I. WOMEN WRITERS: A
II. FEMINIST LITERARY CRITICISM: A THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE
III. FEMINIST READINGS: A DECONSTRUCTIVE APPROACH
The emergence of feminist literary criticism is one of the major de-velopments in literary studies in the past thirty years or so. This article attempts to give an overall view of feminist literary criticism, its discov-ery of early women novelists and feminist readings. Since feminist literary criticism has re-discovered the forgotten texts, from the 17th centu-ry onwards, written by women whose contribution to the emergence of the novel genre is undeniable, and included them in the critical evalua-tions, it is quite important to present them both in a historical and liter-ary perspective. Thus the first part of this article is largely devoted to the literary achievements of these early women writers.
The second part of the article mainly concentrates on the most re-cent phase of feminist criticism by trying to offer a theoretical perspec-tive so that the reader is provided with a broad view of its developments. It would, however, be an incomplete discussion of feminist literary per-spectives if feminist readings were excluded from the argument. Therefore the third part of the article deals with feminist readings of texts, showing their crucial differences from the male readings. My major strategy in this part is to point to a comprehensive perspective by using the deconstructive critical approach. In fact, throughout this article the deconstructive approach plays an important role, not only in arguing how the dominant discourses are challenged and disrupted, but also in demonstrating that there can be no universal and privileged meanings and values in literary traditions. Instead, there are only multiple mean-ings. To exemplify this view, the article concludes with a deconstructive reading of a postmodern text.
I. WOMEN WRITERS: A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
BACK TO THE TOP
To understand the nature of feminist literary criticism and its alternative
approach to literature, we must first understand its long history. Although
critics like Simone de Beauvoir, Mary Elleman and Kate Millett were among
the first to reveal the literary history of women's images and to discuss
the dominant stereotyped images of female fictional characters, the history
of feminist criticism goes back hundreds of years in time. It can even
be traced back to Aristotle's declaration that "The female is female by
virtue of a certain lack of qualities," and St. Thomas Aquinas's belief
that woman is an "imperfect man." Texts go-ing back as far as Aristophanes's
comedy Lysistrata, "which is about how women achieved social change by
withholding sexual favours from their men" (Ruthven 16); and Aeschylus's
trilogy, The Oresteia, where Athena wins over Apollo's argument that the
mother is no parent to her child, are among the earliest examples of feminist
criticism. Also, Raman Selden mentions John Donne's "Air and Angels"
where Donne al-ludes to Aquinas's theory that form is masculine and matter
feminine: "the superior, godlike, male intellect impresses its form upon
the malle-able, inert, female matter"(134). Sharon Spencer mentions Sappho
of the 6th century BC as the greatest lyric poet of antiquity" and Christine
de Pisan's work as the "first major work of feminist criticism" (157).
Born in 1364. Pisan attracts our attention because she "criticised the
description of woman's nature drawn by Jean de Meun in Roman de La Rose"
(Spencer 157). Pisan's Epistre au dieu d'amours (1399) was writ-ten against
the biased representations of women in de Meun's work. In her La cite des
Dames (1405), Pisan also argued that God created man and woman as equal
beings. But, it is Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindica-ton of the Rights of
woman (1792) which marks the first modem awareness of women's struggle
for equal rights, and therefore it is the first milestone for the equality
of the sexes. Wollstonecraft was influenced by the ideas of the French
revolution concerning the equal rights of individuals. K.K. Ruthven observes
that "the analogy with slavery, which is present in Wollstonecraft's book,
"becomes the dominant trope in nineteenth-century feminist writing, doubtless
because of feminist involvement in the abolitionist movement" (29). Seventy
seven years later, in The Subjection of Women (1869), John Stuart Mill
expressed it very powerfully: "All men, except the most brutish, desire
to have in the woman most nearly connected with them, not a forced slave
but a will-ing one, not a slave merely, but a favourite. They have therefore
put everything in practice to enslave their minds" (Norton Anthology Vol.2,
991). Sixty years later Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own (1929) developed
and enhanced these views with a strong female sensibility and criticism.
A Room of One 's Own became an important precursor of femi-nist literary
criticism. Here, Virginia Woolf argues that the male domi-nated ideas of
the patriarchal society prevented women from realising their creativity
and true potential:
As Virginia Woolf was especially emphasising, women writers had to work
against the grain in order to write. Yet writing was the only way left
to women to assert individuality and autonomy. Excluded from many social,
political and economic activities, women turned to writing. But it was
not easy. In her essay, "Professions for Women." Virginia Woolf states
that she had to kill "the Angel in the House" in order to write her novels
and critical works:
Reading this passage we can understand the difficulties involved in
being a female writer. The idea is clear: it is dangerous for any woman
who writes to think of herself as a passive, subordinated being in the
house. To be a writer one has to destroy the stereotyped image of house-wife
and mother. In other words, women writers had before them the enormous
task of defying their marginality and subversion, not only in the house,
but in society as well. Mrs. Gaskell's letter of 25 August 1850, concerning
the deplorable conditions of Charlotte Bronte's life, provides an excellent
example to such struggles of female writers as Woolf was underlining. Mrs.
Gaskell writes that the Bronte girls were not taught anything by their
father; it was the servant who taught them to read and write, and that
they lived in extremely miserable conditions. Despite the unfortunate background
of her education and unfavourable circumstances of her life, Charlotte,"
writes Mrs. Gaskell, "possesses a charming union of simplicity and power;
and a strong feeling of respon-sibility for the Gift..." Mrs. Gaskell continues
her letter thus:
Of course Charlotte Bronte is not the only exemplary figure who could
defy her conditions and express herself in brilliantly written nov-els
like Jane Eyre, Shirley, and Villette. She is just one among the multi-tude
of women who had something of importance to say in fiction. There were
many writers like her who had to endure extreme difficul-ties, and yet
could produce lasting literary works. It is not surprising that most of
the 19th century female writers foregrounded woman as the subject of their
novels, or expressed female experience in their liter-ary rebellion against
their deliberate marginalisation both as women and as writers. In the 19th
century women writers usually invoked a centralised object of power although
it contradicted their aim of creating a resistance discourse. The centralised
object of power was the male authorial discourse. Yet, they had to identify
one way or the other, with power and culture in order to be accepted for
publication. But, the pos-sibilities of transgressive potential were always
there in their writing. Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848)
is a striking example, which is regarded as the first manifesto for women's
liberation. Here, Helen Huntingdon is driven to leave her atrocious husband
for an inde-pendent existence. Her defying the current laws of the times
came as a shock to the social conventions of the day. In 1848 the wife
and the chil-dren were under the husband's control, and it was impossible
to leave a husband without causing legal problems and social scandal. Yet
Anne Bronte's heroine, after so many attempts at reforming her husband,
walks out on him taking her son with her. Here is how Arthur Hunting-don
gives voice to the commonly held ideas about wives; no matter how badly
the husbands may behave, the wife is expected to obey and entertain him
without complaint: "Are the marriage vows a jest: and is it nothing to
make it your sport to break them...?" asks Helen after she encounters her
husband flirting with the wife of his friend. Huntingdon gives a typical
answer to her "'You are breaking your marriage vows yourself.' said he,
indignantly rising and pacing to and fro. 'You prom-ised to honour and
obey me, and now you attempt to hector over me, and threaten and accuse
me and call me worse than a highwayman
I won't be dictated to by a woman,
though she be my wife'"(248). Yet Helen per-sists in showing the injustice
in his behaviour, and asks him to imagine himself in her place: would he
then honour and trust her under such cir-cumstances? Again the answer is
loaded with the double standards of the day: "'The cases are different,'
he replied. 'It is a woman's nature to be constant - to love one and one
only, blindly, tenderly, and for ever...'" (248). It is this double-sided
reality that drives Helen Huntingdon to seek her independence. This double
standard - especially in education - is evident in most of the 19th century
female writing. For example, in Mrs. Gaskell's last novel, Wives and Daughters
(1866), the highly affec-tionate and protective father, Mr. Gibson, who
is an intellectual man of medicine himself, is against his daughter gaining
too much learning. Here is his instruction to his daughter Molly's governess
concerning her education:
Although Molly loves her father and obeys all his orders and fulfils all his demands, she instinctively realises that it is unjust for him to withhold a rich world of learning from her. So, "It was only by fighting and struggling hard, that bit by bit Molly persuaded her father to let her have French and drawing lessons" (46). But, Mrs. Gaskell writes that, "He was always afraid of her becoming too much educated" (46). This at-titude on the part of the male character is exemplary of the generally ac-knowledged patriarchal perception of women in society in order to con-trol and to limit their power. It also indicates the masculine resistance to the development of the feminine identity, because possessing a strong identity means possessing power as well.
Most of the novels written in the 19th century by women used the house as the central image, because, like their heroines, female writers were almost exclusively confined to the house. Their experiences were not as broad as their male counterparts, because they were isolated es-pecially from business life. Therefore, the novels display a highly static way of life. Although the female writers favoured the subjective voice in their fiction due to their limited experience of the world, they were aware of its disadvantages. First of all, in a world where the woman is regarded as the object, and not the subject who could participate in its affairs, the subjective voice was suggestive of a reaction against stan-dard morality. The female writer had to conform to this morality in or-der to be accepted for publication. Yet, despite these difficulties the women novelists developed the subjective voice in their fiction as the only viable form of expression of the subject in process. Eva Figes states that, "the position of women, isolated within individual households, fa-voured the development of the subjective voice in afiction which concen-trated on the domestic setting" (151). The significance of their contribu-tion to the literary establishment lies in the fact that the women writers have seen the female identity as a continuous process of -becoming" and thus have reflected its flexibility. This can be considered as an al-ternative method of character portrayal, and it had been initiated by the forgotten originators of the novel genre in the 18th century.
The literary achievements of Eliza Haywood, Aphra Behn, Delari-viere
Manley, Sarah Fielding. Fanny Burney. Elizabeth Inchbald and Maria Edgeworth,
to name only a few, established a tradition of 'subject in process' which
later novelists like Jane Austen, the Brontes, and George Eliot were to
pursue. Charlotte Bronte's dialectical approach to the experiences of women
provides an excellent example of the tradition of subject in process. The
tension between personal powerlessness and desire for power and control
in her female characters produces a process that enables the characters
to review the dominant ideologies of the times. In Jane Eyre (1847), and
Villette (1853) the heroine is able to resist social confinement and social
limitations by her independent mind which combines strong will and moral
integrity. Bronte's strong- minded heroine displays an integrated female
subjectivity. Lucy Snowe in Villette expresses it quite sharply: "I would
deliberately have taken a housemaid's place, bought a strong pair of gloves,
swept bedrooms and staircases, and cleaned stoves and locks, in peace and
independence" (382). Less strong heroines, like Caroline in Shirley (1849)
too, are aware of this self in formation. This is evident in Caroline's
inner search for a meaningful identity and existence: "What was I created
for, I wonder? Where is my place in the world?" (190). To ask such questions
usually assumes a belief in the unity of self, a search for a coherent
self that wants to know itself and control itself. This is also the rebellion
of the female consciousness against the male images of female identity
and experience. As Judith Kegan Gardiner points out, "The concept of female
identity shows us how female experience is transformed into fe-male consciousness,
often in reaction to male paradigms for female ex-perience" (190). Elizabeth
Bennet's wish for self-integration, control and affection in Jane Austen's
Pride and Prejudice (1813) also points to the subject in process: "Elizabeth,
on her side, had much to do. She wanted to ascertain the feelings of each
of her visitors, she wanted to compose her own, and to make herself agreeable
to all." (281). Juliet Mitchell argues that especially the early women
writers emphasised the process of becoming women within a new bourgeois
In the 19th century the awareness of the defects of the social sys-tem
under capitalism is quite visible in the works of the female writers. The
women novelists, like Mrs. Gaskell, began to question and com-ment on the
social system in their fiction. Their position is essentially humanist.
Eva Figes argues that the solution the female novelists of-fered was the
"feminisation of society":
The contribution of women writers to humanist values is repre-sented by a female identity that counterbalanced what they saw as the essentially destructive and anti-humanist male attitude and position in society. Therefore, female identity is represented as subject in process - a subject that is always in progressivist motion.
Although the women writers have seen female identity as a process and
have emphasised its flexibility, they could not avoid being subject-ed
to the unjustified claims on their intellectual powers. Thus, they have
always been alienated from the mainstream of literature and soci-ety. Especially
in the 19th century, women were debased for their so-called intellectual
inferiority. Female artists were not believed to have an intellectual and
creative capacity equal to that of "great men" like, among many others,
Mozart, Michaelangelo and Milton. They could achieve equality only in one
sense: that they could "die 'grandly' with an art comparable to a Milton's."
This is the great talent that is freely ac-knowledged in women, the ability
to die like a man, that is cheerfully applauded by De Quincey, as Angela
Leighton has pointed out (160). De Quincey's essay "Joan of Arc"
is typical evidence as to the biased male perception and deliberate attempts
at constructing and establishing the binary oppositions of male/female
hierarchy in the social system:
Despite all these attacks and underrating of their creativity, intelli-gence
and potential, women writers "felt pressured to prove both their reliability
and their physical endurance" (Showalter 78), and they es-tablished the
pre-eminent form of literary narrative, the novel. The nov-el genre emerged
with women's literary experiments in the 17th century, which was an age
of transformation into a capitalist society full of un-certainties. Yet
the female novelists have been deliberately kept out of critical consideration.
A renowned critic like Walter Allen starts The English Novel (1954) with
the following statement: "The comparatively sudden appearance at the turn
of the seventeenth century of the novel as we know it was a manifestation
of a marked change In the direction of men's interests" (21). Why Allen
overtly accords primacy to men and their interests is quite significant.
Since the "vast majority of early novels" writes Juliet Mitchell, "were
written by large numbers of women" (cit. Eagleton 100), how can a critic
be so ignorant of their ex-istence? It is quite clear that Allen deliberately
excludes them from the canon by making no reference to their contribution
to the formation of the novel genre. Women writers like Lady Mary Wroath,
Anne Wearnys, Margaret Cavendish (Duchess of Newcastle) are exclud-ed from
many critical works written on the emergence of the novel gen-re. Dale
Spender argues that only the determinedly partisan could produce such a
double standard in our literary heritage:
Since the novel is the creation of female writers, the exclusion of so many women novelists from the canon has caused an enormous de-gree of reaction from the feminist critics. Therefore, reconstruction and re-evaluation of the canon as regards the novel genre has become one of the major tasks of feminist criticism.
From the 17th century onwards there were a significant number of women who took to writing despite the severe disadvantages, "because selling their literary wares were treated with much the same ribaldry and contempt as prostitutes" (Spender 14). Therefore, the idea of writing and publication was regarded as a seriously dangerous issue for moral reasons. Yet, in spite of all the hindrances, women writers at-tempted to participate in the literary tradition, and created a new genre, the novel. The first major writer of importance is Lady Mary Wroath who was born in 1586. Her uncle being Sir Philip Sidney and her aunt the Countess of Pembroke may have been to her advantage in the first place. But, her achievement is due only to her own literary talent. Until the death of her husband and son in 1644, Lady Mary acted as a literary patron. For example, Dale Spender states that Ben Jonson dedicated much of his work to her, including in 1610 The Alchemist (12). Then, in order to pay her debts and to earn her living, she wrote Urania (1621), a pastoral romance which is a new version of Sidney's Arcadia. Urania is sig-nificant because of its innovative technique. That is, for the first time a writer is using a direct reference to reality for a realistic representation as regards the similarities between her characters and the social fig-ures of her time. Although this text is a variation on the conventions of the pastoral code, it has a bearing on the development of the novel gen-re. Despite its pastoral fantasy and flowery style, Urania actually moves away from the fantastic conventions of the pastoral romance with its realism of content and with its realistic portrayal of characters. In this respect, its realistic content and its introduction of realistic dialogue separate Urania from fantasy fiction and make it a precursor of the rea-listic conventions. Urania is the first example to narrow the gap be-tween fact and fiction.
Lady Mary Wroath was not the only woman writer who broke the line between
fantasy and reality. Many more followed her. Although the literary field
was occupied by 'men of letters' in the 17th century, the women, especially
during the second half of the century, embarked on new forms of writing
that brought fiction closer to reality. They initiated the emergence of
the forms of biography, autobiography and letters by writing exclusively
within these forms. Among these women the most notable ones included Anne
Clifford. Lucy Hutchinson, Anne Fan-shawe and Margaret Cavendish. These
women wrote autobiographical sketches that are notable for their realistic
details concerning their times. Especially Margaret Cavendish, Duchess
of Newcastle (1624-1674), introduced realism to the literary conventions.
Moreover, she boldly expressed her opinions about the situation of women.
In the "Preface to the Reader" part of her book The World's Olio (1655)
Caven-dish claimed that women would not be victims if they were given the
same education as men. Then, she argued, they would be intellectually equal
to men: "if we were bred in schools to mature our brains and to manure
our understandings, that we might bring forth the fruits of knowledge."
In the Preface to another work, Observations on Experimental Philosophy
(1666) she continued the argument: "I will not say but many of our Sex
may have as much Wit. and are capable of learning as well as Men: but since
they want instructions, it is not possible They should at-tain to it: for
Learning is Artificial, but Wit is natural" (cit. Spender 38). In her autobiography,
The True Relation of My Birth, Breeding and Life (1656), she documented,
with intensity of detail, the difficulties she and her husband, Cavendish,
experienced while in exile. This autobiog-raphy constitutes only one part
of her Nature's Pictures Drawn by Fancie's Pencil to the Life (1656) which
is a collection of tales, fables and dia-logues. Here is an example of
her use of realistic dialogue and the ex-pression of her own opinions on
During the Restoration period in England one woman writer pre-cedes
all others in time with her authentic realism: Aphra Behn (1640-1689).
Virginia Woolf hails her by claiming: "All women together ought to let
flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn... for it was she who earned them
the right to speak their minds"(66)
. After Aphra Behn came a number of
female writers who took fiction one step further. Delariviere Manley
(1663-1724) and Eliza Haywood (1693-1756) should have their proper place
in the history of the novel's development. Manley introduced the epistolary
form, and made use of political satire, as well as bringing into use "a
fantastical rendition of real life happenings" (Spender 73). Haywood established
the epistolary novel, and she is, therefore the forerunner of Richardson.
Eliza Haywood also wrote sentimental and realistic novels. Her History
of Bessy Thoughtless (1751) marks the true emergence of the novel with
its plot, character and dialogue. Haywood presented the world through women's
eyes and gave expression to women's experiences. Bessy Thoughtless became
the source of inspiration for later novelists like Fanny Burney and Jane
Austen. Burney's Evelina and Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennet are modelled
after Betsy. Betsy is the pioneer in the history of fictional characters
who learn from their errors. Eliza Haywood "was as much an active force
(and arguably the greater force)" writes Spender, "in shaping the novel
as were Daniel Defoe and Henry Fielding"(107).
Thus, the Duchess of Newcastle, Aphra Behn, and Delariviere Man-ley were actually the very first writers to initiate the emergence of the novel with their experiments in the realistic techniques, and Eliza Haywood became not only an active force in establishing conventions, but also the model to be followed in the new genre. They are the first rep-resentative figures for the 18th century women novelists who gave fic-tion its popular form. Elizabeth Inchbald, Charlotte Lennox, Charlotte Smith, Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Amelia Opie, Mary Brunton, Sarah Fielding, Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Hays, all had a share in furthering the novel and ensuring that it had popular appeal and recog-nition. As Showalter notes, "From about 1750 on, English women made steady inroads into the literary marketplace, mainly as novelists" (16). It is owing to the systematic and extensive research devoted to bringing these women novelists to light that these early founders of the novel genre have taken their place in the literary canon of today. This is one of the most significant contributions of feminist literary criticism. The literary evaluations of the early texts from the view-points of many different methods brought a refreshing light to literary studies in general.
II. FEMINIST LITERARY CRITICISM: A THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE
BACK TO THE TOP
Feminist literary criticism became a theoretical issue with the ad-vent of the new women's movement initiated in the early 1960s. In fact, feminist criticism started as part of the international women's libera-tion movement. The first major book of particular significance, in this respect, was Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1963) which contributed to the emergence of the new women's move-ment. In her book Friedan criticised "the dominant cultural image of the successful and happy American woman as a housewife and moth-er" (Leitch 308). According to Friedan, in the 1950s women had gone back to the house abandoning their jobs to men who came back from the war to claim their positions, and a feminine mystique was created in the media making the housewife and mother the ideal models for all women. Promoting women's ideal reality within the domestic realm, this mystique had reduced the identity of women to sexual and social passivity. Betty Friedan attempted to demystify this false feminine mys-tique, which she described as "a world confined to her own body and beauty, the charming of man, the bearing of babies, and the physical care and serving of husband, children and home" (cit. Millard 155), in order to renew the women's fight for equal rights. She had started a new consciousness-raising movement, and played a central role in developing the new discipline of women's studies.
With the publication of Kate Millet's Sexual Politics (1969), feminist criticism became a challenge to the traditional norms of English studies in the 1970s. With this book Millet initiated the first modem principles of feminist criticism by embarking upon a critique of sexist assumptions in male-authored texts and introducing some of the fundamental terms, such as "patriarchal," which gained considerable significance in feminist literary studies. Sexual Politics soon became a cult book among feminist critics, especially with its politics of female representations in literature. By "politics" Millet means the operations of power relations in society. She argues that Western institutions have manipulated power to establish the dominance of men and subordina-tion of women in society. She also criticises Freud's psychoanalytical theory for its male bias. With her readings of passages from established writers like D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, Norman Mailer and Jean Gen-et, Millet shows the perspectives of a female reader. Obviously she un-covers negative images of women in their fiction as submissive sexual objects. In fact, before Millet, the negative images of women both in so-ciety and in literature had produced equally provocative but more cau-tious responses, such as Mary Ellman's Thinking About Women (1965). It was with Ellman that modem feminist criticism was initiated in the United States. Her somewhat humorous treatment of the stereotypes of women in literature written by men makes Ellman one of the pioneers in the development of contemporary feminist criticism. With Ellman, and more forcefully with Millet, feminist criticism has generated much public debate in women's rights, and in their search for equality in society. Moreover, the continuing critique or woman's cultural, social and literary identity as the "other" still sparks off a great deal of contro-versy and interest, not only among feminist critics, but also in literary studies in general. So, consequently, as Elaine Showalter has stated in her article, "The Feminist Critical Revolution," feminist criticism has al-tered the traditional norms of literary study: "Since the late 1960s, when feminist criticism developed as part of the international women's movement, the assumptions of literary study have been profoundly al-tered" (3). The study of a female tradition in literature has transgressed the boundaries of the traditional canon both in its theoretical, political and literary assumptions. Hence, feminist literary criticism has become, to put it in Toril Moi's words, "an urgent political necessity" (82). The over-riding problem is now, "how to avoid bringing patriarchal notions of aesthetics, history and tradition to bear on the 'female tradition "(Moi 82). In this respect, Moi criticises Showalter who did not avoid these pitfalls" and other feminist critics, like Myra Jehien, who, she thinks, are not even aware of the problem (82). In view of the arguments pre-sented above, one can, as far as I am concerned, point out that to write outside the dominant discourses, aesthetics and literary theory is al-ready to accept the fact of being an outsider and posing willingly as "the other". Obviously, the problem of the relationship between politics or ideological criticism and aesthetics is already a highly complex one.
Modem critical theory states that reading a text with the intention of decoding its meaning(s) is a reductive act, and it imposes some kind of limitation (in the sense of closure) on the text. This is what feminist literary criticism should try to avoid if it claims a serious place within the theoretical field of literature. Toril Moi's argument that "without an aesthetic effect there will be no political effect" is right in as so far as feminist criticism deconstructs the binary opposition between politics and aesthetics and takes them as relational concepts and as value-free categories. If feminist criticism wants to generate new analytical meth-ods in its readings of literary texts, it can only achieve its aim by challenging and disrupting the patriarchal tradition within its dominant discourses, that is, by working from within that tradition. Besides, femi-nist critics can no longer claim that they work from marginalised posi-tions. They now constitute the majority of scholars in a great number of women's studies departments at the universities both in Europe and in the United States.
A re-reading of critical theories and methods of the literary tradition is possible only if those theories and methods are challenged from within their own assumptions. This is what French feminist criticism aimed at starting with Helene Cixous who has challenged the binary opposition of man/woman in the value system. Cixous has subverted the logocentric logic behind the underlying paradigms of male/female opposition in culture and literature. Binary systems validate logocentri-cism so convincingly that "to decentre logocentricism would invoke re-versing the values placed on each component in the binary terms which constitute it" (Ruthven 53). Once the binary opposition of male/female is reversed, as the first step to construct a new methodological basis for literary analysis, the signifying supremacy passes on to the once-secondary term in the hierarchy: "female." The second step is to avoid the temptation of forcing this term's dominance over the now-secondary term: "male." In other words, the second step is to avoid the static closure of the binary opposition. The supremacy of the privileged term, female, cannot remain in its privileged position to create new val-ues and meanings.
As Barbara Johnson notes, the deconstruction "of a binary opposi-tion is... not an annihilation of all values or differences; it is an attempt to follow the subtle, powerful effects of differences already at work with-in the illusion of a binary opposition" (xii). The meanings are achieved through a freeplay between presence and absence of the signifier (that produces meaning). The deconstruction of a text aims to undo "the domination of one mode of signifying over another (Johnson 5) The problem is that, meaning is never truly present, because it is endlessly deferred. It is created in an infinite process of referring to other signifi-ers, which, in fact give meaning to the previous signifier. This goes on infinitely. Thus, one can never reach a transcendental signified where the process of postponing meaning comes to an end. It is because "Writ-ing is the endless displacement of meaning which both governs lan-guage and places it for ever beyond the reach of a stable self-authenticating knowledge" (Norris 29).
There is no origin of meaning and an end to the signification pro-cess. As Jonathan Culler notes: "If either cause or effect can occupy the position of origin, then origin is no longer originary; it loses its meta-physical privilege. A non-originary origin is a "concept" that cannot be comprehended by the former system and thus disrupts it" (88). In short, the feminist literary tradition cannot claim to work outside this freeplay and assert any presence of origins in its analysis and evaluations of lit-erary texts by privileging the term "female." The terms female and male can be studied, however, as a relational and differential process. They are related to each other as signifiers in an endless signification pro-cess. It is not possible to stop this process as Derrida has brilliantly demonstrated in his theory of deconstruction. Therefore, it is necessary to study the female literary tradition in relation to its male counterpart, and to deconstruct all the binary oppositions that have been falsely created and accepted over the centuries as universal and privileged val-ue-systems, or meta-narratives.
So, no matter how strongly the Western logocentricism has claimed the supremacy of meta-narratives (such as history, logic, reason, or truth), they have been challenged since all "origins" have been shattered and all illusions broken. Now, these meta-narratives all split into multiple discourses. Feminist literary criticism has played a cru-cial part in breaking the logocentric tradition and challenging the su-premacy of the privileged concepts and values in the patriarchal sys-tems. This is its alternative approach to literary as well as cultural studies.
Today recent critical theories of literature claim that there is no one single reality or any dominant narrative that can bind the individual writer in any way. Since the shattering of all meta-narratives there flourished a plurality of diversified narratives. Therefore, the ideologies of femininity and female writing, or the male literary tradition, should no longer be thought of in terms of universal origins or frameworks. To-day no literary critic can claim to mobilise the innumerable discourses that are produced to deconstruct each other. Like any other literary discourse, feminist discourses, too, should be read intertextually, not only in terms of writer against other writers, but also in terms of the literary against itself. With the advent of deconstructive criticism, there is now a way to question and to challenge the ideologies by which the female writers had written and under-written fiction, and also against which they had encouraged a sustained reading of that fiction.
Feminist criticism is especially notable as regards its diversity of
aims and methods. As Elizabeth Abel notes in her "Introduction" to Writing
and Sexual Difference (1982), deciphering the interplay of writ-ing and
sexual difference requires a variety of critical approaches (2). Feminist
critics are pluralistic in their literary methods and theo-ries. Annette
Kolodny also states that only by employing a plurality of methods will
we protect ourselves from the temptations of oversimplif-ying any text"
("Dancing through the Minefield" 161). But, as Kolodny also points out,
there is a basic principle that unites feminist literary critics under
one roof despite their plurality of methods:
Feminist literary criticism has been very successful especially in re claiming the lost literary women and in documenting the sources. In this respect, feminist criticism has successfully directed attention to the female intellectual tradition. Many early works on women writers before the 1960s usually focus on the female literary tradition. Here it is necessary to point out the difference between "female" and "feminist" positions in literary studies. According to Toril Moi in Feminist Literary Criticism: "Feminist criticism...is a specific kind of political discourse, a critical and theoretical practice committed to the struggle against pa-triarchy and sexism..." (204). Thus the term "feminist" implies a politi-cal position. As Sharon Spencer argues, feminist criticism "attempts to set standards for a literature that is as free as possible from biased por-traits of individuals because of their class, race or sex"(158). The term "female," on the other hand, does not imply a political or feminist posi-tion; it implies a gender difference. Female writing can be taken as the special female expression of women's perspectives on a variety of social, cultural and political issues without being committed to the feminist position. Patricia Meyer Spacks points out that "the difference between traditional female preoccupations and roles and male ones make a dif-ference in female writing" (7). Not all women writing have a feminist ap-proach in the sense that they attempt to raise the consciousness of women, or in the sense of expanding women's culture-bound images. Female writing, then, can be explained in terms of gender, not in terms of a collective experience of women or their political perspectives. Hence, male writers can be feminists but they cannot be female writers. The same holds true for male critics. The male feminist critic K.K.Ruthven in his Feminist Literary Studies (1984), for example, has stated that "the aim of a feminist criticism as of any revolutionary criti-cism should be to subvert the dominant discourses, not to make com-promises with them"(6). He rejects the idea that feminist criticism "is essentially women's work" (9). Ruthven's book has been condemned by Toril Moi for its "divisiveness, aggression." and "patronising gestures (Feminist Literary Criticism 209). This kind of critique shows the fe-male critic's keen observation of the male vision, and indicates the fact that feminist literary criticism is the only alternative critical field where women wish to be dominant in practice.
Since the 19705 feminist criticism also engaged itself in extensive discussions about the representations of women in literary tradition and the discovery of the impressive tradition of female writing, because the novel was actually represented almost wholly by women. Many critics like Dale Spender, Elaine Showalter, Juliet Mitchell, among others, have investigated the reason why "To be seen as a woman writer" was "to be seen in a subcategory" (Spender 166). Thus women began to re-sent the imposed literary categories and judgements by openly challenging and disrupting the logocentric tradition. This disruption of the dominant discourses of the literary establishment actually started with a number of notable books in the 1970s. These include, Patricia Meyer Spacks's The Female Imagination (1975) which dealt with Eng-lish and American novels of the past three hundred years; Ellen Moer's Literary Women (1976) which discusses the history of women's writing and which is considered a landmark book; Elaine Showalter's A Literature of Their Own (1977) which describes the female tradition in the English novel from the Brontes onward as a development of subculture; and Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic (1979) which studies the major female writers of the 19th century. All these notable books have paved the path for further and more detailed studies of gender and sexism in literature.
The major critical studies of women writers from the viewpoint of the
female tradition constitute the first serious feminist criticism. Elaine
Showalter's A Literature of Their Own is a typical example. In her analysis
of the historical development, Showalter presents three important stages
of women's writing. First, the imitation of the mainstream lit-erary tradition:
second, the protest against the standards of this domi-nant tradition concerning
social values and rights: and third, self-discovery which aims at a search
for identity. Showalter identifies these stages as Feminine, Feminist and
Female. The Feminine period covers the years between 1840-1889; the Feminist
period 1890-1920, and the Female period starts in 1920 and comes to the
1960s. It continues with its renewal of perspectives with the advent of
the women's move-ment after the 1960s. Showalter's contribution to the
feminist criticism centres on her re-discovery of the forgotten women writers
falling into these stages. Nine years later, Dale Spender's Mothers of
the Novel: 100 good writers before Jane Austen (1986) appeared. This book
lays bare an impressive amount of lost women novelists. In her "Introduc-tion"
Spender writes: "For the more women novelists I found, and the more women's
novels I read, the more I was convinced of the desirability, and the necessity
of reclaiming this lost tradition, and of chal-lenging the received wisdom
of the literary establishment - that for women novelists it all started
with Jane Austen" (2). Thus, Spender un-dertakes the difficult task of
re-presenting the "great heritage of wom-en novelists" (2). She takes these
women novelists as the "bearers of women's traditions "(5), and calls them
"the mothers of the novel".
Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic is another brilliantly written massive book on the major female writers of the 19th century. It presents the nature of the "distinctively female tra-dition" (xi) of the 19h century. Gilbert and Gubar's main argument is that artistic creativity, which is perceived within the dominant 19th century tradition basically as a male quality, is in fact a patriarchal su-perimposition upon the women writers who are imprisoned within it. They write that in the image of the Divine Creator the male author fa-thers his text. Since women take the same masculine cosmic author as their model too, they end up copying or identifying with the dominant literary images of femininity which come out of the phallocentric myth of creativity". Authored by a male God and by a godlike male, killed into a "perfect" image of herself, the woman writers' self-contemplation may be said to have begun with a searching glance into the mirror of the male-inscribed literary text (15). Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar especially emphasise the metaphor of paternity" (7) in reference to the notion of authority as the legitimised masculine concept in the owner-ship of texts. Associating 'author' with the father image. Gilbert and Gu-bar argue that, "if the author/father is owner of his text. and of his reader's attention, he is also, of course, owner/possessor of the subject of his text, that is to say of those figures, scenes, and events." (7). From the male perspective, then, since the owner of the text is the author, he is entitled to the control of all his images. Women, thus, had to conform to the male standards of the images of femaleness in their own writing. According to Judith Fetterley, "that is the consequence of the patriarchal prediction that to be human is to be male" (ix). Literary women, then, are forced to identify with men and male standards of writing, and yet they are, at the same time, constantly reminded of being female writers. So, deprived of the power of discourse that is given universal parameters in the hands of male writers, the female writers fought against being the "other" and the "outsider in the literary tradition: "When only one reali-ty is encouraged, legitimised, and transmitted, and when that limited vi-sion endlessly insists on its comprehensiveness, then we have the con-ditions necessary for that confusion of consciousness in which impalpability flourishes" (Fetterley xi).
III. FEMINIST READINGS: A DECONSTRUCTIVE APPROACH
BACK TO THE TOP
Judith Fetterley states that "to be excluded from a literature that
claims to define one's identity is to experience a peculiar form of power-lessness"
(xiii). According to her this powerlessness results from the "endless division
of self against self" as well as from "invocation to iden-tity as male
while being reminded that to be male - to be universal - is to be not female
" (xiii). The assumption here, that there is something uni-versal and that
is male, may hold true for the l9th century women writ-ers who, as Anne
Bronte, tried to challenge and to change it. But, the case is no longer
the same in our day. Literary texts cannot insist on their universality
let alone define it in specifically male terms. Yet, uni-versal archetypes
were deeply imprinted on the literary unconscious for a long time until
they were deconstructed. Jonathan Culler gives "The legend of Sleepy Hollow"
as an example to the creation of a universal archetype in literature that
is male based. Quoting from Leslie Fiedler, Culler states that the figure
of Rip van Winkle has created an archetype for the American novelists.
In this archetype "the protagonist struggles against constricting, civilising,
oppressive forces embodied by women. The typical protagonist... seen as
embodying the universal American dream, has been a man on the run..." (51-52).
According to Culler, read-ing such texts the woman reader is forced to
"identify with a hero who makes woman the enemy" (52). Thus the woman reader,
as Fetterley has also pointed out, is asked to identify against herself.
That is why Fetterley calls this identification process "an endless division
of self against self" (xiii). The only way to repudiate the universality
of these structures in the texts is to read against their own logic of
foundations, and to become a resistant reader to the deliberately created
illusions and imposed meanings. In other words, once the structure of the
text is deconstructed, its universality inevitably disappears, and its
centres lose their pull; because, in such a reading the dominating presence
of any central meaning fades into absence. Jonathan Culler explains it
Reading as a woman provides a totally different point of departure from
reading as a man. But that does not mean that the female reader reads outside
the theoretical discourses, but that the female reader, by working within
those discourses, resists and undoes the falsely situat-ed perspectives
of the male reader. What happens when a female reader attempts to adjust
the already accepted reading process (that is male) is to reverse it in
such a way that the perspective of the male reader loses its universality
and is neutralised. By working from within the liter-ary tradition, the
female reader challenges its logocentricism. Thus, she uses the theoretical
discourses and their methods in order to subvert the centres of male domination
in those discourses. By focusing on the overlooked and suppressed elements
of the text, the female reader shows that the male commentary of the text
does not actually provide a comprehensive vision, but a limited interpretation.
This kind of reading displaces the dominant male perception, and shows
its critical vision to be deceptive. "The task at this level is not to
establish a woman's reading that would parallel a male reading" writes
Culler, "but rather, through argument and an attempt to account for textual
evidence, to produce a comprehensive perspective, a compelling reading"(58).
This kind of reading is both rewarding and refreshing because it re-trieves and recuperates the marginal and the undermined elements in a text, and gives a broader perspective to the reader. A feminist explica-tion of Joseph Conrad's text Heart of Darkness is a good example of such a reading. The critical evaluations of the book provide a clear indica-tion of the kind of limited interpretations male readers have introduced. The text itself allows for a biased male vision of women as well. "It's queer how out of touch with truth women are," says the narrator to his male audience sitting on a boat, "they live in a world of their own, and there had never been anything like it, and never can be" (27). Marlow, the narrator, goes on to say that "it is too beautiful altogether, and if they were to set it up it would go to pieces before the first sunset. Some confounded fact we men have been living contentedly with ever since the day of creation would start up and knock the whole thing over" (27), Women are nearly absent from this story, but Marlow's pointing out this fact makes them quite noticeable. This is a remarkable paradox in the text.
Conrad's text is framed by a story about Marlow's bizarre experi-ences
in the heart of Africa - especially his ambiguous relationship with Kurtz
who is also absent from the action, but whose presence through the others'
discourse, dominates the entire story. Marlow is not only the narrator
of the story, but also a character within the story itself. His comments
about women, and his response to the "dead negro" - show him as a typical
Englishman capable of insensitive jokes. Further, most readers tend to
concentrate on him as the storyteller. If, however, the attention is directed
to language, and to the ways in which meaning is pro-duced, a decidedly
male realm is encountered. The values that language is loaded with are
masculine dominated, because the language used in the text gives us a binary
logic that associates light, activity and thought with masculinity, and
dark passivity and emotion with femininity. Feminist criticism of the text
uncovers this overlooked element and challenges this already accepted symbolism.
First of all, this is a story about manly adventure, narrated by a man.
Secondly, he uses an overt male language. When Marlow states, "We penetrated
deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness" (59), his use of the sexual
metaphor of pene-tration already associates darkness with women. Here is
how he uses language to reflect masculinity:
Here, Marlow is not only unversalising a relative concept like truth,
but also making it an all-male meta-narrative which only men can comprehend
because of their vast intellectual capacity: and thus, he is excluding
women from the realm of wisdom without a second thought. But his
assertion that male speech "cannot be silenced," al-ready implies the ironic
displacement within itself. Is there, then, a pos-sibility of silencing
it? It seems so, since the male voice feels threatened by this possibility,
and resists this displacement. This masculine lan-guage connects itself
with the masculine value system, in other words, with the culture and ideology
of Western societies which place it in a complex interrelationship to the
patriarchal and imperialist ideologies. This union of patriarchal and imperialist
visions informs the masculine perceptions of the basic assumptions that
organise our thinking. We are conditioned by the basic assumptions,
because they form an internalised ideology. Does Conrad's text, then,
aim to colonise and pacify the savage darkness and women? Just like the
savages, women are silenced and kept out: "They - the women I mean - are
out of it - should be out of it. We must help them to stay in that beautiful
world of their own, lest ours gets worse" (63). Here, it is evident that
the narra-tor tries to impose a certain ideological view on the status
of women (that they are not considered as natural parts of the masculine
world, which is, of course (!) the whole world itself), but the very language
he uses shows an inherent contradiction in this view. In other words, iron-ically
this assertion reverses itself because the women's world keeps the male
world from deteriorating. The women and the savages, in this text, are
marginalised in the sense that they are speechless. We never hear their
voice. Thus, the commonly accepted interpretive analyses of the text would
leave them out, and this would seem natural since the centre is always
the male voice in the narrative. The native laundress, the savage woman,
the Company women are all silenced. Only Marlow's aunt and the Intended
are allowed to utter a few lines. Yet, all of them stand for darkness for
Marlow and the reader unwittingly accepts this imposition. In this respect,
the language of the text is permeated with an internalised ideology that
is the unconscious basis of individual ex-perience. Language reveals the
kind of ideology that imposes a unified meaning on the whole text. It seems
to hide the differences. But, the de-construction of the text reveals the
opposite of what it so strongly as-serts. For example, we are asked to
take for granted that the savages "are simple people" (68) and that they
are savages, without considering their customary social systems and their
cultural practices. We are led to consider these practices as deviances
and as disparate experiences, and not as different value systems. Here,
it is important to note that dif-ference plays a crucial part in the critical
search for the 'other' possible meanings that this text embodies. The deconstructive
concept of "differ-ence" is useful in understanding the cultural and psychoanalytical
ac-count of the self:
Since deconstruction operates by questioning everything, it is a process of "undoing" the signification process within the text. As Barba-ra Johnson reminds us, deconstructive reading depends on "the careful teasing out of warring forces of signification within the text" (5). These forces can never be subjected to a single interpretation. Johnson goes on to say that "a deconstructive reading, is a reading that analyses the specificity of a text's critical difference from itself which it 'knows' but cannot say" (5). To show the differences within, the critic gets engaged in freeplay with the signifiers in the text. Since language is a signing process, it is commonly used in discriminating women. This is the case in Heart of Darkness.
Although what we call natural is imposed upon language, the very nature
of language shows a gap between the text and its imposed mean-ings. In
this sense language reveals the contradictions, and shows what seems to
be the unnatural as difference, not as 'unnatural.' The savage woman, for
example, stands for darkness, something to be avoided or conquered. Marlow
transforms her into a symbol in order to control the dark wilderness. He
describes her as "a wild and gorgeous apparition of a woman"(76).
Marlow's descriptive adjectives, however, do not really convey her, but
the impression she makes on him:
The savage woman represents, for Marlow, the very core of wilderness. -By endowing her with symbolic attributes, Marlow hides the true customs and culture of the natives, their difference, and imposes his own controlling power on them, so that he is able to remove the potentially dangerous forces these cultures may possess. This danger be-comes explicit when the savage woman starts to move, and opens her arms to the sky. She is no longer the controlled symbol, but a real threat now. Assigning the woman with his own symbolic meanings Marlow is able to impose his own reading on what is different, and he makes her an object of his vision. But, as Patricia Waugh argues, "the object must be perceived in relation to itself, rather than in relation to the experienc-es/feelings/thoughts of the perceiving mind" (19). Thus, the savage woman is not an inhabitant of the jungle as Marlow's patriarchal percep-tions would designate her. This stylized image of the woman, "who tread(s) the earth proudly" and who is of the "fecund" earth itself (56), shows the image making and identity making power of the masculine discourse. This kind of imposition of meanings does not indicate the male wish for victimisation, on the contrary, it shows the woman's pow-er. If we reverse Marlow's focus on this woman and consider the wom-an's warlike ornaments, Marlow's indication of her grief loses its ground. She is a female warrior whose silence indicates a defying of outside forces, a resistance to the process of mystification Marlow imposes on her in order to "meet that truth with his own true stuff" as he states. Her difference indicates that she is the other, not dependent on any oth-er system. Her difference negates Marlow's authorial aim of her mystifi-cation, and shows a departure from the masculine power which has natural links with the imperialist ideologies. The deliberate defence of belief in masculine truth and power is subverted by the very language the masculine subject chooses to use. In this overt way, the text decon-structs its own meanings, and all of Marlow's grand narratives are dis-placed and subverted. In short, this kind of alternative reading of the text opens the reader's consciousness to broader and more comprehensive perspectives. It is rewarding because it shows how to restore the deliberately marginalised and undermined elements of texts. It also questions how the masculine representations came to be created and validated. For many readers accepting such representations is a fairly unconscious process. It seems quite natural to subscribe to the ideolo-gy inherent in them. Feminist readings show them to be deceptive, and they attempt to refine these basic assumptions: furthermore, feminist readings direct our attention to the infinite variations of the same text in its interpretations, and point to the text's difference from its own basic assumptions as we have seen in the case of Heart of Darkness. Feminist criticism of this text challenges the sufficiency of its received critical opinion.
The "primarily male structures of power" in Kolodny's words, are so strongly imprinted in the general consciousness of the reading public that they have become internal to the writing process itself. Only a systematic approach to representational practices in literature would dismantle those binary structures of power. As Rosalind Coward em-phasises, "As feminists we have to be constantly alerted to what reality is being constructed and how representations are achieving this con-struction" ("Are Women's Novels Feminist Novels?" 227). A feminist reading should aim to contest what seems to be a natural inscription as an agreed definition of power structures. The result may show that such inscriptions are in fact inherently phallocentric . In otherwords, male domination in texts usually blends social and ideological systems which not only validate, but also advance a patriarchal power. Contest-ing phallocentric patterns of thought, feminist criticism challenges the masculine perceptions and representations as the only natural sources of authority. Dismantling logocentricism also leads to the deconstruc-tion of patriarchal "systems 9f thought which legitimise themselves by reference to some PRESENCE or point of authority prior to and outside of themselves" (Hawthorn 130). This point of authority is the accepted and agreed-upon definition of the author as a male presence. This male-centred writing has created the conventions by which all our literary thinking has been conditioned. But, it is powerfully challenged and re-adjusted by feminist literary criticism.
The most brilliant challenge comes from postmodernism, or to put it more sharply, from the postmodern awareness of feminist literary criticism, to this process of contesting male authority. Due to its essen-tial nature of interrogation of all established premises in literature. postmodernism can be considered as a natural ally of feminist literary criticism. The major break with tradition is provided by this postmodern challenge of norms, concepts and literary conventions. The most important characteristic of postmodernism, which the feminist critics can easily adopt to their literary practice, is its de-canonisation process. Arguing that "Feminism is an essential part of postmodern-ism," Dina Sherzer notes, "all master codes, all conventions, institu-tions, authorities" come under the critical scrutiny of postmodern chal-lenge (156). Ihab Hassan, in his article, "Making Sense: The Trials of Postmodernism." has put it very strongly: We deconstruct, displace, demystify the logocentric, ethnocentric, phallocentric order of things" (445)
Postmodern texts displace the centre of authority and origin in texts, and they question the very premises these origins are based on. They question and demystify the meta-narratives by breaking them into their multiple discourses. Similarly, feminist literary criticism directs our attention to the important task of displacing the patriarchal order of things, as well as disrupting the nature and origin of masculine rep-resentations in texts.
Jeanette Winterson's Sexing the Cherry (1989) provides such a vi-sion.
Celebrating the power of imagination this novel brilliantly presents a
play on meta-narratives like History and Reality. It decon-structs the
binary oppositions of History/fiction and male/female, not by reversing
the hierarchy, but by blending them in such a way as to show their relational
and differential process. In this way we are able to follow the "powerful
effects of differences" between male/female and History/fiction. The novel
takes place in 17th century London, where the fabulous Dog Woman makes
a living by organising fights and races for her hounds. But, the date of
the text is not fixed in the sense of closure, because Winterson challenges
fixed ideas of histo-ry by creating an aura of ambiguity and uncertainty
in her reference to the historical events. The Dog Woman's foster son,
Jordan, narrates half the novel, his sections alternating with the mother's.
In between is the fabliau narrative of the twelve dancing princesses. Jordan
presents a "real-life" narrative, but its fictionality and the stylistic
em-phasis on the elements of fantasy reverse the opposition of reality/
fiction. Take, for example, Jordan's claim: "The words resist erasure.
The oldest and most stubborn form a thick crust of chattering rage" (17),
and The Dog Woman's emphasis: "In the city of words that I have told you
about the smell of wild strawberries was the smell characteristic of the
house." (20). This kind of self-consciousness abounds throughout the novel,
and reality turns into fiction. This is exemplified in the metaphorical
displacement of gender in one of Jordan's adven-tures. In search of his
beautiful dancer, Fortunata, who is one of the dancing princesses, Jordan
wanders from theatre to opera, from cafes to casinos, and finally to a
pen of prostitutes. He enters in female dis-guise. Then, beneath the prostitutes'
lodgings, he discovers the Nuns of the Convent of the Holy Mother. Amidst
these totally different types of women, Jordan realises that male and female
identities can easily switch places:
The "code-words of the women meaning something other" in con-trast to
the male constructions point to the indefinability of meaning; meaning
cannot be traced down to any original point in the language system. Although
Jordan states that he has long been interested in the contradictions,"
concerning the paradox of the order in religion between the command, "Thou
shalt not kill" and its opposite, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a
tooth." he hopes to get "a full rendering of their mean-ing". But, instead
he ironically points to "contradictory certainties" in certain meta-narratives
like Religion, Truth and History. Because of this inherent paradox in their
very nature, these meta-narratives de-construct themselves, and that is
the irony Jordan notices. Similarly, meanings in Language cannot be traced
down to any certainty. In this respect, "Language always betrays us." says
Jordan, "tells the truth when we want to lie, and dissolves into formlessness
when we would most like to be precise" (90). In this text realistic concerns
are placed in an ironic tension to the fantastic due to this nature of
lan-guage. Therefore, Jordan remarks: "And so what we have told you is
true, although it is not" (95). The text subverts the dominant male
vision as the only viable vision of reality, and displaces male perception
as the only perception with universal parameters. It also shatters one
of the most deeply seated and powerful of meta-narratives, history, into
its multiple discourses as produced by the alternating historical accounts
of the characters. So, the result is there is no History as a universal
dis-course or document, but different visions of it provided by different
nar-ratives. In short, Winterson's text deconstructs the male discourses
of History, by working from within those discourses; and shows that all
concepts should be dealt with, not in terms of closed realities, but in
terms of continuous process. Thus, it emerges as a challenging post-modernist
As can be observed from the ironic handling of the conventions of history, fiction and reality in Sexing the Cherry, it is now quite impossi-ble for any writer to impose any fixed and static notions of reality. Postmodernism contests all fixed notions and opens new horizons in fiction writing. Feminist readings provide a similar opening up of the text's possibilities. Thus, the "male generative power" as the only creative power in literature is thoroughly subverted by the feminist readings of texts. Whereas, in terms of literary expression, many women writers, who are included among the postmodernists, depart from the practice of "formal abstraction, aesthetic distance, autonomy, and 'objectivity' which has dominated modernist aesthetics and much twentieth-century literary theory" (Waugh 76). Instead of displaying an intricate linguistic virtuosity and metafictional play of words, women writing in the postmodern line, have explored "human subjectivity and history in terms of non-systematized particulars" (Waugh 77). According to Patri-cia Waugh, it is important for women to experience and to explore them-selves as human 'subjects' in their fiction, and not to follow the metafic-tional practice of the fragmentation of the self, in order to deconstruct subject positions they are situated in by the male ideologies: "Once women have experienced themselves as 'subjects' then they can begin to problematize and to deconstruct the socially constructed subject positions available to them, and to recognize that an inversion of the valu-ation of 'maleness' and 'femaleness' will not in itself undermine the so-cial construction of masculinity and femininity" (25). This is only part of what feminist readings investigate in many postmodemist or tradi-tional texts.
The alternative feminist reading resists all ideological and linguis-tic impositions. Therefore, now, the notion of an all-powerful author is totally demystified. This is the most important contribution of feminist literary criticism to the literary studies that ties it so closely with postmodern awareness. In this respect, feminist literary criticism has not only achieved a revision of the literary canon, but also emerged as one of the most challenging critical theories in the rethinking of all literary conventions. Thus, feminist literary criticism has been a revisionist theoretical movement within literary studies.
BACK TO THE TOP
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