Dialogue of the Imaginary

By Travis, Molly Abel; Barlowe, Jamie | Women and Language, Spring 1995 | Go to article overview

Dialogue of the Imaginary


Travis, Molly Abel, Barlowe, Jamie, Women and Language


In A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf observes that "[w]omen have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size" (35). Seventy years after Woolf made this observation (and according to her hopeful projection), the dynamics of the man-woman-(as)-mirror scenario have changed a bit: because a woman often refuses to be a mirror or hold up a mirror, a man must hold up his own. A mirror of one's own.

Though the mythological Narcissus was a young man captivated by his own reflection, narcissism from the Enlightenment period on has been gendered as a female tendency, with the connection between women and narcissism cemented in Freud's anxious pronouncements. Freudian Oedipal economy depends on castration horror and penis desire, which results from seeing and then not seeing the phallus. And if one is caught up in her own reflection, she is not focusing properly on (fleeting) penises - unless she happens to be Freud's Medusa. In "Das Medusenhaupt," Freud takes a myth involving specularity and, as Craig Owens points out, petrifies and immobilizes the meaning of the Ovidian version (196). For Freud, Medusa's head is a fetish, an emblem of castration: decapitation = castration. Having seen herself in Perseus's shield - snake-haired, but alas! without a penis - Medusa turns to stone, her "otherness . . . acknowledged and simultaneously negated" (Modleski 162).

What Freud's version of the myth largely overlooks is the importance of appropriation and control of the gaze. In Ovid's story, Perseus begins the quest by stealing the single eye shared, passed back and forth, by the twin daughters of Phorcys. After intercepting the monocular organ, Perseus seeks the power of Medusa's evil eye, which is the ability to arrest, immobilize, and make statues of others. Perseus's "specular ruse" turns Medusa's gaze back on itself locking her into a closed system and transforming her strength into her vulnerability (Owens 196). No longer a subject, Medusa becomes the object of her own gaze, a frozen image. In Lacanian terms, Medusa is "captured" in the imaginary order, making the myth an allegory for the Lacanian subject's identification with and captivation by its image.

In addition to what the Perseus-Medusa myth tells us about the power of the gaze, Perseus's account of his conquest speaks volumes about the various methods men have used to silence and disempower strong, threatening women. This myth can serve as a cautionary tale for those who think that the feminist movement has secured our passage into a post-feminist world. Tania Modleski warns us that those who are "proclaiming or assuming the advent of postfeminism, are actually engaged in negating the critiques and undermining the goals of feminism - in effect, delivering us back into a prefeminist world . . . where there was only the universal subject - man (Modleski 3, 163).

Perseus's ruse has been given new spins of late in published and public(ized) encounters and intellectual debates between men and women - with men avoiding dialogues with feminists, and, instead, retreating to the autobiographical (historically, a denigrated genre of "narcissistic" women writers), and seeking refuge in personal narratives bolstered by the stereotypes/monuments of bourgeois humanism. At an international conference on narrative in the Spring of 1993, we witnessed within twenty-four hours two such excu(r)ses in the imaginary, both men refusing to engage the texts of those feminist scholars to whom they were scheduled to respond. The connection between these situations and the Perseus-Medusa myth becomes clear when we consider that both men brandished a shield of autobiographical narratives engraved with liberal stories mentioning liberal wives. (Subtext: Some of my best friends are feminists; as a matter of fact, my wife is a feminist.) Their narratives functioned to trivialize the papers of the feminists and to refocus the conference on the men. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Dialogue of the Imaginary
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.