INTRODUCTION: THE EROTIC SUBJECT
There is something wrong with erotic relations in our culture. Exactly what that something might be has been the subject of massive and ongoing speculation by theorists in widely disparate fields, the gist of which I shall try to summarize in the following chapter. The succeeding chapters constitute a re-reading of the erotic in twelve well-read canonical novels, a reading that seeks to define and locate a somewhat elusive entity, a female subject of desire.
The objectification of women in Western culture has become a critical commonplace in several fields of inquiry, and my search for a female subject in literature parallels a similar search that is currently taking place in film criticism and visual arts criticism. 1 The realist novel is a particularly intriguing genre to approach in this way (as are mainstream cinema and representational art), first because its ideological assumptions are so persuasively embedded in the structure of the work itself, and also because such an examination inevitably addresses the wider issue of whether realism itself is in fact complicit with patriarchy, as some theorists have suggested. This project can be seen as a small part of the larger, immensely important intellectual enterprise which has been taking place over the past few decades, namely the disruption of dualistic modes of perception. The disruption of male-female dualities, in particular, is essential in the re-creation of erotic relationships in our culture. The urgent search for a new wholeness is not only (or should not only be) a feminist undertaking; that my project is subsumed under a feminist label is in fact part of the problem.
At the moment, however, such an inquiry is ineluctably feminist, and as such needs to be justified in two ways, namely in my choice of both male and female writers and in my choice of canonical writers. I have chosen to examine the work of both male and female novelists simply because I do not believe feminism to be a gendered attribute; 2 and I have chosen canoni-