Strategies for Subversion in Atwood and Hébert
Titles are signposts referring to both approach and content. Mine puns on Nancy Friday's title My Mother My Self about women's quest for selfhood in the context of the mother-daughter relationship1 to indicate the textual subversion I shall explore in Anne Hébert's Kamouraska and Margaret Atwood's Lady Oracle and the metaphor of refraction I shall use to describe the politics of women's writing. As I have with my title, Hébert and Atwood have taken hold of "scripts" for action, character, motivation, meaning, and resolution, and have rewritten them in order to construct new relations that twist and displace our understanding of fiction and reality. Critiquing the hierarchical binary structuring conventional emplotments that position women as the void for the hero to make his way through on his quest or the token of exchange between men in a logic of sexual difference (women's difference from men), they explore the difference within (women's self-differentiation), the split feminine subject who, beside herself, proliferates an excess of subjects and plots. Opening up a manifold of perspectives from which reality may be configured, they expose the ways in which fictions work to (re)produce relations of gender in the social.
The question of sexual difference has been central to second-wave feminist theory, where it has been raised in relation to both modernity's theorization of the autonomous subject and structuralist theorizations of narrative grammars. Not only has it been the basis of "our social systems, but of our logic as well" (Scholes 1974, 197), instituting a paradigm of hierarchical binary oppositions in many cultural fields—mind/body, subjective self/ objective world, individual/community, spirit/nature—that has been challenged by feminist theorists. Simone de Beauvoir first cast the relationship between the sexes in the paradigm of the self and the other in The Second