Refiguring the Father: New Feminist Readings of Patriarchy

Refiguring the Father: New Feminist Readings of Patriarchy

Refiguring the Father: New Feminist Readings of Patriarchy

Refiguring the Father: New Feminist Readings of Patriarchy


An exciting investigation of the ways literary and cultural texts have not only shaped the difficult terms of the daughter-father relationship but also prescribed a role for fathers that is paradoxical and contradictory. These 15 essays seek to enter into a new dialogue with both the tenets of patriarchy and with the "initiating symbolic gestures" of feminist discourse that have helped to maintain the father's "voracious and hierarchical" position in western culture. The problem is not simply to change the focus of feminist inquiry from father-as-center to mother-as-center, but to reinvent the discourse of the father, to unsettle an oedipal dialectic that insists on revealing the father as the gaze, as bodilessness, or as the symbolic, and to develop a new dialectic that refuses to describe the father function as if it were univocal and ahistorical.


In Wallace Stevens The Auroras of Autumn we encounter the father as Western culture has come to know him: as a grand inquisitor and whimsical bumbler who nevertheless controls law and vision, as a master "motionless and yet/Of motion the ever-brightening origin":

The father sits
In space, wherever he sits, of bleak regard,
As one that is strong in the bushes of his eyes.
He says no to no and yes to yes. He says yes
To no; and in saving yes he says farewell.

An archetypal lawgiver and naysayer, Stevens's father "measures the velocities of change" but is himself changeless. How does the father come to have -- and to represent -- this implacable power?

In one representative scenario, Robert Con Davis describes the origins of paternal authority in Greek myth. Savvier than his voracious father Kronos, Zeus makes a law that forbids the eating of children, and in this moment "the paternal identity that Zeus fashions as protector of fathers and children institutes the law by which parents and children can coexist in a family." For Davis, the father's word becomes the origin of civilization as we know it. "What makes Zeus a father is quite simple: alone of all gods and humans, he bows to no greater power -- he alone holds the Greek world together" (12-13).

Wary of the perseverance of these mythic moments, feminist theorists have resisted this worshipful reading of patriarchy. Whereas for Davis we remain sojourners in Zeus's universe, grateful heirs of the father's law, feminist critics have rediscovered the originary beauty of . . .

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