The Erotics of Talk: Women's Writing and Feminist Paradigms
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Is feminism in "crisis?" With many feminists now questioning identification and focusing on differences between women, what is the fate of feminist criticism's traditional imperative to rescue women's stories and make their voices heard?
In this provocative rereading of the classic texts of the feminist literary canon, Carla Kaplan takes a hard look at the legacy of feminist criticism and argues that important features of feminism's own canon have been overlooked in the rush to rescue and identify texts. African-American women's texts, she demonstrates, often dramatize their distrust of their readers, their lack of faith in "the cultural conversation," through strategies of self-silencing and "self-talk." At the same time, she argues, the homoerotics of women's writing has too often gone unremarked. Not only does longing for an ideal listener draw women's texts into a romance with the reader, but there is an erotic excess which is part of feminist critical recuperation itself.
Drawing on a wide range of resources, from sociolinguistics and anthropology to literary theory, Kaplan's highly readable study proposes a new model for understanding and representing "talk." She supplies fresh readings of such feminist classics as Jane Eyre, "The Yellow Wallpaper," Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and The Color Purple, revealing how their "erotics of talk" works as a rich political allegory and form of social critique.
students in institutions of compulsory education, patients in mental asylums, soldiers in the military—indeed, for all situations where the power that structures discourse is hierarchical and asymmetrical and where some persons are prevented from pressing their claims either by overt or covert force or by such structural features as the lack of an appropriate vocabulary for interpreting their needs. But the fact that the humanist ideal of autonomous subjectivity is unrealizable, even co-optable,
Hundred Years of Reading 'The Yellow Wallpaper,'" in The Captive Imagination, 9. There is a particularly rich tradition of criticism on "The Yellow Wallpaper." Much of it has been recently collected, along with interesting background materials, in The Captive Imagination. 51. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Yellow Wallpaper," New England Magazine (May 1892), reprinted in ibid., 24. All future references are to this edition and will be cited parenthetically. 52. "The narrator," Annette Kolodny
woman writer's relationship to her black female precursors, McDowell contends, "begins with thinking back through and reclaiming her female ancestors."33 This process, she argues, is collaborative and nonconflictual: Bloom's linear theory of the Oedipal war between literary fathers and sons does not obtain among black women writers, many of whom reverently acknowledge their debts to their literary foremothers. Unlike Bloom, I see literary influence, to borrow from Julia Rristeva, in the
"ratified participants but are not specifically addressed by the speaker," and those who are "ratified participants who are addressed."62 Only Nettie and God are ever officially "ratified" as the designated recipients of Celie's story. Although they are addressed directly, Celie never really expects a response from either of them, although she desires a response from both. Shug, on the other hand, is not addressed directly, but she is very much a "ratified" participant, and a response is
reassured that exchange between people is still possible, that we are not merely alone, speaking to ourselves, talking into the empty wind of a world from which meaningful and satisfying interrelationship has been eradicated. It is a figure for the representation both of desire and what thwarts desire. It is a performative that questions the status of performativity itself. An erotics of talk, in other words, is a figuration for both personal desire and social critique, "a mode of discourse which