Academic journal article Hecate

Dualities and Differences Revisited: Recent Books on Janet Frame -- the Ring of Fire by Jeanne Delabaere / I Have What I Gave by Judith Dell Panny / Janet Frame: Subversive Fictions by Gina Mercer / the Inward Sun Edited by Elizabeth Alley

Academic journal article Hecate

Dualities and Differences Revisited: Recent Books on Janet Frame -- the Ring of Fire by Jeanne Delabaere / I Have What I Gave by Judith Dell Panny / Janet Frame: Subversive Fictions by Gina Mercer / the Inward Sun Edited by Elizabeth Alley

Article excerpt

Reviewing these five books offers an opportunity to discuss the past and current state of criticism of the work of Janet Frame. Jeanne Delbaere's The Ring of Fire is an expanded and updated edition of a collection of critical essays first published in 1978 as Bird, Hawk, Bogie (and includes nearly a hundred pages of very useful bibliography to 1990), while the Journal of New Zealand Literature, No. 11, is the proceedings of a conference on Frame at Otago University on 28-30 August 1992. The Inward Sun is mainly tributes to Frame's work by other creative writers, the editor's brief to them being "a personal response" (1). Judith Dell Panny's book adopts a relatively traditional approach, and sets out to "unfold allegorical dimensions" of Frame's writing. This is done largely through close reading both of Frame's uses and transformations of other texts, and the ways in which she produces a new mythology. Gina Mercer's Subversive Fiction is the first extended feminist treatment of Frame's work; it draws on Irigaray and Cixous but is not "uni-formed by their methodologies" (6).

An explicit shift in dominant approaches to Frame's writing is apparent on reading through these texts. The reprinted articles in A Ring of Fire exemplify what might be called an earlier orthodoxy; repeatedly, Frame's challenging of dominance through the inversion of binary oppositions is documented in detail. In much of the more recent work such oppositions are dismantled using approaches influenced by, in particular, Kristeva, Barthes and Foucault. Some of the most interesting essays in the JNZL collection explore the ways in which Frame could be placed in relation to modernism and postmodernism, and a number of the critics take up the question of whether Frame should be called modernist, postmodernist, something in between, or something else again.

The re-issue of Delbaere's collection in 1992 allows for some incorporation of new critics and approaches, but it does not include some of the most substantial of the newer critics of Frame. Delbaere's new Foreword comments upon how Frame is "so difficult to place on the contemporary literary scene...because she puts all the experimental resources of postmodernism at the service of a modernist search for reconciliation" (10).

Because of the apparent artlessness of her work, Frame was often constructed in earlier criticism as an untutored primitive, achieving depth in the reading effects of her work through the mobilisation of a naive (feminine) intuition. This despite warnings such as that in 'Beginnings' that she felt it necessary to read Kant in order to become a poet.(1) Some of the more recent approaches by-pass this construction and engage with Frame as a conscious artist, aware of her own playing with language.

However, Delbaere wants to insist on a continuity of approaches:

even if today's growing concern with feminine writing and with the problematical relationship between reader and text has drawn attention to Janet Frame as an experimental writer of international stature, she still owes her uniqueness to the painful experiences of death and alienation that marked the first half of her life. (9)

Her own new article constructs Frame as an object of critical contestation; suggests, even, that a battle is being waged for the body of Frame('s work). It ends by implying that there may be some likelihood of postmodernism taking Frame over: "The danger is now that she may be appropriated by the critical establishment and affixed a label which despite (or because of?) all that goes into the postmodern basket, could only reduce the scope of her achievement" (207).

The "critical establishment" is not as uniformly wedded to postmodernist methodologies as Delbaere suggests. But it would be true to say that the political effects of particular reading practices are a less central concern than they were. In the 1970s many of us read Frame as offering a critique of psychiatry like that of R D Laing, of institutions like that of Erving Goffman, or of the family like that of David Cooper. …

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