Women's Vision in Western Literature: The Empathic Community

Women's Vision in Western Literature: The Empathic Community

Women's Vision in Western Literature: The Empathic Community

Women's Vision in Western Literature: The Empathic Community

Synopsis

From ancient Greece through the present day, women writers have confronted the male urge to make war by imagining communities in which intuitive bonding among individuals questions and replaces masculinist values of aggression and competition. Women's Vision in Western Literature traces the "gender gap" in literature from 600 B. C. to the present day through an examination of seven extraordinary women writers from Sappho to Christa Wolf. Combining close readings with a comprehensive overview of the careers of these women, Porter shows how the threat, the experience, and the aftermath of war incites them to imagine tolerant, empathic communities. This careful consideration of these seven great writers brings to light an underappreciated aspect of Western women's writing.

Excerpt

To what "woman's vision" do I refer? It is not a time-bound one, for it originates with the beginnings of high literary art in the Western tradition and continues vigorously to this day. It is not "feminist" in the minds of the authors treated here, for they resisted being considered as "women authors" who produced works different from those that could be made by men. They did not think of themselves as emphasizing gender differences in order to secure more equitable treatment for their sex. When they wrote militantly—and at times they did—they advocated fair treatment for all sorts and conditions of "men," in a way that could best be understood as humanist. As humanists, however, they unlike their male counterparts, tended to see the victims they defended as subjects rather than objects. Instead of presenting the victims of social rejection and violence as pitiable spectacles (poster children who inspire the cathartic pity and horror of concern; after we mail off our ten dollars, we can stop thinking about them), these women authors enter and dramatize the victims' consciousness, endowing their subordinate position with dignity if not with honor, so that we are impelled to ask ourselves why they should be excluded from our community. They are presented without distancing pathos. This is a Brechtian as opposed to an Aristotelian strategy. Ross Chambers has subtly analyzed Brechtian tactics in characterizing the "oppositional (non-coercive) narrative," which engages the reader by exciting intellectual curiosity rather than by satiating such curiosity through categorical denunciation.

In their social behavior, women are not inevitably different from men.

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