Ambiguous Discourse: Feminist Narratology & British Women Writers

By Kathy Mezei | Go to book overview

queering narratology

susan s. lanser

The narrator of Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body ( 1992) is in love with a married woman. Hardly a new topic, hardly tellable by some narratological criteria, but for the novel's narrative voice. For the unnamed autodiegetic narrator of Written on the Body is never identified as male or female. That silence and the extent to which it destabilizes both textuality and sexuality drive this novel at least as much as its surface plot. As I contemplate the field of feminist narratology which has emerged in the past decade and which comes of age with this volume, Written on the Body leads me to new and similarly destabilizing inquiries. In what ways, I wonder, might this text's silence be a matter for narratology? How, indeed, might sex, gender, and sexuality function as elements of a narrative poetics, and why have these categories remained on the margins of narratological inquiry?

To be sure, over this decade narratology has become more complex in its understandings of textual production and correspondingly more flexible about what constitutes its field. Yet the sex and gender (let alone the sexuality) of textual personae have not been graciously welcomed as elements of narratology; they have been relegated to the sphere of "interpretation," which is often considered a "temptation" into which narratology must be careful not to "fall." 1 Even feminist narratology, my own work included, has tended to focus on women writers or female narrators without asking how the variables "sex," "gender," and "sexuality" might operate in narrative more generally.

Taking my cue from a 1995 essay by Gerald Prince to which I have responded elsewhere, I want to argue here for the inclusion of sex, gender, and sexuality as important, intersecting elements of narrative poetics, even within conventional definitions of the field. 2 I will claim that just as Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu fostered Genette's identification of certain narrative conventions and transgressions and Balzac's "Sarrazine"

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