Selections from: Warhol, Robyn R., and Diane Price Herndl. Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1997.
“Infection in the Sentence: The Woman Writer and the Anxiety of Authorship” (1979) by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar
- Interested in Harold Bloom’s concept of “the anxiety of influence” (derived from psychoanalysis applied to male authors as Oedipal boys and the precursors who represent fathers), Gilbert and Gubar extend this concept to female writers who must necessarily experience their male precursors differently.
- Because male writers have defined women as crude stereotypes, female writers must engage in “revision” (ala Adrienne Rich – “the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction…an act of survival”) to define themselves as women against those definitions and seek out female precursors in order to engage the female writerly subculture, which is so different from its male counterpart.
- Males engage in their own kind of revision, but Gilbert and Gubar make this distinction: “Her battle, however, is not against her (male) precursor’s reading of the world but against his reading of her” (24).
- The authors find that the anxiety of authorship is profoundly debilitating, and they explain illnesses such as anorexia, agoraphobia, claustrophobia, or others like hysteria, faintness, delicateness, etc as being caused by patriarchal society not only because they were byproducts of societal training for women, but because they were themselves the goals.
- Reading short excerpts from Emily Dickinson, Anne Sexton, Margaret Atwood, the authors find that “whether she is a passive angel or an active monster…the woman writer feels herself to be literally or figuratively crippled by the debilitating alternatives her culture offers her, and the crippling effects of her conditioning” sometimes appears to be passed on from other literary foremothers (29).
- The authors claim that concern with disease as a subject appears to occupy much of 19th-century women’s writing, and they cite Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson, Charlotte Bronte, and Elisabeth Barrett Browning.
“Dancing Through the Minefield: Some Observations on the Theory, Practice, and Politics of a Feminist Literary Criticism” (1980) by Annette Kolodny
- Kolodny introduces her essay as a response to the variety of dissonant voices among what may be called feminist literary critics ten years after its loose formation. She concludes that though the lack of coherence may be an outsider’s most substantial criticism, it is in fact evidence of a type of coherence because feminist literary critics value a kind of pluralism that uses interpretive methods without being bound by one.
- “Our task is to initiate nothing less than a playful pluralism responsive to the possibilities of multiple critical schools and methods, but captive of none, recognizing that the many tools needed for our analysis will necessarily be largely inherited and only partly of our own making” (184).
- “The fact of differences among us proves only that, despite our shared commitments, we have nonetheless refused to shy away from complexity, preferring rather to openly disagree than to give up either intellectual honesty or hard-won insights” (184).
- “If feminist criticism calls anything into question, it must be that dog-eared myth of intellectual neutrality” (186).
- Previous to this conclusion, Kolodny organizes her essay into two other sections. The introductory section summarizes the past ten years of criticism and its focus on studying previously ignored texts by women and making them more generally available as well as the feminist critique of male authors both of which reveal a view of literature as a social institution shaped by patriarchy and able to be shaped by feminist ideals.
- The second section introduces and explains 3 propositions she marks as the theoretical core of most current (1980) feminist literary criticism: 1) Literary history (i.e. the canon and how we read it as canon) is a fiction. We read the past based on the choices we make today. 2) The way we’ve been taught to read engages paradigms—not texts. Men are not knowledgeable about women’s worlds and therefore may not be able to appreciate women’s texts. 3) We must reexamine our aesthetics as well as inherent biases and assumptions which inform the critical methods we have used to read (and make aesthetic judgments). There is no right way to read, and we have to challenge what we’ve accepted and acknowledge what value there is in each way of reading.
“Recycling: Race, Gender, and the Practice of Theory” (1992) by Deborah E. McDowell
- McDowell argues for a way of reading that restructures knowledge rather than merely annexing it. Her general argument is that “theory” (e.g. poststructuralism) has been historically defined and determined by men and co-opted by white women.
- Though many theorists have paternalistically encouraged African American feminist criticism to learn to become fluent in theoretical academic discourse in order to come out of marginality, McDowell claims that marginalization is “often structured into the very theories” that black women are encouraged to master.
- We need to understand “how theory has been made into an exclusively Western phenomenon inextricably attached to the view that it does not and cannot exist outside a Western orbit” (244).
- McDowell critiques white women’s use of Sojourner Truth as an example in their theoretical claims. She later critiques Michael Awkward for pressuring black feminists to adopt theoretical discourse and looks to Rey Chow and Edward Said when discussing how theory has been created as Western and ought to be seen in that context.
“The ‘Wild Zone’ Thesis as Gloss in Chicana Literary Study” (1993) by Cordelia Chávez Candelaria
- Candelaria doesn’t put forth much of an argument but instead defines and contextualizes the “wild zone” thesis originally put forth by anthropologists Edwin and Shirley Ardener in 1975. She then demonstrates its use for contemporary women of color—specifically Chicanas then does a light reading of this “wild zone” in works by Estela Portillo-Tranbley, Denize Chávez and Sandra Cisneros.
- “Zone” denotes both physiologically-derived space (women are bound by the social structures caused by biological difference) and stereotype-derived space (women are weak and not as smart as men). “Zone” is used in other fields to mark space defined by both physical and social phenomena (i.e. climate and parking zones).
- The “wild zone” identifies a paradox of female identity: “a distinct female experiential, cultural space” unmediated by imposed definitions of identity (as in women are living in some organic women’s culture) yet this space is defined by and located in a patriarchal system that is oppressive (249).
- “The ‘wild zone’ schema acknowledges the legitimacy of questions regarding the idea of an essential woman-ness and the critique that dismantles such an idea, but it simultaneously recognizes that a crucial consequence of patriarchy is the persistent and empowered ‘perceiving’ of ‘women’ in essential(ist) terms” (250).
- Because the dominated class (women above but can refer to people groups) is policed by the dominating class, they must learn the dominating discourse. Yet there is an unmediated discourse among the dominated class which is inaccessible to the dominating class. This inability to access the dominated discourse is spoken of briefly in Kolodny’s essay as gender inflections outside canonized norms.
“The Madwoman and Her Languages: Why I Don’t Do Feminist Literary Theory” (1984) by Nina Baym
- Baym takes issue with French feminists and those who buy into their theory that women’s language is fundamentally different in men’s and out to appropriately separate from the common language (dominated by men). Proponents she names of this theory are: Cixous, Iragaray, Christiane Makward, and Domna C. Stanton.
- After mentioning deconstruction as a tool utilized by these theorists, she says, “More often the theory is an agenda for the way women might or should write in future; to me it seems a guarantee of continued oppression” (282).
- “When you start with a theory of difference, you can’t see anything but” (284) in reference to sexual difference shaping how we view language.
- Baym particularly takes issue with the image of the madwoman by Gilbert and Gubar for insisting on a reading of Bertha that happens to fit in their suggestive mold relying heavily on psychoanalytic principles that are based on outright misogyny.
- “To my perception…this attachment to Freud…manifests precisely that masochism that Freud and his followers identified with the female. We are most ‘daddy’s girl’ when we seek…to seduce him. Our attempt to seduce him, or our compliance with his attempt to seduce us, guarantees his authority. If Freud is right, there is no feminism” (285).
- Baym and Kolodny’s call for pluralism. Both are uneasy about using the old tools for a new structure.
“Feminist Politics: What’s Home Got to Do with It?” (1986) by Biddy Martin and Chandra Talpade Mohanty
- This article reacts to the critique offered by come feminists of color against Western feminism because of an assumption that Western feminism as it has become known is only useful for white women in the west. The authors argue that this assumption because “the reproduction of such polarities only serves to concede; feminism; to the ‘West’ all over again. The potential consequence is the repeated failure to contest the feigned homogeneity of the West and what seems to be a discursive and political stability of the hierarchical West/East divide” (294-295).
- The authors choose to read an essay be Minnie Bruce Pratt because it explores the exclusions and repressions supporting a seeming homogeneity in white identity. Pratt positions herself as narrator and reader by acknowledging her situatedness and resituating herself in material situations.
- The authors are not very clear about what they are arguing for in the essay, but it seems that they read Pratt as an exemplar (though they note an imperfect one) of one enacting the kind of self-referentiality as well as theoretically-rich questions needed for feminist inquiry.
- Being home refers to being in a safe, familiar space with protected boundaries, and not being home is a matter of realizing that home was an illusion.
- Regarding the opposition between victims and perpetrators: “The exposure of the arbitrariness and the instability of positions within systems of oppression evidences a conception of power that refuses totalization, and can therefore account for the possibility of resistance” (307).
“Upping the Anti (sic) in Feminist Theory” (1990) by Teresa de Lauretis
- The author responds to the presumptuous attitude of poststructuralist feminists who see cultural feminism/essentialism/feminist practice as the outcome of poststructuralist feminism/anti-essentialism/feminist theory. Rather the second came out of the first, and essentialism is not as simplistic as one might imagine. We ought to see the essence of women as similar to the essence of triangles—both essences are complex and defined by specific historical moments.
- The author examines essays by Chris Weedon and Linda Alcoff, the first which she criticizes severely. She brings many questions to the second and concludes that we must examine the history that brought about these oppositions between cultural feminism and poststructuralist feminist theory.
- She finds that an account of the history of feminism reveals two concurrent drives: an erotic drive that values images of difference and subversion and rejects images of victimization or passivity and an ethical drive that values community and accountability. These two drives fuel polarizations and the construction of oppositions, and it is the negotiation between and challenging of these two drives that is characteristic of the kind of discourse that moves beyond internal opposition and into more complex analysis.
- “upping the anti” means “by analyzing the undecidability…of the alternative as given, such critical works release its term from the fixity of meaning into which polarization has locked them, and reintroduce them into a larger contextual and conceptual frame of reference” (336).
“The Laugh of the Medusa” (1975) by Hélene Cixous
- This essay is addressed to women (though the impossibility of a homogeneous group called “women” is acknowledged) and calls them to write. The essay criticizes the cultural and masculine “economy” that has placed value on men’s writing and women’s writing has been repressed.
- Women are valued in this essay for their potential for subversive thought and therefore social transformation. Women are encouraged to write to other women to affirm them and bring them out of silence.
- The author opposes a conception of bisexuality which annuls sexual difference but values one that stirs up sexual differences, pursues them, and increases their number. This bisexuality seems more apparent in women, and its men who suffer the result of phallocentric monosexuality in which they repress femininity (354).
- “I want all of me with all of him. Why should I deprive myself of a part of us? I wasn’t all of us” (360).
- The author compares women’s writing to “The Dark Continent” which has been called dark and made scary by phallocentric thinking. She also uses the image of Medusa, who has been told that she will turn people to stone, but who in fact is beautiful and laughing.
- The author focuses on the need for writing about the female body. The language she encourages women to adopt is unlike the masculine language women are encouraged to overturn and explode. This language appears to be highly embodied, but this may be a metaphor. It’s difficult to tell what kind of language she envisions women adopting.
“This Sex Which Is Not One” (1977) from This Sex Which Is Not One by Luce Irigaray
- Responding to traditional psychoanalysis, Irigaray critiques the representation female genitalia only in relation to male genitalia. She instead offers the image of female genitalia as two lips in constant erotic contact and claims that when engaged in sexual penetration with a male, this erotic contact (and therefore the woman’s sexual pleasure) is disrupted and violated (the logic appears to be that during heterosexual intercourse, the vagina replaces the masturbating boy’s hand, and this results in pleasure. But there is supposedly no corresponding replacement for the woman). The pleasure a woman receives during this type of sex is only a “masochistic prostitution” of her body that she has been trained to take pleasure in.
- Irigaray notes that women have a separate language that evades reason and coherence. This separateness from men is related to her biological difference—specifically her touching genitalia. Women are often misinterpreted because they operate under a different “economy.”
- Women have been forced to hide their sexual desire, speech, and imaginary but ought to be let free to develop them. She considers homosexuality a possible tactic but determines it will only reverse the order of things.
- “Woman is never anything but the locus of a more or less competitive exchange between two men” (368).
“Writing the Body: Toward an Understanding of l’écriture feminine” (1981) by Ann Rosalind Jones
- Jones focuses on three French feminist theorists (Kristeva, Irigaray, Cixous, and Wittig) and notes that they share an interest in shared female nature that resists phallogocentrism.
- Kristeva does not think that a coherent women’s language is desirable. Rather “woman” represents not so much sex as an attitude, “any resistance to conventional culture and language; men, too, have access to the jouissance that opposes phallogocentrism” (372). She focuses on women’s difference as mothers.
- Jones calls Cixous’s “Laugh of the Medusa” her manifesto for l’écriture feminine. Jones also notes that Cixous insists on the libidinal differences between men and women as evidence of their distinctly different unconsciousnesses. While Irigaray focuses on differences of genitalia.
- Jones argues that gender and sexuality (not talking about sexual orientation) is not a biological given but rather a social phenomenon (375) and argues that femininité (a bundle of Everywoman’s psychosexual characteristics) is insufficient because it fails to recognize the diversity of women and culture (378).
- Jones notes the importance of femininité as an alternative idea and lens used to asked important questions
- Wittig recognizes that “women” is a category produced by social relationships (377).
“Introduction” from Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985) by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
- Sedgwick argues that changes in the structure of the continuum of male homosocial desire were bound up with more visible changes, that “the emerging pattern of male friendship, mentorship, entitlement, rivalry, and hetero- and homosexuality was an intimate and shifting relation to class,” and that all elements of that pattern are related to women and the gender system (507).
- ”The historically differential shapes of male and female homosociality…will always be articulations and mechanisms of the enduring inequality of power between women and men” (510).
- When examining the relationship between sexual desire and political power requires an investigation along two axes: forms of analysis that historically describe asymmetrical power relations (race, class, gender) and the analysis of representation, which reveals the “range of ways in which sexuality functions as a signifier for power relations” (511).
- She notes the value of Marxist feminism in investigating gender difference diachronically through historical and economic analysis, but she also admits its inability to deal with the question of sexuality. She then looks to radical feminist theory and its strength of synchronically interrogating sexuality, yet she acknowledges that it has failed to adequately address how sexuality has changed or can change. Sedgwick therefore proposes to utilize both theoretical bases and the category of ideology as she investigates the subject of sexuality.
- Her study discusses a continuum and a shifting relation of meaning between male homosexual relationships and the male patriarchal relations by which women are oppressed: homophobia directed by men against men is transhistorically misogynistic (521).
“Introduction: On the Politics of Literature” (1978) by Judith Fetterley
- Fetterley claims that American literature is by and large male, and the politics of literature involves the issue of power—power/powerlessness experienced by readers who feel included or excluded from literary narratives.
- Through consciousness, power can be gained. “To create a new understanding of our literature is to make possible a new effect of that literature on us” which requires asking questions of the ways we read and opening up the systems of power embodied in literature to questions and to change (569).
- “Clearly, then, the first act of the feminist critic must be to become a resisting rather than an assenting reader and, by this refusal to assent, to begin the process of exorcising the male mind that has been implanted in us” (570).
“Women’s Time” (1981) by Julia Kristeva
- Kristeva comes from a Marxist perspective and looks to psychoanalysis for some limited inspiration.
- Kristeva defines two kinds of temporality (she gets some help from Nietzsche): cyclical (related to cursive time or linear history), which constitutes identities via historical sedimentation, and monumental (another history, another time that contextualizes supranational, sociocultural ensembles within even larger entities), which causes loss of identity through its connection of memories escaping from history “only to encounter anthropology” (861).
- Both temporalities are traditionally associated with female subjectivity, yet the second is thought of as necessarily maternal and the first is inherent in the logical and ontological values of every civilization and is related to language (grammar is linear?) (862-3).
- Although she recognizes the political usefulness of the term ‘woman,’ she sees its assumed intelligibility as negative because of its homogenizing effect and argues that it is perhaps time to reveal the “real fundamental difference “ between the sexes, which she does not as such define (perhaps the future perfect she hopes to have been true?) (863).
- Kristeva elsewhere argues against the notion that women have been excluded from the linguistic system and thereby rejects what she calls “fetishistic reification” of the feminine (others might call it cultural feminism). In this essay, she refers to the problematic search for a “woman’s language” and its relationship to social marginality rather than any kind of sexual difference. She says that the interest in phenomena such as this is a mark of the second generation of women whose main social concern is “the sociosymbolic contract as a sacrificial contract” (869).
- The first generation focuses on universal equality and has been incredibly useful, but it homogenizes women’s experience.
- One of the translators of this essay writes in the introduction to its first English publication in Signs writes “For Kristeva, the moments when women deny culture, reject theory, exalt the body, and so forth are moments when they risk crossing over the cultural borderline into hysteria” (though hysteria is potentially liberating).
- Kristeva uses Freud’s notion of penis envy to investigate how sexual difference and language may interact. She finds that both sexes are subject to the same forces and, “That certain biofamilial conditions and relationships cause women (and notably hysterics) to deny this separation [of language from a presumed state of nature] and the language which ensues from it, whereas men (notably obsessionals) magnify both, and terrified, attempt to master them” (867).
- The third generation she advocates: “The very dichotomy man/woman as an opposition between two rival entities may be understood as belonging to metaphysics. What can ‘identity,’ even ‘sexual identity,’ mean in a new theoretical and scientific space where the very notion of identity is challenged? I am not simply suggesting a very hypothetical bisexuality which, even if it existed, would only, in fact, be the aspiration toward the totality of one of the sexes and thus an effacing of difference. What I mean is, first of all, the demassification of the problematic difference, which would imply, in a first phase, an apparent de-dramatization of the ‘fight to the death’ between rival groups and thus between the sexes” (875).
- Kristeva places particular importance on the biological ability of females to give birth: “Pregnancy seems to be experienced as the radical ordeal of the splitting of the subject: redoubling up the body, separation and coexistence of the self and of an other, of nature and consciousness, of physiology and speech” (873).
“Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism” (1985) by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
- Spivak reads three works as a way of explaining how literary works reflect the imperialist narrativization of history.
- In Jane Eyre, Bertha Mason is cast with an animalistic exoticism of the Other, and Jane’s salvation comes from the winds of Europe. St. John Rivers, the missionary in the novel who goes to India, is a vision of the subject-constituting project Imperialism created.
- She defines discursive fields such as ‘imperialism as social mission’ as having a system of signs based on a specific axiomatics.
- Spivak also does readings of Wide Sargasso Sea (Christophine is marked as Other) and Frankenstein (a text that does not deploy the axiomatics of imperialism).
- “No perspective critical of imperialism can turn the Other into a self, because the project of imperialism has always already historically refracted what might have been the absolutely Other into a domesticated Other that consolidates the imperialist self” (904).
- “Attempts to construct the ‘Third-World Woman’ as a signifier remind us that the hegemonic definition of the literature is itself caught within the history of imperialism” (905).
Bless Me Ultima (1972) – Rudolfo Anaya (US, Mexico)
Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts (1978) – Maxine Hong Kingston (Chinese US, China)
Obasan (1981) – Joy Kogawa (Japanese Canadian)
Annie John (1985) – Jamaica Kincaid (US, Antigua)
Beloved (1987) – Toni Morrison (US, black)
China Boy (1991) – Gus Lee (Chinese US, China)
Infinite Jest (1996) – David Foster Wallace (US, Canada, white)
Tropic of Orange (1997) – Karen Tei Yamashita (US, Mexico, Japanese American)
The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) – Junot Diaz (US, DR)
In a Free State (1973) – V.S. Naipaul (Trinidadian)
A Piece of Mine (1984) – J. California Cooper (US, black)
Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (1991) – Sandra Cisneros (US, Latina)
Out on Main Street and Other Stories (1993) – Shani Mootoo (South Asian Canadian)
Interpreter of Maladies (1999)– Jhumpa Lahiri (US Indian)
Close Range: Wyoming Stories (1999) – Annie Proulx (white US)
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fight in Heaven (1993) – Sherman Alexie (Native American, US)
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide (1976) – Ntozake Shange (US black)
Remembrance (1977) – Derek Walcott (St. Lucia, Caribbean, US)
Bellywoman Bangarang (1978) – Sistren Theatre Collective (Jamaica)
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1985) – August Wilson (US, black)
The Rez Sisters (1986) – Tomson Highway (Canada, Cree)
Dog Lady (1988) – Milcha Sanchez-Scott (US, Latin America)
Angels in America (1990) – Tony Kushner (US, white)
Heroes and Saints (1992) – Cherríe Moraga (US, Chicano/a)
Your Native Land, Your Life: Poems (1986) – Adrienne Rich (US, white)
Martin and Meditations on the South Valley (1987) – Jimmy Santiago Baca (US, Mexico, Apache)
Omeros (1990) – Dereck Walcott (US, St. Lucia)
Hoops (2006) – Major Jackson (US black)
Beneath My Heart (1990) – Janice Gould (Native American US)
Selections from Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems (1993) – Yusef Komunyakaa (US, black)
Things Fall Apart (1958) – Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)
Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) – Jean Rhys (Antigua, Jamaica, UK)
A Grain of Wheat (1967) – Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Kenya)
The Joys of Motherhood (1979) – Buchi Emecheta (Nigeria)
Midnight’s Children (1980) – Salman Rushdie (India, Pakistan)
Clear Light of Day (1980)– Anita Desai (India)
July’s People (1981) – Nadine Gordimer (South Africa)
Foe (1986) – JM Coetzee (South Africa)
No Telephone to Heaven (1987) – Michelle Cliff (Jamaica)
Cracking India (1991) – Bapsi Sidhwa (India, Pakistan)
Paradise (1994) – Abdulrazak Gurnah (Zanzibar)
The God of Small Things (1997) – Arundhati Roy (India, UK)
Selections from Colonial and Postcolonial Fiction: An Anthology (1999) edited by Robert L. Ross
- “A Matter of Taste” (1967) by Alex La Guma (South Africa)
- “The Gold Watch” (1958) by Mulk Raj Anand (India)
- “Do You Love Me?” (1979) by Peter Carey (Australia)
- “The Perfume Sea” (1970) by Margaret Laurence (Canada, West Africa)
- “A Horse and Two Goats” (1970) by RK Narayan (India)
- “The Hills” (1987) by Patricia Grace (New Zealand)
Selections from The Arnold Anthology of Post-Colonial Literatures in English (1996) edited by John Thieme
- “Incidents at the Shrine” (1987) by Ben Okri (Nigeria)
- “The Whale” (1970) and “This Life is Weary” (1989) by Witi Ihimaera (New Zealand)
- “A Resurrection” (1974) and “Towards a New Oceana” (1976) by Albert Wendt (Samoa, South Pacific)
- “Five Fingers” (1974) by Lee Kok Liang (Malaysia)
Death and the King’s Horseman (1979) – Wole Soyinka (Nigerian)
Anowa (1970) – Ama Ata Aidoo (Ghana)
Dream on Monkey Mountain (1967) – Derek Walcott (Caribbean)
No Sugar (1985) – Jack Davis (Australia)
You Strike the Woman, You Strike the Rock (1986) – Phyllis Klotz et. al. (South Africa)
Tell It To Women: An Epic Drama (1995) – Tess Onwueme (Nigeria)
Selections from The Heinemann book of Caribbean Poetry (1997)
Selections from The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry Fifth Edition (2007)
Selections from The Collected Poems of AK Ramanujan (1976) – AK Ramanujan (India)
The Humble Administrator’s Garden (1985) – Vikram Seth (India)
Theory and Criticism
Selections from The Post-Colonial Studies Reader (1995) edited by Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin
- “Can the Subaltern Speak” by Gayayti Chakravorty Spivak
- “Signs Taken for Wonders” by Homi K. Bhabha
- “Problems in Current Theories of Colonial Discourse” by Benita Parry
- “The Scramble for Post-colonialism” by Stephen Slemon
- “The Postcolonial and the Postmodern” by Kwame Anthony Appiah
- “Postmodernism or Post-colonialism Today” by Simon During
Home and Harem : Nation, Gender, Empire, and the Cultures of Travel (1996) by Inderpal Grewal
Beginning Postcolonialism (2000) by John McLeod
The Hybrid Muse: Postcolonial Poetry in English (2001) by Jahan Ramazani