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.
access to the meaning of the story and that all readings are stories of readerly desire. The integration of desire (which need not demand sameness) into a literary politics of identification (which does) allows for difference as well as sameness, for disidentification and conflict as well as collaboration and cure. It reminds us that we need not, as Hedges argues, be always "pursuing and finding in the text, as the narrator does in the wallpaper, only our own image reflected back."73 Finally,
power relations which must be transformed before a democratizing, subject-affirming dialogue might be achieved. Insofar as equality is both prerequisite to and a measure of the discursive intimacy Jane seeks—"equal as we are"—the failure of that democratization calls into question whatever success may be won by narrative exchange. Jane's "first and only opportunity of relieving [her] grief by imparting" her tale of "miserable cruelty" comes with Mr. Lloyd, the "good apothecary" who has been
exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts. (140-41) Beginning with Virginia Woolf, feminists have turned to this speech to analyze Jane's revolt against "stagnation," and her plea for a wider life than "making puddings and knitting stockings . . . playing on the piano and embroidering bags" (141). "What are they blaming Charlotte Bronte for?" Woolf asks.29 For seeking, in Jane's own words, to "do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex" (141). This
symbolic kinship that needs to be taken into account. Where Bronte and Hurston both contrast the difficulty of converting adversaries with the pleasure of conversing with friends, Walker tries to reconcile the two by making all adversaries over into friends. The Color Purple attempts to dissolve the tension between a contestatory discursive ethos and an erotic discursive aesthetic through the same strategy Bronte and Hurston use to heighten it. A complex logic of sameness undergirds the novel's
the use offeree becomes a temptation."57 Truth claims will be more, not less coercive the more we restrict vigorous argument and debate. Whether we do so in the name of cozy, familiar dialogue or in an effort to avoid totalizing gestures of power and violence, the result will be the same. Communicative norms, in other words, may impinge on the potential subversivity of performativity's potential for creating a new community or citing alternative conventions. But operating without such