Academic journal article Hecate

I Desire, Therefore I Am: South Asian Feminist Revisionism on Women's Forbidden Desires

Academic journal article Hecate

I Desire, Therefore I Am: South Asian Feminist Revisionism on Women's Forbidden Desires

Article excerpt

This essay focuses on the South Asian feminist revisionist methodology in twentieth and twenty-first century women's literature and dance representing female characters who are "fallen" because they transgress social, religious and moral boundaries by expressing various forms of desires, excess of desires and forbidden desires. The trope of female subject and self-representation of desire is critically analysed in the light of corporeal feminism, particularly highlighting the feminist reconfigurations of body parts as possible alternate narratives. Objectification theory has provided an important framework to critique the misogynist representation of women's bodies and the denial of women's sexual desires in a sociocultural context. Objectification theory, however, also restricted the significance of body parts in reclaiming women's sexuality by not going beyond the limited criticism of androcentric fetishisation. This essay intends to introduce readers to an extended analysis of feminist revisioning of body parts to subvert the patriarchal gaze and to channelise women's desires through their corporeality.


Corporeal feminism has challenged patriarchal shaming and sexual objectification of the female body, normalising and privileging the male body in science and healthcare, appearance anxiety, disordered eating, and such philosophical chauvinist equations in which "reason" is synonymous with masculinity while "senses" is equated with femininity. However, corporeal feminism has not given enough attention to analysing the dynamics and tension between metaphoric and metonymic representations of female anatomical parts or the autonomy and dependence between the whole body and its parts. In this essay, I intend to focus on the twentieth and twenty-first century re-visionist and revisionist work of South Asian women's forbidden desires in the light of Adrienne Rich's words:

    Re-vision--the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes,
   of entering an old text from a new critical direction--is for us
   more than a chapter in cultural history: it is an act of survival.
   (Rich, 18)

Feminist revisionism

As I research on corporeal feminism, my focus is primarily on the female body and body parts and how the anatomical parts express women's unapologetic sexual desire and autonomy that transmogrifies the socially-indoctrinated version of male desire and objectification of the female body. The bodies and the body parts in these revisionist ventures are without boundaries, or fixity of normative meaning. These body parts are transgressive, forbidden, grotesque and confusing and they have an intrinsic quality of celebratory excess proclaimed shamelessly by women, because shame is a gendered cultural articulation and is essentially imposed as feminine. In this essay, my aim is to argue how the female subject tearing at the fabric of phallocentric objectification, is demonstrating, through her corporeality, the fluidity and unchartered nature of her desire that is often seen as fallen or transgressive. This excess of desire reflected in the excess of corporeality threatens the Enlightenment philosophy of "Reason" as being masculine, and untrustworthy "Senses" as being feminine; Elizabeth Spelman abhors this as a "psychophilic somatophobia" (1) that has privileged male "culture" over female "nature." I will analyse this act of feminist revisionism of anatomical structures in feminist writing and in choreography.

The representation of body parts in literature is not new. Corporeal awareness in women's writing especially in terms of anatomical structures becomes significant from the twentieth century onward and the tension between the metaphoric and metonymic or autonomy and dependence between the whole body and the body parts are seen powerfully inescapable. For example, Shelley Jackson's hypertext Patchwork Girl uses the fragmented structure of the book to parody the chauvinist abandonment of Mary Shelley's half-born female monster. …

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