Miss Pym and a Friend

Miss Pym and a Friend

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Helpful to Feminist Writing: An Annotated Bibligraphy


Part I:

Althusser, Louis. Lenin and Philosophy, 1971.

"Freud and Lacan:"

This chapter is a summary of the basic theories of Freud and Lacan. Althusser summarizes the Oedpial Phase and Mirror Stage in language that is easy to understand. Althusser points to the difference between the two by stating that Freud postulated that everything depends on Language. Lacan, on the other hand, believed that the discourse of the unconscious is structured like a language. Moreover, Althusser defines the Oedipal structure as a dramatic structure, or a "theatrical machine" imposed by the Law of Culture on each human being. (216).

For the most part, Althusser is not jargony. He does use the word "dialectic" in a definition of itself, but it is still possible to gain the meaning from the context of the sentence. (211). I like the way he writes, and I am using this book to analyze Maeve Binchy's Echoes. (This is my project for the Irish Studies Conference)

pp. 206-226. 20 pages.

Barthes, Roland. Mythologies, 1972.

"Myth Today:"

His definition of "Myth" as a type of speech is very clear and interesting. I quibble a bit with his statement that "everything can be a myth provided it is conveyed by a discourse" because he has not defined discourse here. Though, to be fair, he does define it later on. I find his statement that everything can be a myth interesting, too, and I think of how a bent coat hanger, by itself a useless household object, has come to mean back street abortions and thus is a rallying cry for the Pro Choice activists.

He disagrees at one point on p. 94 with Baudelaire's
suggestion that objects surround women that are inevitably a source of suggestiveness.

Where Barthes loses me:

While the first half of this essay is coherent and relatively free of jargon, one cannot say the same for the last half. He begins to lose me where he uses the example of the Paris Match illustration of the black soldier saluting the French Flag in one of the colonies. I understand that such a photo is a type of myth interpreting the virtues of French imperialism, but Barthes does not stop there. His discourse becomes more and more obtuse. When he begins to deconstruct the Latin phrase about the lion, I am afraid that I am completely lost. For example, I am not sure what he means on p. 137 by " . . . left-wing myth is, in essence, poverty-stricken. it does not know how to proliferate . . . " I think he is getting at what Orwell stressed in "Politics and the English Language," that political speech is often vague and meaningless when it is completely analyzed, but why not just say this instead of talking about "pseudo-physis" and masks?

pp. 93-149. 60 pages.

Cixous, Helene. "Castration or Decapitation?" Signs, Fall 1981:

To begin with, her style is clear and concise. She uses many short subject-verb sentences which I will assume are not the work of the translator alone.

In asking the question "What is woman for Man?" she expands on Gilbert and Gubar's theory that women are what men define them to be and that men keep women "in line" because it is essential for men to remain in control. Should men lose control over women, should they explore their own thoughts and feelings, he may lose control.

She gives an effective metaphorical explication of a Chinese folk tale where a woman must march to a male beat or be decapitated and of "Red Riding Hood."

The last part of the article focusses on the difference between male and female texts, e.g, male texts quest for origins while women's texts deal with "giving," to others, of herself, for a cause, etc.

pp. 41-55. 14 pages.

Cixous. "The Laugh of the Medusa." Signs, Summer 1976.

This article addresses the female body as a text. A woman must unite herself, as a body is "shot through with songs." (This last is rather violent language, one wonders if the songs are woman's, or if she has been "shot" full of them by someone else.) Women have had to write in secret, and secret writing is like masturbation. Women have been taught under male patriarchal codes to be ashamed of their writing as they are of their intense capability to feel sexually.

Cixous also proposes that there are difference between male and female texts. Indeed, if the human body is a text, it stands to reason that there are difference because male anatomy is certainly different from female anatomy. Cixous urges women to break the societal codes that discourage their self-expression, or to "break the codes that negate her." She calls for a universal woman subject to bring women to their senses.

Frankly, though, given the many kinds of differences among women of various cultures, I do not see how there can be a universal woman subject. Isn't such a proposal tantamount to taking away a woman's individuality? This point is where Cixous and I part company.

pp. 875-893. 8 pages.

Chodorow, Nancy. The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the sociology of Gender, 1978:

Chapter 7 "Object - Relations and the Female Oedipal Configuration:" She argues that parents consciously and unconsciously sexually orient their children according to their own heterosexuality. She states that "Parents are usually heterosexual and sexualize their relationship to children of either gender accordingly, employing sexually sanctioned child-rearing practices . . . " (113). I take the phrase "sexually sanctioned child-rearing practices" to imply that the practices heterosexual parents instill in their children are those which have been "encoded" in the parents by their own particular culture.

Using the work of Freud and other psychiatrists, Chodorow explores the Oedipal complex and penis envy concepts as they relate to women in an attempt to determine whether femininity is made or born in each woman. In an interesting interpretation of the penis envy hypothesis, the author postulates that the daughter wants a penis to win her mother's love because she discovers the mother prefers people who have penises like her father and brother.

Chodorow is easy to understand and makes relatively difficult concepts accessible to lay people.

pp. 111-130, 20 pages.

Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering.

Introduction: Her main argument is that "contemporary reproduction of mothering" is a "social structurally induced psychological" process. (7). She further argues that mothering is not a product of intentional role-training, but I think she contradicts herself a little in Chapter 7. (See previous analysis). The way I understand encoding, certain acceptable behavior is originally introduced deliberately into a culture. The culture may be so encoded that the behavior seems automatic after generations. This observation, however, does not mean the individuals of a culture cannot change and redefine what constitutes acceptable behavior.

pp. 3-11. 8 pages.

De Lauretis, Theresa. Technologies of Gender, 1987.

Chapter 1 "The Technology of Gender:" The notion of gender as a sexual difference espoused by feminist writers of the 1960's-1970's has currently become a limitation on feminist thought.

For example, such thinking, e.g., male/female sexual difference, makes it difficult to articulate differences within
women. The danger is that " . . . all women would but render . . . different embodiments of some archetypal essence of woman . . . ." (2).

Overall, this was a good discussion, but I feel she becomes "jargony" when she discusses the second limitation, eg., notice of sexual differences. Her explanation begins that the radical epistemological potential is the possibility to "conceive of the social subject" as a subject "constituted across gender . . . across languages and cultural representatives." Frankly, I don't know what she means here.

She cleans up her language by applying Foucault and saying that gender is a product of social technologies like film, social discourse, everyday life, etc. I find the use of the word "technology" interesting here. It makes me think of a machine which implies something planned out or automatic, hence a sort of slavery.

She looks-up "gender" in the dictionary to make a point, but, to me, quoting the dictionary, unless it's the OED, is rather distasteful. The definition is interesting, though, because it illustrates a theory of semiotics. The word for "gender" in Spanish is literally genero, but where in English gender can mean sex, it does not in Spanish. In Spanish, sexo is used to connote sex, gender is a different term entirely.

30 pages. pp. 1-31.

De Lauretis, Theresa. Technologies of Gender.

Chapter 5 "Gramschi Notwithstanding, or the Left Hand of History:"

This chapter consists of a textual analysis type of criticism. Gramsci founded the Italian Communist Party and was a Marxist philosopher imprisoned by Mussolini from 1926 until his death in 1937. He wrote a collection of theory while in prison called Prison Notebooks.

He married Giulia Shucht and had two sons. After he was imprisoned, she returned to her home in Moscow with her older sister, Eugenia. Still another sister, Tatiana, was Gramsci's "disciple." She followed him from to his various prisons, sent him care packages, and rescued his Prison Notebooks after he died.

Gramsci received many letters from Giulia and Tatiana but these letters were never published. As De Lauretis says "official: historiography and biography" scorned his letters. The content of them was banal and told nothing about Gramsci's writing and very little about the female authors of the letters.

De Lauretis points out, however, that it is the letters' very banality that makes them fascinating. The key is to focus on what the letters do not say. For example, why did Tatiana and not Giulia follow Gramsci from jail to jail?

The rest of the chapter describes how a female biographer went through the letters between the sisters and interviewed people who knew them. Among other things, she discovered that Eugenia influenced her sister and dominated her. Giulia's sisters prevented her from being with her husband. By doing so, they deprived Giulia of her emotional role as wife and mother.

The Gramsci example is a good illustration of how criticism can work. The biographer used women's folklore and letters between women to address the silences in the letters to Gramsci.

De Lauretis stresses that how women produce is crucial and that women's nature lies outside historical development.
If I understand her correctly, she is making an assumption that all women, regardless of culture, share some universal nature that has been marginalized. While all women share some experiences, I think this assumption is too broad. Otherwise, her style is clear and interesting.

pp. 84-93. 10 pages.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality.

Part One "We Other Victorians:" Foucault makes a valid point when he states that taking "so many precautions" to legitimate the history of sex isn't related to the same Victorian prudishness which rationalized the viewpoint that sex was for procreation. I will try to be Marxist in my approach and say that proponents of open sexual speech seek to justify their discourse by assigning it a legitimate reason.

His other valid point is that if something like sex is repressed, then merely talking about it appears to be a transgression. Sexual discourse is truly "sexy" because as he indicates, the subject of a revolution becomes a noble agent of freedom; also, his argument fits in well with that of Gilbert and Gubar in Madwoman where he discusses sex as a "monster" residing in the woman's nether regions that should be repressed. Moreover, where Foucault likens sex to writing, he is like Gilbert and Gubar when they note that the Marquis de Sade became impotent when his writing papers and pens were removed from his prison.

What I like about Foucault is that he addresses an unfamiliar subject in coherent language.
13 pages. pp. 1-13.

Gilbert, Sandra M. and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic, 1979:

Chapter 1 "The Queen's Looking Glass: Female Creativity, Male Images of Women and the metaphor of Literary Paternity:"

This is the chapter which links sexuality with writing and asks the question, "Is a pen a metaphorical penis?" (3). From here, the authors discuss the assertion that the male quality is the creative gift. They also discuss such phrases as "penetrating the imagination" and "piercing . . mind's tongue" which I find interesting because they remind one of similar phrases used to brand Renaissance women who wrote as "whores of the tongue." Also, the comment Renoir supposedly made about painting with his penis is like a critical review of Milan Kunderas I read where the writer admonished him to "quit writing with his penis."

To continue the metaphor, if a pen is a penis, with what organ to women generate texts? Part of the answer is they don't. The authors cite to quotes from male writers like Southey who very bluntly stated that women have no business writing. (12).

Furthermore, their discussion of the mirror stage is the best I have read. The illustrations vary from Mary Elizabeth Coleridge's "The Other Side of the Looking Glass" to Chaucer. They pinpoint one important reason for women beginning to write. That reason is that no one can be stilled for very long by a text or an image.

I read this book when it first came out in 1979. I find it is even better the second time through.

pp. 1-44. 44 pages.

Chapter 2 "Infection in the Sentence: The Woman Writer and the Anxiety of Authorship."

This chapter addresses the same issues that Gubar discusses in her article "The Blank Page." Women who want to write face a sort of schizophrenic anxiety because instead of being a Muse, or object for a male writer, they must be creative and active themselves. They are left with the dilemma of finding a muse or role model which, because of the effects of the mirror stage, is difficult to do. One solution is through what Adrienne Rich calls "Re-vision -- the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction . . . an act of survival." (49). In other words, we must shatter the reflection before it shatters us.

Like Cixous, the authors address old fairy tales, namely that of Snow White. This was a rather fresh interpretation taking the Queen's point of view. According to Gilbert and Gubar, the image in the Queen's mirror could represent artistic competition with men. Because of the anxieties addressed above, such competition could be annihilating. So strong has been the tradition of denigrating female artistic ability, that it has spread like an infection or "dis-ease" through women's literature.
Again, Woolf is quoted for the proposition that women who did not apologize for writing were defined as mad and monstrous. (63).

I can't say enough good things about this text. It is comprehensive, but does not preach. It is persuasive, but thoughtful in that it explores every angle of argument. Reading it also exposed me to authors of both sexes I might not have otherwise read.

pp. 45-93. 50 pages.

Irigaray, Luce. "And the one doesn't Stir without the Other." Signs, Fall 1981.

Her thesis is that woman's "mirror image" or self-image is male created so that she is left with no role model. She cannot turn to her mother because her mother has been encoded the same way. This idea is similar to Chodorow's in Reproduction of Mothering and in Woolf's ideas as expressed in her letters and in A Room of One's Own.

The style of this short article is very original because it takes the form of a monologue where a daughter who rages against the "mirror" reflection she sees is addressing the mother. In many ways she is blaming her for not "shattering the reflection." Such a theory would account for why so many women are still against feminism today. If one questions some of these women individually, one may find that they hold the views they do because their mothers espoused similar views. Or, they may be unable to explain their opinions and rely on maxims and cliches for explanation.

pp. 60-67. 7 pages.

Lacan, Jacques. Ecrits, 1977:

Chapter 1:

The Mirror Stage is a good explanation for what happens to women in a male-dominated society. According to Lacan, the mirror image is the infant's threshold to the real world. The child identifies with what she sees. If the reflection is the so-called male ideal of the frail but decorative woman, that is what women in the real world will be for the infant. Once again, Woolf is correct. A female child wanting to be artist has to shatter the reflection in the mirror.

The flaw I see with Lacan is that, if a child does become more experienced as she grows, she would see that she does not have to model herself according to the maternal or cultural ideal of what a woman should be; therefore, her reflection will change.

Still, I like Lacan's style. It is more accessible than Freud's and is almost conversational in its explanations. I have also found this book to be valuable in more than one course.

pp. 1-40. 40 pages.

Miller, Nancy K, "Emphasis Added: Plots and Plausibilities in Women's Fiction" In The New Feminist Criticism, Ed. Elaine Showalter, 1985.

This essay basically explores the possible differences between men's and women's writings. I like this essay because it addresses the issue of where unknown women writers fit into literary history. Miller favors "discovery and rediscovery" of the so-called lost women writers. She also advocates creating for them an alternative literary tradition. (342).

Up to this point, her argument is concise and follows a logical pattern. She begins to lose me, however, towards the middle of the essay where she begins to focus on Freud's interpretation of the hero of "male" fiction, but she begins to be coherent again when she focusses on what kind of hero dominates a woman's plot. Perhaps this last part captures my interest because I am a woman who writes fiction.

Furthermore, just as the Newsweek article on the culture of medicine defines medicine as an art which each culture views differently, so fiction writing is practiced differently in each culture. I also find it fascinating that Eliot attacks, almost like Hawthorne, the "silly novels by Lady Novelists." Eliot apparently separates the "silly novelists" from the "women writers," something which Hawthorne may not have done.

pp. 339-360. 21 pages.

Part II: Primary Sources:

On Barbara Pym:

Holt, Hazel. A Lot to Ask: A Life of Barbara Pym, 1992.

Chapter 14:

I chose this chapter because it discusses how Pym went about inventing her characters and the worlds in which they live. Pym's interest in sagas and in inventing characters and histories for the people and even animals around her is very like the imaginary world the Bronte children wrote about. For all that Pym knows about anthropology, I am surprised that she wasn't particularly interested in it and found it tedious. I suppose I am the same away about practicing probate law. I know it, but it is boring and I loathe doing it.

The notes for each chapter and the index are detailed and well-done. This is an excellent source book for a serious Pym student. Also, Holt seems to be objective, though she was a good friend of Pym.

pp. 175-187. 12 pages.

Pym, Barbara. Civil to Strangers, 1987.

"Finding a Voice:"

It is always fascinating to read what gave any writer her inspiration or particular style. I would not have thought that Crome Yellow would have caused the turning point in Pym's career, but apparently it did. One doesn't think of her being so interested in modern fiction after all the times critics have compared her to Jane Austen. Of course, she mentions later in the essay that she did read a lot of Austen and Trollope. (383).

She also addresses the important question of changing her "voice" after she hadn't been published in so long. As she recounts her struggles, I lived through the frustration with her. Pym reveals that it was her love of writing that kept her going, not the hope of the Best Seller's list.

Her style is conversational and witty. She appears to be very honest and open with her interviewer.

pp. 381-388. 7 pages.

Pym, Barbara. A Very Private Eye, 1984:

"The Published Novelist:"

This is another book I have read before which is more meaningful to me after a second reading. What strikes me is that Pym is constantly "reading" people as texts. Take, for example, her comment on p. 197. She says she thinks women on T.V. have never been more terrifying because of their curled heads, paint and jewelry. "No wonder men turn to other men sometimes," she says. (197). She anticipates Lederer's Fear of Women in this statement and implicitly questions the world of fashion where so many famous designers are men. For whom are these clothes designed, after all?
Also, like Woolf, she constantly notes interiors in detail, and will even anticipate what the inside of a building should look like from its exterior. Furnishings are a kind of language and speak about their owner. Moreover, she notes food like Woolf. Pym also questions why men don't think about food as much. This could be saying that women and men "read" differently, at least where edible texts are concerned.

I guess what I noticed this time that I did not before is that her letters are interspersed with her diary excerpts. I am not sure if this troubles me or not. Overall, I found this a poignant portrait of a brave and talented woman. Pym will always be a favorite of mine and I wish I could emulate her in my writing.

pp. 183-213. 30 pages.

On Virginia Woolf:

Bell, Quentin. Virginia Woolf: A Biography, 1972:

Chapter 2:

These chapters are an intriguing look at Woolf's life in the Victorian nursery. Biographical critics might find her role as nursery storyteller valuable in any discourse on her writing.

I wish he had not brushed off the mentally disabled half-sister, Laura. I would like to know more about her because it seems to me she may have had something to do with Woolf's own illness later.

pp. 22-39.

17 pages.

Chapter 3:

While he may not discuss Laura, Bell does give a loving and detailed portrait of the other half-sister, Stella. Also, I am struck by the relative literary freedom Leslie Stephen gave his daughter in his own library. Much of her serious reading seems to have started at this time. In her voracious reading habits, she reminds me of a young Charlotte Bronte.

Furthermore, her difficulty with clothes apparently started in her youth. She hated stays so much, that she didn't choose to write about them in her diary. or else, she found them so trivial and unimportant that they were not worth mentioning.

pp. 40-57. 17 pages.

Woolf, Virginia. A Change of Perspective: The Letters of Virginia Woolf, 1977.

Letters to Vita Sackville-West Feb. 1927:

Her account to Vita of the Mary Hutchinson-Clive Bell argument where she was placed in the middle reminds me of Pym's novels. Her humor is particularly sharp; for example, she says about one acquaintance's marriage, "Think of the marriage bed! Like marrying a lobster which has been boiled hard as well as red!" (324). I see traces of this humor in various passages of Orlando.

She makes an interesting comment in a letter to Vita dated February 15th, where she says she can only write in certain types of rooms that are almost bare because furniture implies inhabitance. She, on the other hand, must have complete solitude to write. Here, she addressee the critical issue of addressing the "silences" or the "emptiness." The room is a sort of text, and the furniture becomes a vocabulary that speaks of the people who use it. She goes on with this discourse and asks if an ashtray can interfere with one's solitude. She concludes that it can because like any signifier, it has associations and can stand for various signifieds. The memory of associations could easily disturb one's solitude.

Woolf continues to write in this semiotic style in other letters written during February. For example, she addresses her sister, Vanessa Bell, as a masterpiece to be left untouched. (334). A modern critic like S. Gubar in "The Blank Page" might argue that such a characterization objectifies Vanessa, but I would say that Vanessa is a sort of a sign herself, and that when she addresses her like this, Woolf sees her as a text. (334).

pp. 322-372. 50 pages.

Woolf, Virginia, Letters of Virginia Woolf, Vol. I:

March 1927:

Once again Woolf addresses the idea of semeiotics and the multitext when she writes to her sister "I think we are now at the same point: both mistresses of our medium as never before: both therefore confronted with entirely new problems of structure." (341). More than any other I read, I feel this passage labels Woolf a structuralist.

Later on, in a letter to Sackville-West, she comments that she likes Edith Sitwell's appearance. As we would say, Sitwell is making a "fashion statement" in her red-flounced red cotton. (344). I would note that for someone who hated to buy clothes for herself, Woolf was keen on "reading" other peoples' wardrobes and what they had to say about them.

Overall, I find I enjoy Woolf's letters immensely. We seem to share a love of curiosity shops, etc. Also, she is informally describing semiotics and structuralist criticism which make the letters a valuable source for the critic.

pp. 322-372. 50 pages.

Woolf, Virginia. Moments of Being, 1976.

"Am I a Snob?"

I found this essay to be refreshing in tone for its honesty.
There is nothing self-righteous about Woolf and she does not take herself as seriously as some other writers do. (Say, for example, Norman Mailer!). Also, her own explanation of why she hates buying clothes caught my interest. I have been following her dislike of shopping for clothes in her letters and diaries. Also interesting is her assertion that she exposes a lot of skin to literary reviewers but very little flesh and blood. (211). Such a comment raises the issue of just how much the "author" wants us to read about herself. Such a comment illustrates the structuralist viewpoint that even the author is a sort of created text. S/he creates a persona that s/he wants the reader and general public to accept as true.

Also witty are her comments about name-dropping and well-lit drawing rooms. (210). It seems as though these drawing rooms and settings are sort of texts which Woolf both likes to read and inhabit as a participant.

pp. 203-220. 17 pages.

Woolf, Virginia. The Question of Things Happening: The Letters of Virginia Woolf, Vol. II:

Introduction: I found a remark by E.M. Forster interesting because it stated that Woolf believed that society with its bloody wars and preoccupation with money was manmade, as though society was indeed a text constructed by males.

The summary of the contents of this volume is helpful, but I think it's a bit long-winded. I'd rather read the letters themselves. What I find admirable about Woolf is that, despite her bouts with mental illness, she managed to accomplish a tremendous amount of work; also, I am glad that the introduction touches on her relationship with Leonard and that its author at least tries to vindicate her of dominating his life.

pp. viii-xxvi. 30 pages.

Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One's Own, 1975.

Chapter 4:

Chapter 4 continues in the same vein as the rest of the book. That is, that for women to have written in the "Good Old Days," she need time and money. Otherwise, she was too busy rearing and caring for big families and large households. This chapter focusses on Lady Winchilsea who was born in 1661, was childless, and wrote poetry. Woolf analyzes in some detail a poem by Winchilsea where Winchilsea addresses the question of women writing in the seventeenth century. Woolf also notes the example of Aphra Behn before proceeding to Austen, Eliot and Bronte. What I like about Woolf's discussion is that she points out the differences among women writers and does not lump them and their philosophies together. As she says, it is possible that Charlotte Bronte failed to understand entirely Jane Austen.

As usual, Woolf's essay is absorbing and witty.

pp. 61-81. 20 pages.

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