ENGL 810: Feminist Literary Scholars: What We’re Looking At and Why

FEMINIST LITERARY CRITICISM’S OBJECTS OF STUDY

Steinem

Steinem from GirlTalkHQ

On the one hand, feminist literary scholars look at literary texts, and on the other hand, they don’t actually limit their objects to books, not even to what most people think of when we say texts. Films, games, and other objects can be examined using feminist critical theory and are sometimes incorporated under the umbrella of feminist literary criticism. For me, poetry is my object, but in what form that object is available is of little consequence. Poetry can be found in books, online, in film, as well as in places that are as yet undiscovered. I could imagine, as a scholar, analyzing not only the canonical and new poetry produced by literary poets but also the rhymes that appear in greeting cards, between lovers, and found incidentally in the world at large (By these “incidental” poems, I’m referring to those instances of “I’m a poet and didn’t know it” and poetic language that are recognized within our everyday discourse).

CS by Tara Laskowski

From  by “Cultural Studies Examines the World with a Critical Eye” by Tara Laskowksi, George Mason University

The lines between literary scholarship and cultural studies often become blurred as feminist literary scholars expand out from the literary text. Both disciplines incorporate a variety of theoretical practices, so in essence they operate in similar ways. There are differences. Cultural studies approaches its objects of study in terms of production and distribution and “will consider the social, cultural, political and economic aspects of the distribution of power” (Ouellette) while feminist critical theory, the basis for feminist literary theory, focuses on the structures of power, entrenched patriarchal structures with respect to the Other.

Although many women and Others have found their ways into the literary canon, for me, my objects of study are too new for have found their places there. I intend to examine the poetry women are writing now, poetry that is newly published by women new to the field. I want to see how women are defining themselves and other women in their writing as compared to how women have historically defined themselves and others in poetry, perhaps even compared to how men have defined women through poetry.

WHY WE ANALYZE THEM

Intersectionality

From Kimberlé Crenshaw: The urgency of intersectionality
Filmed October 2016 at TEDWomen 2016

Feminist literary scholars analyze the ways the language of texts oppresses the Other. Feminist originally referred to women, specifically white middle class women, but that definition has broadened. Feminist literary scholars apply the various theoretical lenses that make up feminist literary theory to examine the power imbalances, which often result in oppression, that exist based on sex, race, class, and identity. Among the most recent concerns for feminist scholars is intersectional feminist studies in which the Other is multiply oppressed as their identity falls into more than one category of oppressed Other. According to Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality results in scholars following paths of inquiry only examining one type of oppression but missing that other types of oppression cross that path.

White Feminists

From Zaba Blay

In my scholarship, I plan to look at a cross section of women so that I have a broad view of women from different and varied backgrounds; however, I suspect I will focus primarily on women who have had college level creative writing instruction. Still, I’m interested in seeing how their experiences shape how they  create themselves in their poetry.

 

FINDING THE ANSWERS TO MAJOR QUESTIONS

The major questions that scholars are addressing now are still related to the inclusion of women’s literature in the male canon, how women are portrayed through the phallocentric lens, and how they portray themselves in what is recognized as a male model of authorship (Wolosky 1), but feminist literary scholars have expanded out from middle-class white women as Other and out from literature in book as form. Without ignoring those, feminist literary scholars have expanded definitions of Other to include all people who fit into the category of Other; however, they have remained primarily centered on women and included other text forms.

THE STRUGGLE FOR ACCEPTANCE

From http://tingoed.weebly.com/tingos-vocab-system.html

Image Credit: Tingo’s Vocabulary System

Early feminist scholars faced considerable push back from the patriarchal bastions of literary studies. Male scholars held staunchly to their privileged literary canon; however, women within English departments made their cases for the inclusion of newly “discovered” women writers. Some male professors still argue the merits of learning the classics and the inability to make space for new works by women, but that position is becoming rarer as women’s and feminist studies have impacted how colleges and universities view their commitments to their students in terms of inclusion (Wolosky 1; Rich 349).

 

 

 

Works Cited:

“Kimberlé Crenshaw: The Urgency of Intersectionality.” TEDWomen 2016 from TedTalks. Oct. 2016, https://www.ted.com/talks/kimberle_crenshaw_the_urgency_of_intersectionality#t-612389. Accessed 17 Nov. 2016.

Ouellette, Marc. “Re: CS Project.” Received by Lori Hartness, 14 Nov. 2016.

Rich, Adrienne. “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-vision.” Claims for Poetry, ed. Donald Hall. U of Michigan P, 2007, pp. 345-61.

Wolosky, Shira. “Modest Muses: Feminist Literary Criticism.” Feminist Theory Across Disciplines: Feminist Community and American Women’s Poetry. New York; Taylor & Francis; Routledge, 2013, pp 1-22. Adobe Digital Editions. Accessed 26 Sept. 2016.

ENGL 810: THEORIES AND METHODS OF FEMINIST LITERARY CRITICISM

RAPIDLY CHANGING PARADIGMS

One of the difficulties of simply defining one or two theories for my focus is that Feminist Literary Theory is a combination of a wide variety of theoretical lenses, including Gender Theory, Reader-Response Theory, Close Reading, and Deconstruction among others, and the feminist approach to literature is currently in a state of change. In 1985, Susan S. Lanser notes that “[f]eminist criticism ha[d] been challenged and enriched in turn by new theories and practices whose possibilities it helped to create” (4). These were common methodologies at the start of the twenty-first century, but this is changing. Keeping in mind the changing nature of the field, I would consider women’s poetry and how women poets define themselves and other women through their poetry, through close-reading, linguistics, and likely, the theoretical position of philosophers like Derrida or Barthes.

Dr. Alison Reed, Old Dominion University

Dr. Alison Reed, Old Dominion University

DIVERSITY AND PROMISE

The field of Feminist Literary Criticism seems a field of diverse theories and methodologies that has exploded in myriad directions. Feminist Literary scholars are pulling from all criticisms and drawing on many methodologies. The original feminist theorists have genuine staying power, and their theories are being fused with new theoretical and methodological approaches This makes the prevailing theories in Feminist Literary Criticism elusive. Trying to pin down particular favored theory is like trying to catch a greased pig—I think I’ve gotten it, but as soon as I think I do, it’s taken off again. In my interview with Dr. Alison Reed from ODU’s English Department, she mentioned that her current project focused on a performative social justice study, which is not based on a traditional text and is far from the traditional research paradigms of the twentieth-century.

Jacques Derrida

Jacques Derrida

THE THEORISTS (SOME OF THEM)

Early Feminist Theory that relied on Freud and Lacan, Byam points out, is based on psychoanalytic approaches that are inherently misogynistic, implying that women desire to be men. Even the feminist’s initial dichotomy of gender becomes problematic (102). While discussing feminist approaches to earlier eras, Byam states that feminist criticism has never been formalist, “if formalism means being preoccupied or even more than superficially interested in technique” (108). The critical conversations about methodology and theory drop off at the end of the twentieth-century, and then, the focus becomes applying various theories to different literary works. As for method, the tried and true research, collecting and examining secondary sources and Close Reading of the material, is still widely practiced, but even that seems to be giving way to experiment as scholars explore philosophical theories like Derrida‘s Deconstruction, and his assertion, “Everything is a text” (Rawlings).

WHO’S WHO? AND MIXING THINGS UP

corporate feminism

The authoritative works, the works that appear significantly in present critical theory, go back to the original feminist theorists: Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Kate Millet, Elaine Showalter, and Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar and to gender theorist Judith Butler figure heavily in contemporary scholarly criticism.

Moving into Reader-Response, retaining Close Reading, experimenting and applying many theories alone and in combination to literature old and new, and often that which the scholar deems significant enough for inclusion in the canon.  Even Shira Wolosky considers women’s poetry through a variety of theoretical frameworks: including but not limited to feminist psychological, feminist political, and feminist poetics and aesthetic theories.

INTERSECTIONALITY TO POLITICAL ECOLOGY

Lanser points out the narrowly defined woman of early feminism, “only a small group of women whose politics may be no less conservative than those of the men with whom they sit on corporate and collegiate boards of trustees” and quotes Audre Lorde in pointing out that the women omitted from consideration were those who worked as domestics for these feminists “while [the feminists] were attending conferences on feminist theory” (5). The same trap that lead scholars to “the Utopian expectation that all works by women would be ideological correct in all particulars,” but were then faced with the dilemmas of classist and lesbian authors (Byam 114). Feminism has shifted its focus from white middle-class women to Intersectionality (recognizing the many ways women can be and are marginalized) and now toward political ecology, recognizing the real needs of marginalized women in other, particularly third-world, countries (Sunila Abeyskera 7). Scholars need to define themselves in terms of how their “own lived experiences reflect [their] literary commitments and affinities” and consider what other feminisms “look like” (Reed). Ihab Hassan quotes Steven Best and Douglas Kellner’s The Postmodern Turn, “Yet we must all heed politics because it structures our theoretical consents, literary evasions, critical rescuancies” (125). In these ways, scholars, including me, can avoid the unfortunate “you can’t speak for me”—“what about us” dichotomy and the vulnerabilities of early feminism and gynocritics that excluded and erased large populations of marginalized women.

Works Cited

Abeysekera, Sunila. “Shifting Feminisms: From Intersectionality to Political Ecology.” Talking Points. No. 2, 2007, pp. 6-11. Accessed 1 Nov. 2016. http://www.isiswomen.org/downloads/wia/wia-2007-2/02wia07_01TPoints-Sunila.pdf.

Hassan, Ihab. “Confessions of a Reluctant Critic: or, The Resistance to Literature.” The Emperor Redressed: Critiquing Critical Theory, edited by Dwight Eddins. Adobe Digital Editions. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 1995, pp. 118-31.

Lanser, Susan S. “Feminist Literary Criticism: How Feminist? How Literary? How Critical? NWSA Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1, Winter 1991, pp. 3-19. Jstor. Accessed 3 Nov 2016.  http://www.jstor.org/stable/4316102.

Rawlings, John. “Jacques Derrida.” Stanford Presidential Lectures in the Humanities and Arts. Stanford U, 1999. Accessed 3 Nov. 2016. https://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/derrida/.

Reed, Alison. Personal Interview. 13 Oct. 2016.

Wolosky, Shira. Feminist Theory across Disciplines: Feminist Community and American Women’s Poetry. Adobe Digital Editions. NY: Routledge, 2013.

ENGL 810: PAB #8: Nina Byam: “The Agony of Feminism: Why Feminist Theory Is Necessary After All”

Byam, Nina. “The Agony of Feminism: Why Feminist Theory Is Necessary After All.” The Emperor Redressed: Critiquing Critical Theory, edited by Dwight Eddins. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 1995, pp. 101-17.

Byam discusses feminist discord emerging from, among other things, the we that feminist critics “presume to speak for” (102), and such is my dilemma. Byam points out the diversity among feminist scholars and critics, and the problem that once a scholar makes a statement about women, the statement cannot define all women and comes under attack by those scholars it misses. How can I speak for women other than myself, or even can I? Does all my theoretical writing become all about the “I”?

The Gender Criticism

The Gender Criticism

Early feminist theory that relied on Freud and Lacan, Byam points out, is based on psychoanalytic approaches that are inherently misogynistic, implying that women desire to be men. Even the feminist’s initial dichotomy of gender becomes problematic (102).

While discussing feminist approaches to earlier eras, Byam states that feminist criticism has never been formalist, “if formalism means being preoccupied or even more than superficially interested in technique” (108). However, form, including rhetorical and linguistic form, can reveal much about an writer’s intentions, so is this because the formalist approach has not been taken up or because there’s an inherent problem with applying the theory? See Literary Theory at Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy 

from Know Your Meme

from Know Your Meme

In her discussion of gynocritics and distinctions made between men’s and women’s writing, Byam says that “women tend[] to write about women” (113). Byam points out that the origins of gynocritics, like those of the early feminists, were white middle-class women. I can see how marginalized women would protest this positioning (114); however, if the first gynocritics were white middle-class women, how could they speak for anyone besides themselves? Feminism seems rather treacherous in this unfortunate “you can’t speak for me”—“what about us” dichotomy. Byam says, “Gynocritics were also vulnerable to the Utopian expectation that all works by women would be ideological correct in all particulars,” but were then faced with the dilemmas of classist and lesbian authors (114), “Or when the captivity narrative of Mary Rowlandson called the Indians devils incarnate?” (115).

Byam claims she

“want[s] to argue that to accept subjectivity and individuality as the basis of feminist practice does not require on to accept the philosophy of Ayn Rand or accede to an old-style humanistic definition of the individual subject as autonomous, self-made, individually self-consistent, and self-empowering. The humanism [she] adhere[s] to is called ‘critical humanism’ by Tzvetan Todorov.” (115)

In this, Byam suggests that all women are individuals, humans, and that “subjectivity is more or less determined, in proportions unknown and perhaps unknowable…by history, society, and biology” (115).

LITERARY THEORY AND CRITICISM NOTES

LITERARY THEORY AND CRITICISM NOTES

 

 

ENGL 810: Theoretical & Epistemological Alignment

Theoretical & Epistemological Alignment

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Sinéad Travers ‏@travers_sinead

Sinéad Travers ‏@travers_sinead on Twitter

My  background is in creative writing, poetic, and feminist theories. Other approaches useful in interrogating texts include feminist, gender, creative writing, poetic, literary, rhetoric, cultural, Marxist, and linguistic theories. Yes, there are a lot, but why limit myself in terms of how I approach my subject. No, I haven’t listed all the theories, but I see myself using many and in combinations. My experience has been that the primary theories used are determined by the immediate task at hand. Since I want to explore how women define themselves and other women as women in poetry, questions of self-identification, language usage, creative expression, cultural positioning, and power and class structures all seem to be fruitful avenues of exploration. As T. S. Eliot says, “we might remind ourselves that criticism is an inevitable as breathing” (111).

My experience with the ways other scholars have approached literary criticism and my creative writing background have allowed me to approach literature under the lens of creative writing theory, which allows a critical approach based on the writer’s act of constructing the work to elicit specific responses from readers as well as the reader’s actual response, in Frost’s words, “No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader” (11), or Tess Gallagher, “the reader is also the maker of the poem as it lives again in his consciousness” (107).

Although I won’t eschew traditional theoretical paradigms, I intend for my professional alignment to be new, to deviate from what others have done, but not too far afield. As I remain open-minded, see what the theorists have told us, I can create new approaches. I had done so in my master’s degree work with much satisfaction and success. For example, I compared Heart of Darkness to Jane Eyre using a female gothic lens to interrogate both works, and later, applying the theoretical framework established in Martin Bidney’s “Fire, Flutter, Fall, and Scatter: A Structure in the Epiphanies of Hawthorne’s Tales,” I examined works by Raymond Carver to establish patterns surrounding epiphanic moments, which revealed epiphanies not solidly established in previous research. Bidney had applied the theoretical framework of images from Serge Lemaire and Norman Holland to Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” (59).

Objects of Study

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Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde

My primary objects of study for my dissertation will be poems written by women to see how women are defined within that poetry because “[p]oetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought” (Lorde 283). I’m still open to new positioning and possibilities.  With these, I envision my specific theoretical approaches in terms of how these approaches address and figure women in context as well as how, given the nature of creative writing/poetic theory, women use the tools provided in self-identification. Elements of creative writing theory such as meter, voice, line breaks, and musicality inform creative writing and provide new ways of seeing such as line breaks, which “can record the slight (but meaningful) hesitations between word and word that are characteristic of the mind’s dance among perceptions but which are not noted by grammatical punctuation” (Levertov 266).

In poetic criticism, much of the research has involved individual poems, books of poetry, or individual poets, and these poems, books, and poets are most often already canonized. My intent is to break from this canonized work and explore the work of women who are writing now, are new to the field, having written few books, and have published their work within the last decade.

Agenda

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-Sapere Aude

-Sapere Aude

Although things have changed since 1977 when Alicia Ostriker noted, “What has not changed is that most critics and professors of literature, including modern literature, deny that ‘women’s poetry,’ as distinct from poetry by individual women, exists. Many women writers agree. Some will not permit their work to appear in women’s anthologies” (311), women still struggle to find recognition of their work; furthermore, her comment on the work that was “explicitly female in the sense that the writer has consciously chosen not to “write like a man” but to explore experiences central to her sex” may still be true to an extent (310).

Lakoff’s consideration of women and language from the 1970s still provides the “overall effect of ‘women’s language’…is this: it submerges a woman’s personal identity” (42), and as she continues discussing the differences in production and cultural expectation, she says, “women are allowed to fuss and complain, but only a man can bellow in rage” (45). Adrienne Rich comments on the poetic climate of the 1970s when she discusses the “thwarting of [a woman’s] needs by a culture controlled by males” and problems this creates “for the woman writer” (349). This oppression and inequality for women still exists. Men are still more recognized and more compensated for their poetic work, but she says, women are writing poetry, studying literature, and “looking eagerly for guides, maps, possibilities; and over and over in the ‘words’ masculine persuasive force’ of literature she comes up against something that negates everything she is about; she meets the image of Woman in books written by men” (351).

Women still don’t have equal rights. And though women have made progress in some areas, women still struggle with issue of body autonomy. Rape is rarely punished, and now we have presidential candidates who speak openly about sexually assaulting women with no repercussions. Safe access to abortion, which had been secured through Roe v Wade, is being rolled back, creating hardships for poor women in particular. For women, still, poetry provides Frost’s “momentary stay against confusion” (11).

Personal/Professional Objectives

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favim.com

favim.com

The broader lens, under which this women’s poetry falls, is American literature, I will continue my inquiry, collecting and comparing both poetry and fiction, because “No poet, no artist of any art, has is complete meaning alone….you must set him, for contrast and comparison among the dead” (Eliot 112). I plan to focus most heavily in the 20th and 21st centuries, in order to comparative work, I will need to expand out. In poetry and prose, “the passion for the things of the world and the passion for naming them must be in him indistinguishable” (Levertov 263), and to further Levertov’s point, the passion for investigating this process of naming is why I’ve chosen to research in this way.

Works Cited

Bidney, M. “Fire, Flutter, Fall, and Scatter: A Structure in the Epiphanies of Hawthorne’s Tales.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, vol. 50 no. 1, 2008, pp. 58-89. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/tsl.2008.0000. Accessed 19 Oct. 2016.

Eliot, T. S. “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” Twentieth-Century American Poetics: Poets on the Art of Poetry, ed. Dana Gioia, David Mason, and Meg Schoerke. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2004, pp. 111-16.

Frost, Robert. “The Figure a Poem Makes.” Twentieth-Century American Poetics: Poets on the Art of Poetry, ed. Dana Gioia, David Mason, and Meg Schoerke. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2004, pp. 11-12.

Gallagher, Tess. “The Poem as a Time Machine.” Claims for Poetry, ed. Donald Hall. U of Michigan P, 2007, pp. 104-116.

Lakoff, Robin Tolmach. “Language and Woman’s Place.” Language and Women’s Place: Text and Commentaries, ed. Mary Bucholtz. Oxford UP, 2004, pp. 39-75.

Levertov, Denise. “On the Function of the Line.” Claims for Poetry, ed. Donald Hall. U of Michigan P, 2007, pp. 265-72.

—. “Origins of a Poem.” Claims for Poetry, ed. Donald Hall. U of Michigan P, 2007, pp. 254-64.

Lorde, Audrey. “Poems Are Not Luxuries.” Claims for Poetry, ed. Donald Hall. U of Michigan P, 2007, pp. 282-5.

Ostriker, Alicia. “The Nerves of a Midwife: Contemporary American Women’s Poetry.” Claims for Poetry, ed. Donald Hall. U of Michigan P, 2007, pp. 309-27.

Rich, Adrienne. “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-vision.” Claims for Poetry, ed. Donald Hall. U of Michigan P, 2007, pp. 345-61.

ENGL 810: PAB #6: Audre Lorde, “Poems Are Not Luxuries”

Lorde, Audrey. “Poems Are Not Luxuries.” Claims for Poetry, ed. Donald Hall. U of Michigan P, 2007, pp. 282-85.

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde on Poetry Foundation

Among the theoretical approaches I have available for my research is creative writing theory, and more specifically, poetic theory. I have moved so far from the poetry I was writing into the idea of examining poetry by women, that somehow, the actual poetics, the poems themselves, were lost to me. It is all about the poems, and the form (or genre) of poetry is essential to my project. Much has been written in poetic theory about line, musicality, form, and “appropriate” subject matter for poems. T. S. Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent” speaks to poetry’s connection to the history of poetry and literature. I might have begun there, but Eliot speaks directly out of the male-dominated canon of 1921.

So, I’ve added this essay by Audre Lorde which makes the case that for women, “The woman’s place of power within each of us is neither white nor surface; it is dark, it is ancient, and it is deep” (282). Even though she is a black woman poet and she is talking about the poetry of black women poets, she is talking about the poetry of women poets. Though black women poets feel oppression multiply, all women understand what oppression is. Her article points out the importance of women’s poetry to women.

I risk, in this assessment of Lorde’s essay, saying something deeply offensive to black women poets, and it’s not my intent at all, but how can I discover my wrongheadedness if I don’t express what I believe, laying it out in the light, so that I can be shown where and how these connections I’ve made work to uphold women’s poetry and what would work to undermine the progress my fellow poets have made.

Lorde sees women’s survival as a two-fold proposition: “to cherish our feelings” and “to respect those hidden sources of our power” (283).

Men have also written about poetry as a survival tool, particularly Gregory Orr, but for women poets, “[i]t is a vital necessity of our existence.” As she is writing, women’s poetry is beginning to be recognized, and Langston Hughes has found his place among the recognized poets, but black women poets are struggling for recognition.

Poetry, for Lorde, is a path toward fashioning our feelings into “sanctuaries and fortresses and spawning grounds for the most radical and daring ideas” (283), and she suggests that women’s poetry is “not the sterile word play that, too often, the white fathers distorted the word poetry to mean” (283). Admittedly, men’s poetry has moved away from what she’s accused, but her estimation based on her experience of the canon as it was in 1977 was a fair point. She addresses the idea that women’s poetry is not serious poetry, that women have been “diminished or softened by the falsely benign accusations of childishness, of nonuniversality, of self-centeredness, of sensuality,” and evidence still exists for this diminished status of women’s poetry, or perhaps the elevated status of men’s poetry, in the recognition of men’s poetry through awards and accolades. Lorde, like many other poets, accedes “there are no new ideas,” but she does suggest there are “new ways of making them felt” 285).

Among women writers, the prizes are fewer. Even with the last Nobel Prize winner, rather than recognizing the accomplishments of a woman writer, the committee chose to recognize a male singer, Bob Dylan. His work is excellent, no doubt, but does it really surpass the excellence of so many women writers?

See The New York Times on Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize

See Lucia Trent, “Aren’t Women Better Fitted than Men to be Poets?”

See The Guardian: “Research Shows Male Writers Still Dominate Books World”

Do women writers have ‘literary cooties’? -Maclean's

Do women writers have ‘literary cooties’? -Maclean’s

 

More prose by Audre Lorde

Poetry by Audre Lorde

The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde on Amazon.com

The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde on Amazon.com

 

ENGL 810: FEMINIST LITERARY CRITICISM: WHAT IT ASKS, WHERE IT LEADS

 

Dykes to Watch Out For: The Rule - Alison Bechdel, 1985

Dykes to Watch Out For: The Rule – Alison Bechdel, 1985

The Major Questions

According to Shira Wolosky, the major questions within feminist literary criticism are:

“what place have women had in what has been a resolutely male tradition of literature? How have women been represented, and how does this affect their own self-representation? What have been the (male) models of authorships, and how do these serve—or not—as models for the authorship of women? Are there gendered aspects of literary genres, of imagery, of language itself? What do we even mean by a ‘women’s’ literature? What would distinguish it from ‘men’s’ literature, other than the fact that women have written it?” (1)

Although the question of women’s absence in the canon does not appear in her list, Wolosky cites it as a “core concern” (1), which is a primary concern for me as are the final two questions.

 

The Origins of the Questions

Women had been excluded; therefore, women have struggled to have their writing canonized in a canon that “derive[d] from typically male experiences” (Code qtd. in Lang 313). British women like the Brontë sisters, Jane Austen, and George Eliot, among others, had found their ways into the male canon (Grace 12) earlier than American women. By the time I was studying English in 2000, women figured prominently in literature.

 

Sexy Lamp Test

Sexy Lamp Test

The Ongoing Research

In researching feminist literary criticism as a subject, most of the writing occurred in the late seventies and throughout the eighties, trickling into the nineties, and when the conversation turns in favor of feminist criticisms of specific literary works. While researching, I found “newer” texts were frequently reprints of older work.

My own bookcase features a wealth of feminist writing and criticism from the eighties and nineties and includes authors such as Antonia Fraser, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, Elaine Showalter, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, as well as gender studies author, Judith Butler. These women illustrate an energetic conversation about how women have been viewed, ignored, exploited, benefitted, and eventually, recognized as people and authors. Through examining recent scholarship, the focus is shifting from the inclusion of women’s writing to criticism focused on individual works.

Presently, new paradigms to assess how women are portrayed in film, and in literature include approaches like Shira Wolosky’s, examining literature in terms of gender and cultural theories through a decidedly feminist lens, and Wolosky, and Cheryl Glenn’s, examining women’s silences and modesties as deliberate and political.  And, Daphne M. Grace explores the female body in literature, “locating and discussing the relationship of the gendered body and consciousness” in writing by men and women (15).

Furiosa Test

Furiosa Test

Scott Selisker presents “The Bechdel Test,”[i] based on one of Alison Bechdel’s comic strip episodes in Dykes to Watch Out For, which was dubbed “vernacular criticism” by Brian Droitcour (Selisker 505), examines how women are portrayed in films, in which a film must pass three criteria (514). Based on Selisker’s paraphrasing of Heather Love on network studies: “this empirical style of reading can and should be applied to the networks within literary texts, too” (508), and we should consider women in literature likewise. Selisker also suggests Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus’s approach, examining texts in terms of “surface reading,” or “describing the ‘patterns that exist writing and across texts’” (508), showing how women act as network lines for the benefit of men within texts.

 

Where Does This Lead?

My focus, as I envision it, interrogates women’s poetry to see how women present themselves and other women within the poetry they write, which may incorporate any of these new approaches. Of course, “the way we view our bodies is synonymous with how we view ourselves” (Bleier qtd. in Grace 12), so with Judith Butler’s lead, considering gender as a construct and a performance and how women construct themselves female, the differences between women’s early writing and their mature writing should reveal whether their construction or (re)construction of gender over time reinforces or dismantles their earlier perceptions of their respective gender identities.

[i] Other “vernacular criticisms” include “The Mako Mori Test,” “The Sexy Lamp Test,” and “The Furiosa Test

 

Works Cited

Grace, Daphne. “Cognition, Consciousness, and Literary Texts.” Beyond Bodies: Gender, Literature, and the Enigma of Consciousness. New York; Rodopi, 2014, pp 9-32. Adobe Digital Editions. Accessed 26 Sept. 2016.

Lang, James C. “Feminist Epistemologies of Situated Knowledges: Implications for Rhetorical Argumentation.” Informal Logic, Vol. 30, No. 2, 2010, pp. 309-334. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiV4eeWnsbPAhXGNz4KHcCVBvwQFggkMAE&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwindsor.scholarsportal.info%2Fojs%2Fleddy%2Findex.php%2Finformal_logic%2Farticle%2Fdownload%2F3036%2F2424&usg=AFQjCNECZegOhT707ziw1dvgImlFwgbBFA&sig2=5i0UOsz3eTZtivlHFEVS7Q

Selisker, Scott. “The Bechdel Test and the Social Form of Character Networks.” New Literary History, Vol. 46, No. 3, Summer 2015, pp. 505-523. Project Muse. DOI: 10.1353/nlh.2015.0024.

Wolosky, Shira. “Modest Muses: Feminist Literary Criticism.” Feminist Theory Across Disciplines: Feminist Community and American Women’s Poetry. New York; Taylor & Francis; Routledge, 2013, pp 1-22. Adobe Digital Editions. Accessed 26 Sept. 2016.

 

ENGL 810: PAB #4: Daphne Grace: “Cognition, Consciousness, and Literary Contexts”

 

Grace, Daphne. “Cognition, Consciousness, and Literary Texts.” Beyond Bodies: Gender, Literature, and the Enigma of Consciousness. New York; Rodopi, 2014, pp 9-32. Adobe Digital Editions. Accessed 26 Sept. 2016.

Sebastian Berggren 1999 for Wild Side Story

Sebastian Berggren 1999 for Wild Side Story -From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

Within feminist theory, and by extension feminist literary theory, the question of gender and gender identity is a conundrum that theorists attempt to reconcile, and Grace approaches feminist critical theory from the inside out. Rather than use the theory to prove the text, she uses the text to prove the theory. Within a heady discussion of consciousness and awareness, gender performance as normative and subversive, she points to women writers, particularly Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë, who have subverted normative gender roles by writing strong women in Austen’s case and male/female role reversal in Brontë’s Jane Eyre (12). Grace even dips back as far as Geoffrey Chaucer to examine the subverted gender roles in Troilus and Criseyde and characterizing Criseyde as “[f]eisty and independent” (15). She asserts that authors seek to question or to challenge social, cultural and political hegemonies that restrict a women’s freedom of speech or behavior, and to establish empowerment of women as individuals, as agents of action, and as writers” (11).

In my creative writing program, I wrote and watched others write as a way to tease out their own sense of themselves, grappling out our struggles on pages of story and poem. So, I can see why looking at literature is a valid way to explore the nature of human sexuality and understand how Grace would see that as a valid exploration as well.

In answering the question of gender, feminist scholars have looked to Michel Foucault and Judith Butler to suss out “[w]hether gender and sex are biologically or culturally constructed” (12-13). Grace asserts that “[a]n approach to knowledge from within the arts or humanities begins from the inner most core of creative inspiration” will lead to “manifest expression,” which all ties into identity (19). Grace outlines how literary theory, using trauma theory, has shown real promise in determining the nature of trauma and extrapolates in the hope that gender theory applied in literature theory will add new insight to gender identity (20-21).

Furthermore, these English women writers are a testament to how different the culture was for American women writers. Yes, they did write anonymously, and their work was often regarded as inferior to the high art of male writers, but their writing was not timid or modest, particularly considering the work of Mary Shelley Wollstonecraft.  Anne Bradstreet was writing at a much earlier time, but the rest of these women were writing in the 1800s and 1900s.

This may seem far afield of my focus; however, identity is the key to my current vision for my dissertation, to see how women define themselves and other women in their own writing, so exploring feminist theories of identity, particularly that which related to literature and poetry moves me significantly closer to understanding how my project fits in the ongoing conversation.

For more on gender:

ENGL 810: PAB #3: Shira Wolosky: “Modest Muses: Feminist Literary Criticism”

Wolosky, Shira. “Modest Muses: Feminist Literary Criticism.” Feminist Theory Across Disciplines: Feminist Community and American Women’s Poetry. New York; Taylor & Francis; Routledge, 2013, pp 1-22. Adobe Digital Editions. Accessed 26 Sept. 2016.

feminism.jpg - Harriet Staff (Feminism Poetry Foundation)

from “A Must-Read Post for Women Poets—And Everyone Else” – Harriet Staff (The Poetry Foundation)

Shira Wolosky begins by enumerating the questions that are asked by feminist criticism: “what place have women had in what has been a resolutely male tradition of literature? How have women been represented, and how does this affect their own self-representation? And so forth (1). After some further remarks about feminist critical theory she asks, “What identifies gender in literary texts?” (1). She offers a number of possible answers including “[c]ertain genres” and “feminized uses of male images and feminized readings and transformations of the male literary past, which regender male forms into feminine ones” (2) and points out the reasons women’s poetry is not in the canon.

Feminist criticism is a movement with primary goals of discovering and adding or returning women’s literature and poetry to the canon, or at least, to the public’s attention and analyzing canonized works through a feminist lens (1). Wolosky points out that early women writers had no publication written by women to model their writing after (2). She actually begins by discussing Harold Bloom and his Freudian approach to male poets as seducers of the Muse for inspiration, pointing also to Freud’s Oedipus postulations in her evaluation of women writers and questioning the relationship a woman writer might have with the Muse (3-7).

Wolosky compares women to men, suggesting that women are “submissive not assertive, passive not active, circumscribed not daring” and characterizes women like the women in fairtales “without self-confidence and authority” (6). However, the women in fairy tales I have read often have agency or are rescued or protected by their own wiles or by other women, so this comparison doesn’t ring true unless Disney is the frame of reference.

Wolosky’s approach is to examine Emily Dickinson, Anne Bradstreet, Marianne Moore, and Gwendolyn Brooks in terms of “modesty,” but she inadvertently sets up a conflict on the origins of this “modesty.” She asserts that “modesty has been mentioned in literary analysis almost entirely as a repressive force denying to women freedom and self-determination” (9), but two pages later she excuses the fact that men aren’t ascribed “modesty” “reflects gender roles,” and she explains that women and men have “divergent values characteristic in women’s and men’s cultures” (11) without suggesting that this particular society is a patriarchal construct. She later mentions the religious affiliations of the poets, but even religion is a construct of the patriarchy.

Granted, by Moore and Brooks, modesty is likely to be a choice. Outside of modesty’s restrictions, Wolosky explains that it had a liberating quality to these women writers as well (9), and she gives examples of this modesty for each of the writers. But her description of Dickinson is problematic. Her assertion for Dickinson’s modesty, based on the evidence she provides, is weak. Dickinson was a known recluse, but reclusiveness does not necessarily mean modesty. Wolosky remarks on Dickinson’s “abject letters addressed to a ‘Master’” (13), who I can only assume is Thomas Higginson, and Dickinson’s approach to him could be taken as “modesty” as required or as “modesty” as a novice. Dickinson’s modesty about her poems could just as easily be the trepidation of any new poet, keeping in mind in any case, this would be within the construct of patriarchal society. Furthermore, Dickinson wrote strong poems without modesty including “Wild Nights.” Wolosky might be able to make a case for Dickinson’s modesty, but she simply doesn’t provide enough evidence to make her case. As far as outlining the questions feminism asks, Wolosky does represent the types of questions feminist criticism asks.

Harriet Staff. feminism.jpg. “A Must-Read Post for Women Poets—And Everyone Else.” The Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2012/08/a-must-read-post-for-women-poets-and-everyone-else/. 15 Aug. 2012. Accessed 29 Sept. 2016.

ENGL 810: Feminist Literary Criticism and Women’s Studies History

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf “A Room of One’s Own” from QuoteAddicts

INTRODUCTION

Before the proliferation women’s studies scholarship, women wrote all manner of things. Although the literary canon is still fraught with omissions, as an undergraduate I read many early women writers: women who wrote novels, poems, narratives, essays, books on manners, diaries, letters, and more. Still, for many, the genesis of feminist writing is Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” (1928) where Woolf examines the dearth of scholarly spaces available to women. Some look closer to the present at Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949) in which she claimed, “One is not born, but rather, becomes a woman,” asserting man is first and women is second, and establishing woman as “Other” (Knellwolf 196). Woman as “other” forms the basis for much, if not all, feminist critical theory.

FEMINIST LITERARY CRITICISM

I see the real emergence of feminist literary criticism during the second-wave feminism, even as Gill Plain and Susan Sellers point out, feminist literary criticism wasn’t birthed in whole at this moment. Plain and Sellers say feminist literary criticism was the “culmination of centuries of women’s writing,” and of men “writing about women’s minds, bodies, art, and ideas” (2). It is during the later 1960s and 1970s that feminist writers began to build a formidable repertoire of feminist work. The activism of the feminist movement during this period motivated many women to counter the male dominated landscape, and they did this en masse. In creating this work, women created spaces for themselves in academia: in the 1960s, women’s studies classes appear; in the 1970s, we see the creation of women’s studies programs, and now, universities have entire women’s studies departments.

FEMINIST SCHOLARS & WOMEN’S STUDIES

The first women’s studies program was established at San Diego State University in 1970 (Ginsberg 10). Women’s studies programs at other universities were not far behind. “A feminist conference held at Cornell in January 1969” was the inspiration for their “Female Studies” program, later Cornell Women’s Studies (Cornell Chronicle), and now, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Even with women’s studies programs established, the first feminist scholars came from all over and from a variety of different disciplines (Knellwolf 197). A quick survey of the mentions and sources which appear in just the few texts I’ve consulted reveal a diverse group of feminist writers who published feminist works during the 1970s, feminist writers like Elaine Showalter, Adrienne Rich, Kate Millett, Judith Fetterly, Germaine Greer, Sandra Gilbert, and Susan Gubar.

WHY WE NEED FEMINIST LITERARY CRITICISM

The exigency for the emergence of feminist literary criticism was that feminists found that ­women’s writing was omitted from the canon and that women who appeared in the literature were written from a male-centric point of view. According to Alice E. Ginsberg, “Women’s Studies had a very clear purpose, and that was to transform the university so that knowledge about women was no longer invisible, marginalized, or made ‘other’” (10). This omission, or erasure, of women from the history of literature, according to Annette Kolodny, quoting Clifford Gertz, “came to be ‘viewed collectively as a structural inconsistency’ within the very disciplines we studied” (1). My undergraduate experience of early British literature was comprised almost entirely of men; the exception was Jane Austen. The point of feminist literary criticism was to change things by seeking “to uncover its own origins” and “establish traditions of women’s writing and early ‘feminist’ thought” (Plain and Sellers 2). Feminist critical scholars set out to find their missing heritage, to amend the male-centric history to include women, and to show the value of the women they found. Feminist literary scholars also interrogate works to discover how a culture sees itself, and for me, I’m interested in exploring the ways that women writers define themselves and each other in the twenty-first century. I want to see how far women have moved past the male-centered definitions that have been applied to us for so long.

FEMINIST LITERARY CRITICISM & THE UNIVERSITY

The relationship between feminist literary criticism and the university as a whole was mirrored in the struggles of the feminist movement: “the definition of literary value privileged male writers’ engagement with warfare or politics over the more domestically centered literary works by female authors” (Knellwolf 199) just as the male endeavors were privileged over female endeavors. The feminist literary critic’s work is multidisciplinary, encompassing “a revisionist engagement with history and literary history, a revision of aesthetic standards and a radical critique of the representation of gender and gender roles as a part of a larger critique of cultural self-definition” (197). In the early years of feminist writing, many women “worked at the margins of the conventionally defined disciplines” as feminists were making inroads in established university programs. While, larger universities excluded women’s studies, lesser institutions created “space for courses specifically designed for women’s needs” (197).

CONCLUSION

From its early beginnings, women’s studies and feminism literary criticism have opened up new areas of scholarship. Second-wave feminism, criticized for focusing on the plight of middle class white women (Knellwolf 202), has entered a new phase and now recognizes minority women are multiply oppressed and multiply omitted. Additionally, feminist literary critics are abandoning binary ideas of gender and interrogating the role of gender and gender identification as it applies to literature. Feminist literary critics still seek to fill in the history of women’s writing.

More information: The Feminist Approach in Literary Criticism


WORKS CITED

9721-virginia-woolf.jpg. “Virginia Woolf Quotes.” QuoteAddict.   http://quoteaddicts.com/topic/virginia-woolf-quotes/. Accessed 22 Sept. 2016.

Estroga, Ignatius Joseph. The Feminist Approach in Literary Criticism. 8 Jul. 2013. http://www.slideshare.net/josephestroga/the-feministapproachinliterarycriticism. Accessed 22 Sept. 2016. Slideshow.

Ginsberg, Alice E. The Evolution of American Women’s Studies Reflections on Triumphs, Controversies, and Change. New York: Palgrave-McMillan, 2008.

Ju, Anna. “Women’s Studies at Cornell Evolves over 40-year History to Include Sexual Minorities.” Cornell Chronicle, 4 Nov. 2009, http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2009/11/cornell-looks-back-40-years-womens-studies. Accessed 21 Sept. 2016.

Knellwolf, Christa. “The History of Feminist Criticism.” Twentieth-Century Historical, Philosophical and Psychological Perspectivesedited by Christa Knellwolf and Christopher Norris. The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism Vol. 9. Cambridge UP, 2007, pp. 193-205. Cambridge Histories Online. https://www-cambridge-org.proxy.lib.odu.edu/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/D5A1D2AF4184FBC9438F19EF62A01E09/9781139055376c15_p191-206_CBO.pdf/the-history-of-feminist-criticism.pdf. Accessed 11 Sept. 2016.

Kolodny, Annette. “Dancing through the Minefield: Some Observations on the Theory, Practice, and Politics of Feminist Literary Criticism.” Feminist Criticism vol. 6 no. 1, 1980, pp. 1-25. JStorhttp://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.odu.edu/stable/3177648. Accessed 9 Sept. 2016.

Plain, Gill and Susan Sellers, editors. Introduction. A History of Feminist Literary Criticism. Cambridge UP, 2007, pp. 1-3.

 

 

ENGL 810: PAB #2: Christa Knellwolf: “The History of Feminist Criticism”

Christa Knellwolf King

Christa Knellwolf King

Knellwolf, Christa. “The History of Feminist Criticism.” Twentieth-Century Historical, Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives edited by Christa Knellwolf and Christopher Norris. The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism Vol. 9. Cambridge UP, 2007, pp. 193-205. Cambridge Histories Online.

Knellwolf’s article is a good starting place to get an overall sense of the history of feminism and an early idea about feminist theory, and since my background has been creative writing, which incorporates creative writing theory, it’s a good place for me to begin.

Knellwolf’s history begins at the origin of the word feminism in the 1890s, and she characterizes it as “a significant historical moment when there was an urgent need to name the activities of the women’s movement” and makes clear at the outset there exists an “insidious power of literature to propagate views about women’s inferiority” (193). From there, she provides an historical account of the progression of feminism including first and second wave feminism, feminist theory, women’s writing, and feminist literary theory. Knellwolf discusses some of the major figures leading up to feminism and many of the major feminist figures such as Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedman, Kate Millett, Sandra Gilbert, and Susan Gubar. Much of the article is focused on the feminists’ efforts to gain equality and concerns about misogyny and the patriarchal structure of society which is so entrenched that “women’s inferiority is ingrained at the very structural levels of syntax and grammar” (201).

While Knellwolf covers the rise French feminism and points out “they alienated women who felt that this position, the French feminist embrace of the language of irrationality and the concept of difference, was a stab in the back to the longstanding struggle to have women’s rationality recognised” (200), she minimizes some of the historical struggle within and opposition to feminism, particularly those struggles toward the end of second wave feminism, like the rise of men’s rights groups and anti-feminist efforts of Phyllis Schlafly, that produced the kind of feminism we see today which is more inclusive of men, and she doesn’t quite bring us to the present 2007 moment. And notably absent is male reaction, including their reaction to changes in the literary canon, to this seemingly seismic shift in women’s demands for equality and freedom. She does point out that Audre Lorde, concerned that the focus of feminist effort was on white women, “wrote an open letter to Mary Daly, criticising her for patronising black women and reducing them to the role of powerless victims” (202), and she does mention “the attempt by mainstream feminists to ignore lesbians” (203). However, in the instances where she indicates strife within feminism the struggle is minimized. Based on the nature of Cambridge histories, this is unsurprising; however, at the conclusion of her history, she suddenly and awkwardly becomes a champion of feminism and includes a plea:

“While feminism needs to pay attention to the diversity between women world-wide, it also needs to respond to a situation in which fundamentalist governments, for instance, seek to remove women from education or to restrict them to jobs of low esteem. An immediate engagement with such issue may create a solidarity which enables women to speak out against oppression” (205).

That aside, Knellwood convers a lot of ground in such a short article, and she covers some of her topics in more depth, like Gilbert and Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic, French feminism, and gender identification, among others.

Modern Feminism: A Women's Rights Timeline of Events from flickr

Modern Feminism: A Women’s Rights Timeline of Events

Cavallaro, Dani. French Feminist Theory. London; New York: Continuum, 2003. WordPress. https://caringlabor.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/french-feminist-theory-dani-cavallaro.pdf. Accessed Sept. 2016.

“Christa Knellwolf King.” LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/in/christa-knellwolf-king-972a19122. Accessed Sept. 2016.

“Modern Feminism: A Women’s Rights Timeline of Events” flickr. http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3226/2999672841_c96548854b_o.jpg. Accessed Sept. 2016.

“Phyllis Schlafly (1924-).” National Women’s History Museumhttps://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/phyllis-schlafly. Accessed Sept. 2016.