Engendering the Subject: Gender and Self-Representation in Contemporary Women's Fiction

Engendering the Subject: Gender and Self-Representation in Contemporary Women's Fiction

Engendering the Subject: Gender and Self-Representation in Contemporary Women's Fiction

Engendering the Subject: Gender and Self-Representation in Contemporary Women's Fiction

Synopsis

Robinson sets up a dialogue between feminist critical theory and contemporary women's fiction in order to argue for a new way of reading the specificity of women's writing. Through theoretically informed readings of novels by Doris Lessing, Angela Carter, and Gayl Jones, the author argues that female subjectivity is engendered in discourse through the woman writer's strategic engagement in representational systems that rely on a singular figure of Woman for coherence. Through this engagement, women's self-representation emerges as a process through which women take up multiple and contradictory positions in relation to different hegemonic discursive systems, and through which they engender themselves as subjects.

Finally, Engendering the Subject suggests how women's fiction can provide a model for a feminist practice of reading that would simultaneously work against the historical containment of Woman, and for the empowerment of women as subjects of cultural practices."

Excerpt

In a 1957 essay entitled "The Small Personal Voice," Doris Lessing laments what she sees as the sorry state of literary criticism: "At the moment our critics remind me of a lot of Victorian ladies making out their library lists: this is a 'nice' book; or it is not a 'nice' book; the characters are 'nice'; or they are not 'nice.'" This dig at critics is overdetermined by her anger at the reception of the first two volumes of her Children of Violence series, about which she writes: "Not one critic has understood what I should have thought would be obvious from the first chapter, where I was at pains to state the theme very clearly: that this is a study of the individual conscience in its relations with the collective" (14). Against the "Victorian ladies," Lessing poses the "serious" critic who would disdain "private sensitivity" and subjective response in favor of the larger questions pressing on "man." This formulation imposes a gendered framework on literary response; that is, Lessing engenders the "serious" reader and writer of literature, as male, and the frivolous reader and writer as female. Behind this gendered opposition are others: rational/emotional, public/private, political/personal, with the first term of each couple enjoying a privileged status over the second. Thus, despite Lessing's avowed focus on the relations between the individual and the collective, her commentary here drives a wedge between the two, separating the private from the public, the personal from the political, the subjective from the serious, and, further, places these oppositions in a gender hierarchy. Thus, it comes as no surprise that it is also in this essay that Lessing refers to herself as a humanist by necessity, as it were: "Once a writer has a . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.