the student is nothing but a passive vessel, a bank account hoping for new deposits of knowledge. Critical thinking which not only enables democracy but is crucial to democracy is perceived as a threat by the guardians of the academe cast as Ivory Tower because in the process of questioning “standards are being eroded”, curriculum is “debased”, research “trivialized” and distorted by ideology, political commitment, by the sheer materiality of our lives. It is the latter that became for its detractors one of the often quoted “epistemological fallacies” of Gender Studies: its ambition to integrate the representational values of knowledge and existence with the material, social and political underpinnings of these. In a bizarre re-entrenchment of the Victorian double sphere ideology the academe continues to discard personal issues from the public domain of professional life, ostracizing them as “unprofessional” and whereas demands for productivity and visibility increase academia is ever more disconnected from the values of embodiment on the one hand, and from the civic, social or intellectual community on the other as its very definition of professional excellence returns to ancient, patriarchal views of social life (Willett 2002:119-131). Epistemological presuppositions based on “the personal is the political”, standpoint epistemologies anchored in mundane experiences, identities and social locations, in the materiality of women’s lives, experiences, bodies and oppression, and the corroborated conviction that all these are productive of particular kinds of knowledge are deemed to be not scientific and objective enough. Bringing feminist insights to bear on questions in epistemology means flight from true science and reason into relativism, ideology and political commitment, it is a plunge they warn us into a new dark age, Stalinism (Webb 2002:49; Moeller 2002:155-159). Personal stories, first-hand accounts, narratives expanding people’s imaginations and sensitivity to other people’s perspectives, making mental space for others should have no place in the academe is the message. The academe pays just lip service to the shifts of paradigm in social sciences
from positivist, functionalist methods of research to the “epistemologies and methodologies of hospitality” (Mihăilescu 1999) in which subjects and objects of research hold an empathetic, mutually enriching relation, a relationship that becomes a primordial relation of belonging rather than the alienating distancing valued in sciences. In other words, academic feminism is seen as a challenge, as a critique of a severely hierarchical, rigid and ossified system, authoritarian, excessively competitive and revolving around the “boys’ networks” and its supporters are called upon not only to pierce the glass ceiling set by their male peers but to make the academic ethos and working environment more women-friendly, more gynomorphic.
Gender Studies in Post-socialist Romania Academic feminism is a recent development in Romania as communist totalitarianism allowed for no pluralist educational agenda before 1989. In a heavily policed state, with a most repressive system feminism could not develop politically either. In the early 90’s the process of teaching, studying, researching from a gender perspective started at first through isolated courses and then gathered momentum and developed into more articulate enterprises in the larger university centres especially in the fields of humanities–political sciences, social sciences and English Studies departments. The society for Feminist Analyses AnA created in 1993 with its homonymous journal–the first journal of feminist studies in the country–played a major role in raising awareness and in creating incentives for feminist research. In 1998 the first master programme in Gender Studies was set up at the Faculty of Political Sciences and Administration in Bucharest (Gender and Public Policies) and Cluj and Timiúoara universities followed suit. So far it has been far easier to establish master programmes or master modules and not undergraduate programmes because of the less cumbersome bureaucracy entailed and because of certain methodological options. Romanian feminist academics still debate the merits of the integrative/gender mainstreaming approach vs. the separatist one (creating autonomous, self-standing programmes); at this moment in time, with very few exceptions, the former approach seems to have been favoured since, we think, it is more likely to contribute to a multicultural, interdisciplinary and critical stance in sciences and to more responsibility in scientific analyses. We think that as a set of practices and analytical approaches that scholars in other fields have adopted or as courses relocated throughout the university Gender Studies has a better chance of becoming a ‘place of
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ferment’ about questions of women, gender, power and social change. Wendy Brown opines in a similar fashion that the future productivity of feminist knowledge will be possible only outside the institutionalizing project of women’s studies as an autonomous curricular entity (1997). The Centre for Curricular Development and Gender Studies FILIA was set up in Bucharest in April 2000 its main goals being the advancement of gender studies, supporting the use of gender analyses in the study of society and culture, the integration of a gender dimension in public policies, militating for women’s rights and the enhancement of women’s participation in public life, for the elimination of women’s discrimination in the family, community or workplace. The main goals of the two centres for interdisciplinary gender studies created in Cluj and Timiúoara in the early noughties were creating expertise and know-how in the field of Gender, “talking in Romanian about gender”, improving the ways of teaching and researching gender, creating knowledge about the region from a gender perspective, developing gender-sensitive research. I think that it is not a matter of chance that the English departments of several universities (Bucharest, Cluj, Timiúoara, Târgu Mureú, ConstanĠa, GalaĠi) adopted a gendered approach since most of the feminist literature has been written in English and when they set about reconstructing their curriculum after 1990, striving to reconnect to the state of the art in the field of English Studies and cultural studies, many literature and linguistics specialists became vividly aware of the many seminal intersection points of feminist, postcolonial and postmodern discourses, as they share in common the problem of speaking as Other, of representing the self as Other to various dominant discourses. The fact that numerically women (both as teachers and students) dominate such departments should not be overlooked either. Not only did academic feminism become a crucial site for mounting a defensive and offensive assault on the prevalent sexism of the academic milieu, but gender proved to be an excellent analytical tool for exposing the specificities of post-socialist transitional Romanian society: the reentrenchment of patriarchal models in public and private power spheres; the upsurge of leftist conservatism, based on egalitarianism and collectivism, wiping out ideologies of difference; the feminization of poverty; modern patriarchy with its insidious forms of socialization that detriment women’s needs for self-assertiveness and autonomy, thus creating a culture of dependence; marginalization of women; no real equal opportunities investment in Romania’s public policies (under-investment
in education and research) all leading to income gaps, etc (see Miroiu 2003). The 50 years of communism precipitated a dramatic rupture in what could have become a feminist tradition in Romania, as there existed a very intense and synchronized first wave feminist movement in Romania in the first decades of the last century; it is true that even back then it was a feminism of the elites and not a grassroot phenomenon, although its programmes aimed at the emancipation of large social, professional, economic categories (80% of Romania’s population was rural; it was a heavily patriarchal society where the Civil Code of 1866–of Napoleonic inspiration–viewed women as little more than chattel, the property of their male custodians, with no ownership rights, no juridical or political identity and rights, including them in the category of “minors and mental backwards”). Much to the derision of the prevalent conservative members of the Romanian Parliament a well-known revolutionary, the liberal Cezar Bolliac asked for women’s enfranchisement a year before John Stuart Mill tabled a similar bill in the House of Commons in 1866. We have to acknowledge that the chances of feminism to expand, of an articulate feminist discourse to take shape and be implemented were severely marred by the repeated and failed projects of modernization–such as the bourgeois liberal project in the 19th century, the liberal project before World War II or the communist one with its aberrant social engineering agendas). Women rights movement and lobbying had an impact in the period prior to the drafting of Romania’s first democratic constitution in 1923; Calypso Botez, Adela Xenopol, Alexandrina Cantacuzino, Eleonora Strătilescu, Maria BuĠureanu are the names of some of these feminist militants; in 1929 women won the right to vote in local elections and Carol II’s constitution of 1938 extended the suffrage to women over the age of 30, yet it was short-lived as in 1940 it was suspended when General Antonescu took over and finally the 1946 constitution consecrated universal suffrage but it was rendered irrelevant under communist dictatorship, when both men and women were devoid of any political agency, so that the first free elections were held in 1990. Romania’s women still bear the brunt of the legacy of socialist egalitarianism at the level of gender policies–in occupational, educational, even political terms. The ideology of equality that aims at reducing and eliminating differences is not always emancipatory: on the contrary, it often strengthens inequalities–as this emancipation was imposed from the outside–part and parcel of the communist propaganda, without disturbing
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in the least the power differential typical of patriarchy, without reforming the political relations between women and men. Transitional patriarchy adds the problems of economic dependence, the feminization of poverty, non-assertive, non-affirmative, vicarious life projects, a post-communist “feminine mystique”, with massive numbers of educated young women acting as housewives (Romania has a record number of over 1 million young housewives) or in low-status and lowwages jobs. Although education is numerically dominated by women, the prevalent educational ethos is not encouraging women to aim at occupational elites but its fundamental practices of gendered socialization lead to restructuring the educational characteristics of housewifery. Although the post-socialist patriarchal state invests in policies of protection for women (continuing to exert its role of parental authority) this proves to be not only a hypocritical stance but also highly counterproductive, because what women really need is not protection but policies, institutions and practices that would enable them to exert their rights; women are offered survival strategies when what they would truly need is developmental, affirmative strategies (Miroiu 2004). Wherever one looks one can notice this barely disguised attempt at preserving intact the traditional gender order of society, legitimating practices, traditions, institutions or enforcing laws in such ways that women are detrimented. Women’s issues are not on the political agenda of the political parties, transitional politics tend to be very aggressive and patriarchal; a macho mode of politics is being practised, its overarching aim being the conquest of power and not advocacy for coherent political projects. Civic minimalism, the absence of a women’s movement, of political women-issues pressure groups, further account for women’s marginalization in politics. Although Romanian legislation has been changed and streamlined in keeping with European legislation there is little interest from political and administrative bodies to promote women and develop new administrative procedures that would combat gender discrimination (Zamfir 1999). So, Romania today is a bizarre hybrid of patriarchies, and conservatisms supporting the preservation of the gender status quo, yet it is well assorted with emancipatory western legislation. “Room service feminism” was the phrase coined by Mihaela Miroiu in connection with this phenomenon, that I am certain holds true for other countries in the CEE region, leading to a new dualism: between the legal normative country and the real country. It is a new lip-service occurrence consisting in a top-down strategy of emancipation, that once again comes from the outside of the socio-political body, without its having been internalized and “ripened” by the very needs of that body.
One is very often struck by the ways in which either primitively aggressive or subtly discriminating attitudes are being paraded behind an equal-opportunities façade, nicely window-dressed as emancipation and anti-discrimination policy. It is interesting to note how such tokenist emancipationist rhetoric has been used throughout history by regimes who claimed to be liberal, modern or to have broken with a retrograde past. This duplicitous attitude pertains again to the legacy of communism, to people who have for most of their adult life experienced a schizoid division of public and private discourses. In this context it comes as no surprise that feminist achievements--in the academe at least–triggered off strident anti-feminist backlash manifestations. Backlash, as Susan Faludi explains, is a perpetual “viral condition” and it is not caused simply by the bedrock of misogyny in a certain culture and society, but by the specific efforts of women to improve their status (1992). In the light of this statement, it is on the one hand disheartening to experience this resurgence of extreme hostility, acute fear, hate and loathing which seem out of all proportion to what has so far been achieved in the field of Gender Studies and feminism in Romania. On the other hand, awareness of historical developments in feminist theory and practice are meant to empower us. Backlash is cyclical and anti-feminist backlash almost always follows feminist achievement and the societal attitudes that it gives rise to are meant to demonize women’s achievements, their newly gained rights, independence, the inroads they make into the status quo. So these hostile reactions whilst discouraging may also be experienced as empowering, because to be forewarned means to be forearmed. One has to be warned that as long as many people have an interest in thwarting gender equality, as long as they have a stake in the sexist status quo, there will be attempts to undermine and defeat feminism, “to throw a wrench in the feminist work” (Burgess-Jackson 2002:34). The intellectual elite of Romania feature as an emblematic illustration of the tokenist-cum-backlash attitude towards Gender Studies and feminism. The opinion-shapers of young minds, the idols of the younger generations while trumpeting their support for gender equity, emancipation, democratization of institutions and social relations give vent to ultrarightist and retrograde positionings in their writings. A case in point is Horia-Roman Patapievici who in his collection of essays of 1996 Politice decries the universal suffrage of 1919 as a historical catastrophe and calls for the abrogation of this foundational right; he decries civic minimalism on the one hand, but he abhors any affirmative action meant to facilitate de-marginalization and civic
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inclusion. He is allergic to any ideology that he sees as a reductionist and primitively simplified view of society, based on resentment and intolerance, on brainwashing propaganda, on tribalist instincts. For him feminism, multiculturalism (multiculturalism means after all equal respect for every human being’s dignity, which is a fundamental principle of modernity, it is need and demand for recognition) or ecologism are circumscribed to the ideology of political correctness; they are redolent of the barbed wire of concentration camps (1998); he criticizes political correctness in a very virulent language referring to it as a mere “aberration” that is imposed through “intellectual terrorism” and “institutional aggression”, an ideology that imposes an unacceptable overlap of “Christian theology” and “Polynesian myths” (1996:122-128). Feminism would only lead to gender separatism against which Edward Behr,--an oft quoted “fount of wisdom” with regard to feminism, as Patapievici would like us to believe, vituperates: “a new nascent rage, a new intolerance, even a call to inter-gender violence contaminating and forever destroying our civilization” (Behr 1999:21). In the name of the sacrosanct character of tradition Patapievici demonizes any attempts at redefining tradition–be it even for the sake of righting historical wrongs, of democratizing tradition in the sense of renouncing ancient privileges and symbols that are anachronistically out of synch with contemporary realities. What strikes one is exactly the political and ideological underpinnings of these attitudes from authors such as H.-R. Patapievici or Andrei Cornea who base their scholarly production on an allegedly absolute divorce from ideology (another scapegoat: their very stance towards ideology is heavily ideologized as they do have a vested interest in maintaining an ideologyfree view and an utterly negative outlook on ideology, their conservatism being the “ideology of anti-ideologies”). It is no accident certainly that such understandings of ideologies are decried by the Cassandras of the right whilst the virtues of ideologies as Andrew Vincent describes them in his Modern Political Ideologies–“concepts, values, symbols that incorporate concepts of the human nature, prescribing goodness and justice, legitimizing social practices and integrating the proponents in a coherent set of values” (1992:16) –are utterly ignored. Thus although Horia-Roman Patapievici is a very active and highquality voice in the agora, a liberal and democratic speaker, in his writings he project himself as an essentialist who echoes ultra-retrograde political theories. His acknowledged mentor is Edmund Burke who is considered to belong to the Counter or Anti-Enlightenment version of moderniy (Isaiah Berlin), and who according to John Gray set the foundations of English
conservatism, which on the one hand is inclusive of liberal values, but on the other is sceptical about progress, about any attempt at perfecting social order, at fighting injustice and oppression. Any project of social reform, of emancipation is taken as symbolic rape. Humans are not improvable, hence any project aimed at progress, personal growth and enhancement are doomed. Affirmative action is discarded indiscriminately, unacceptable both from a deontologist viewpoint–social injustice led to the historical oppression and stunted opportunities of entire communities, nor consequentialist–the more are attracted into emancipatory projects the higher the competitiveness level and the more reduced the level of social anomie. For A. Cornea in his Khazar Tournament of 1997, subtitled Against Contemporary Relativism, feminism is circumscribed to those manifestations of contemporary sophistry in its postmodernist variant, that in the name of a triumphalist plea for parochialism, forced homogenization, multiculturalism and political correctness cast their anathema on cultural and curricular canons, universalism and translocal values, preaching a new tribalism, a new nihilism and aiming to enforce thought police. Another Romanian author who inveighs against multiculturalism and feminism in a similar edge-of-doom manner, is Monica Spiridon. In her opinion multiculturalism is “out of date”, because it promotes unconditionally and aggressively the “Holy Trinity” of “race, gender, class” in universities, and moreover it failed pathetically being rejected in the very country that invented it. Multiculturalism is seen globally as a theory and practice that promotes “aggressive parochialism”, an overall tribal sense of belonging to a group that results in atomization and ghettoization of societies along gender, class, racial and ethnic lines. The author concludes that Romania should never follow such paths and she speaks in gloomy terms about a return to the dark ages if it were to do so. What is most intriguing is the more than shaky bibliographical foundation of such vitriolic attacks coming from authors who are wellknown and respected for their scholarly integrity. Our intellectuals who had proven before irreproachable scholarly standards in their critique, base their hysterical reactions and apocalyptic visions of a fragmented society, in the throes of deceptive ideologies supported by political correctness, multiculturalism and feminism advocates who wish to dump sacrosanct traditional values, on the basis of extremely scanty and biased bibliography. Both Horia-Roman Patapievici and Andrei Cornea base their mordant criticism of feminism on three conservative feminists’ writings, three women authors who call themselves
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feminists and who actually enlarged the ranks of anti-feminist backlashers: Katie Roiphe, Christian Hoff Sommers and Camille Paglia. What I reproach in such critiques is their cynicism. We are still worlds away in Romania from the threatening situation that is presented as impending in such texts. The anti-pluralist, anti-multiculturalist and antifeminist message of such articles is deplorable and disheartening. One would be far more entitled to speak about “conservative correctness” rather than political correctness in Romanian society and in its universities. In a book that stirred heated debates, Boierii minĠii, Sorin Matei asserts that it is not always solely the intrinsic value of ideas and books that enhances their wide circulation and enthusiastic reception on the market; the influence of their support groups, of intellectual pressure groups is at least equally important. As Mihaela Frunză points out this is a further reason for the rare presence of feminist ideas in our cultural milieu: there are few prestigious support groups who would risk promoting their ideas. Instead, there are people holding a lot of symbolic capital that support authors such as H.-R. Patapievici.
Conclusion What are the chances of feminism and Gender Studies in Romania and in the CEE region? It is to be expected that the next stage in the development of feminism would be more markedly political what with the development of the middle class that is at the forefront of developmental, emancipatory strategies, the pressure of the EU institutions and legislation and the strengthening of ties between the academe and politics. As to its positioning in the space of world feminisms CEE feminisms occupy the space of in-betweenness, of what my colleague from the “Babeú-Bolyai” University of Cluj, Michaela Mudure calls “zeugmatic space” (zeugma is a rhetorical device that yokes two attributes or predicates to one verb or noun, more than often depicting humorously noncompatible realities, usually one is very common, the other is more controversial, symbolic and figurative). It is a positioning that is almost a cultural pace shifter, that keeps us open and alert to both the hegemonic site of western feminisms and to the marginal positioning of women and feminism in the Third World, inciting us to experience “the ambiguous pleasures of belonging and not belonging”, of having a fluid and flexible identity that is both hegemonic and marginal.
There are many things that we share with the Western world: the Graeco-Latin cultural heritage, a long Christian tradition, even a hegemonic racial position, as Caucasians. Yet, there are so many other aspects, primarily the inconsistency and incompleteness of our modernity and emancipation projects that place us much closer to the Third World (Mudure 2004). In conclusion, seizing all the advantages of its zeugmatic position, Romanian feminism and East/Central European feminisms in general are called upon to participate in the general traffic of ideas in their own voice, belonging, but also maintaining a space of their own for negotiations and theorizing. I believe that this positioning exempts us both from the anxiety of being influenced by the so-called “cultural imports”, as they will always allow a certain space for negotiations (as John Tomlinson avers in Culture and Globalization, cultural translations are always done with a spin-off) and from the arrogance of casting voyeurist and narcissistic eyes on Indian or Peruvian women. In a recent article Chandra Talpade Mohanty states the need for Gender Studies to further develop and historicize its theoretical framework. Whereas in her seminal 1986 essay she exposed the discursive colonization of Third World Women’s lives and struggles by Eurocentric, false universalizing methodologies that served the narrow interests of Western feminism, it is primarily cross-cultural scholarship that she advances in her 2005 article, urging us to find new spaces of dialogue and negotiation, remaining alive to the need to articulate a framework of feminist solidarity across borders, fostering relations of mutuality, co-responsibility, common interests, inviting us all to rediscover the interconnectedness of our histories, experiences and struggles, all experiences getting to illuminate one another (87). The feminist solidarity model underpinning comparative feminist studies seems to be a most useful and productive pedagogical strategy for feminist cross-cultural work and I have great hopes for its future.
References Behr, E. (1999). O Americă înfricoúătoare. Bucureúti: Humanitas. Brown, W. (1997). The impossibility of women’s studies. differences 9 (3): 79-101. Burgess-Jackson, K. (2002). The backlash against feminist philosophy. In Superson, A.M and A.E. Cudd (Eds.), Theorizing Backlash.
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Philosophical Reflections on the Resistance to Feminism. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 19-47. Cornea, A. (1997). Turnirul khazar. Împotriva relativismului contemporan. Bucureúti: Nemira. Faludi, S. (1992). Backlash. The Undeclared War against American Women. New York, London: Doubleday. Frunză, M. (2006). Who’s afraid of feminism in Romania? ISJRI/14: 8388. Matei, S.A. (2004). Boierii minĠii. Intelectualii români între grupurile de prestigiu úi piaĠa liberă a ideilor. Bucureúti: Compania. Mihăilescu, V. (1999). FascinaĠia diferenĠei. Bucureúti: Paideia. Miroiu, M. (2003). Despre politica ultimei inegalităĠi. In V. Pasti, Ultima Inegalitate. RelaĠiile de gen în România. Iaúi: Polirom. 11-44. —. (2004). Drumul către autonomie. Teorii politice feministe. Iaúi: Polirom. Moeller, C. J. (2002). Marginalized voices: challenging dominant privilege in higher education. In Superson, A.M and A.E. Cudd (Eds.), Theorizing Backlash. Philosophical Reflections on the Resistance to Feminism. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 155-180. Mohanty Talpade C. (2005). Under western eyes revisited. Feminist solidarity through anticapitalist struggles. In Kennedy Lapovsky, E. and A. Beins (Eds.), Women’s Studies for the Future Foundations, Interrogations, Politics. New Brunswick, New Jersey, London: Rutgers University Press. 72-96. Mudure, M. (2004). A zeugmatic space: East/Central European feminisms. In M. Frunză and Th. E. Văcărescu (Eds.), Gender and the (Post) EastWest Divide. Cluj: Limes Publishing House. 3-10. Nussbaum, M. (1999). The professor of parody. New Republic 16: 37-46. Patapievici, H. -R. (1996). Politice. Bucureúti: Humanitas. —. (1998). Deriva ideologică. 22 Journal, 21. —. (2001). Omul Recent. Bucureúti: Humanitas. Spiridon, M. (1999). Splendoarea úi mizeriile unui concept: multiculturalismul. Altera 12: 26-34. Vincent, A. (1992). Modern Political Ideologies. Oxford: Blackwell. Zamfir, C. (Ed.). (1999). Politici sociale în România 1990-1998. Bucureúti: Editura Expert. Webb, M.O. (2002). Feminst epistemology as whipping girl. In Superson, A.M and A.E. Cudd (Eds.), Theorizing Backlash. Philosophical Reflections on the Resistance to Feminism. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers: 49-65.
Willett, C. (2002). Parenting and other human casualties in the pursuit of academic excellence. In Superson, A.M and A.E. Cudd (Eds.), Theorizing Backlash. Philosophical Reflections on the Resistance to Feminism. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 119-131.
Reghina DASCĂL teaches British Studies and Gender Studies at the English Department of the University of Timiúoara. She holds a doctorate in cultural anthropology (her thesis was entitled House and Dwelling in a European Cultural Context) and she has so far published five books: Casă/Locuire (1999); British Topics (2000) Feminist Perspectives (2001), British Studies Course (2005) and Christine de Pizan Essays (2008). She is Director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Gender Studies at Timiúoara University. Over the years she has presented and published papers in the country and abroad and has also edited and co-edited several publications. Polirom has published her translation of Andrea Dworkin’s Letters from the War Zone. VoichiĠa NĂCHESCU received her doctorate in Women’s Studies/American Studies from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 2006. Her research focuses on the Second Wave of the Women’s Liberation Movement, with an emphasis on consciousness-raising groups. She is currently working on a book manuscript based on her dissertation. Originally from Romania, Năchescu has also written about gender and sexuality in Eastern Europe. Her work has been published in the Journal for the Study of Radicalism, Aspasia: Central, Eastern, and Southeastern European Gender and Women's History Yearbook, and edited collections. She has received fellowships from Rice University, the Open Society Institute, and Central European University, as well as from other sources. Izabella PENIER has a PhD in American literature. Currently her research is focused on the prospects and potential rewards of breaking down theoretical and disciplinary barriers that have tended to separate African American and postcolonial scholarship. It particularly focuses on the transformations that Black Studies has recently undergone due to critical interventions from global frameworks of analysis such as postcolonialism, cultural studies, Black Atlantic and diaspora studies. Her research not only examines the commonalities and differences between these discourses, but it also looks at the American Black feminist scholarship through the lenses of postcolonial gender- and nation studies. It makes use of the body of work of postcolonial feminist scholars to examine the interrelationship of
gender and black cultural nationalism. Her work is based on the literary output of Afro-American, Afro-Caribbean and Black British writers. She has published textbooks (on British and American history, literary theory), a monograph (Ideological and Discursive Aspects of Magical Realism in Literary Quest for Afro-American Identity), articles and book reviews. Dana PERCEC is a senior lecturer in the English Department of the Faculty of Letters, History and Theology, the University of the West, Timiúoara, Romania. She wrote a doctoral thesis on the experience of embodiment in William Shakespeare’s plays. Her published work includes titles like The Body’s Tale. Some Ado about Shakespearean Identities (2006), Shakespeare and the Theatre. An Introduction (2008), cultural history guides, literature coursebooks and collections of essays. She is the editor of several collections of literary theory, published in Romanian. Her interests include cultural studies, gender studies and cultural anthropology. Adriana RĂDUCANU is an instructor in the English Language and Literature Department of Yeditepe University, Istanbul, Turkey. She has a BA in English and Spanish Language and Literature from the University of Bucharest. She holds an MA in English Literature from Yeditepe University in Istanbul and a PhD in English Literature from the University of the West, Timiúoara, Romania. She has published extensively on Gothic studies, Jungian criticism, post-colonial and gender studies and comparative mythology. Currently she is working on a book entitled: Speaking the Language of the Night; Selected Essays on Contemporary Gothic Novels. Rita Teresinha SCHMIDT is Professor of literature at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil and earned her PhD at the University of Pittsburgh. In addition to well over 100 articles, she has edited five books, ranging from literary geographies, comparative literature, feminist criticism and Latin American women’s novels in the 19th century, including a collection of essays on the Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector. She also organized reeditions of Brazilian women poets and novelists of the 19th century. She is former President of the Brazilian Association of American Studies (ABEA) and Vice President of the Brazilian Association of Comparative Literature (ABRALIC). She has been a researcher of the National Council of Research (CNPq) since the 1980s. Her research interests range from feminist and post-colonial theories, migrations and transculturations of European novel forms to Latin America, contemporary feminist narratology, literature and recognition, ethics and sustentability.
Episodes from a History of Undoing
She has been a member of the Gender Studies Committee at ICLA since 2007. Nóra SÉLLEI (Reader, Deptartment of British Studies, University of Debrecen, Hungary; Department of English Language and Literature, Catholic University, Ruzomberok, Slovakia) gained her PhD (1996) and “habilitation” (2001) from Debrecen University. She does teaching and research in gender studies, feminist literary theory, and 19th and 20thcentury women novelists and autobiographers. Her publications include four monographs, six volume editions, and about eighty other scholarly publications. She was the series editor of the Hungarian feminist book series Artemis Books, and translated texts by Virginia Woolf and Jean Rhys into Hungarian (Moments of Being, Three Guineas, Smile Please). At the moment she is working on her monograph: Cultural (Self-)Reflexivity in Virginia Woolf’s Writings of the Thirties. For further information see: http:ieas.unideb.hu/sellei Andreea Ioana ùERBAN has a PhD from the University of the West, Timiúoara, Romania, with a thesis on the novels of Canadian writer Margaret Atwood. She teaches English literature at the English Department of the Faculty of Letters, History and Theology within the same university. She is the author of The Call of the Wild: M/Other Nature in Margaret Atwood’s Novels (2010). She co-authored Shakespeare’s Plays. Seminar Topics (2008), a cultural history guide on Elizabethan England (published in Romanian in 2010), as well as Drama and Culture in Shakespeare’s Age (2011). She has published over 25 studies and articles in academic volumes in Romania and abroad, in the fields of comparative literature, postcolonial and gender studies. Amber WEST is a doctoral candidate and Jacob K. Javits fellow in English at the University of Connecticut, USA, where her research focuses on contemporary poetry, puppetry and performance by marginalized artists. Her writing has been published in journals such as Opium, Puppetry International, and the Journal of Research on Women & Gender. A California native, she earned her Master’s of Fine Arts in Poetry at New York University, and is co-founder and director of the NYC-based nonprofit artist collective, Alphabet Arts (www.alphabetarts.org).