Feminist Theory, Women's Writing

By Laurie A. Finke | Go to book overview

2 The Rhetoric of Desire in the Courtly Lyric

A feminine text cannot fail to be more than subversive. It is volcanic; as it is written it brings about an upheaval of the old property crust, carrier of masculine investment; there's no other way.

--Hélène Cixous

Woman is never anything more than the scene of more or less rival exchange between two men.

--Luce Irigaray

This book attempts to rethink the concept of the woman writer as it was theorized by feminism during the 1980s by looking at the so-called feminine text as the noise of culture, uncovering the dialogically agitated contexts of its utterance. The texts I have chosen for this task are those that expose discontinuities--ruptures and gaps--within a literary history that has, since the eighteenth century, been characterized as linear and progressive. Thus, if the Middle Ages seems an unpromising place to begin a study of the "feminine" text, a forbiddingly masculine territory, with its glorification of warfare, jousting, and hunting; its homosocial feudal ties that bound man to man, vassal to lord; and its institutionalized clerical misogyny, it also provides an opportunity to challenge traditional literary histories that filter out the anomalies in their narratives as irrelevant noise, thereby reproducing the cultural biases they purport to document. The term "Middle Ages"--itself an invention of the eighteenth century--marks the period as an interruption of progressive history, a gap between classical Rome and the enlightenment of the Renaissance. Because feminist literary histories have, for the most part, reproduced conventional historical periodization and, with it, conventional platitudes about progress and enlightenment, the rupture signified by the term "Middle Ages" provides a starting point for a revisionary investigation of feminist theories of writing.

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