Ambiguous Discourse: Feminist Narratology & British Women Writers

By Kathy Mezei | Go to book overview

discourse, gender, and gossip
Some Reflections on Bakhtin and Emma

christine roulston

In recent years, the growing interest generated by Bakhtin's writing in the field of literary criticism and, in particular, in the area of feminist literary criticism reflects the broad scope of his theoretical appeal. 1 For those interested in a form of critique that incorporates the ideological with the linguistic, the historical with the narratological, Bakhtin's work seems to provide the ideal base from which to proceed. As Nancy Glazener has argued, for feminist critics in particular, "[ Bakhtin's] assertion that literature represents a struggle among socio-ideological languages unsettles the patriarchal myth that there could be a language of truth transcending relations of power and desire" (109). Bakhtin's emphasis on the fact that any linguistic act necessarily belongs to a particular context and is therefore always ideologically encoded opens up a space for inserting gender difference as a crucial ideological category. Bakhtin's work, however, does not itself address the question of gender as a possible site for ideological struggle, coming from a Marxist tradition that privileges class difference as the place of resistance and conflict.

By analyzing a specific passage from Bakhtin in relation to Austen's novel Emma, I will explore in what ways the relationship between gender difference and class difference is problematized by mutual suppression and exclusion rather than operating as an interactive, dialogic encounter. While the categories of class and gender can both be read as ways of constructing the subject from a particular ideological perspective, such a perspective also leads to an essentializing of the category that is not being addressed. Therefore, although Bakhtin represses the potential for reading gender difference as a politicizing discourse of resistance that can affect narrative structures, Austen privileges gendered conflict in her narrative but never addresses the problem of class in relation to gender, even though it is

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