The Anonymous Woman

Many of the texts (Woolf, Walker, Cixous) we’ve read so far in this “Cultural and Knowledge Production” cluster have touched upon the notion of the anonymous woman writer/artist and the ramifications of her work. Cixous claims, “Unlike man who holds so dearly to his title…women couldn’t care less about the fear of decapitation…without the masculine temerity, into anonymity, which she can merge with without annihilating herself” (888). She asserts that it is because women do not have the castration anxiety that men have and that because, implicitly, women have nothing to lose, they can write without fear and truly explore themes of life, ego, etc. as they are collectively experienced.

But what does this mean for women’s authorship if woman does not feel she needs to “hold so dearly to her title” as men do? Is it always true that “feminine texts cannot fail to be more than subversive” (888)? Cixous states that it is impossible to define what feminine writing is (883) and that a work from a female author is not necessarily a feminine text (878). However, what does it mean when a “feminine” work written by a woman is submitted to the public anonymously? Does the public, then, have to recognize the work as feminine for it to be subversive, or will it actually be subversive because they can’t necessarily recognize it as feminine or written by a woman?

From the texts we’ve read, it seems that anonymous texts are empowering to women primarily when they are seen in a feminine light. Otherwise, though, it never seems to be mentioned whether they can effect change elsewhere besides among women. Indeed, this does not necessarily seem to be Cixous’s concern anyway as she writes, “it is by writing, from and toward women…that women will confirm women in a place other than that which is reserved in and by the symbolic” (881). Women shouldn’t have to or try to prove to men their capability because their words would indeed fall on deaf ears and blind eyes. However, what subversion can a woman writer/artist hope to achieve, aside from spurring other women to the realization that they, too, can break free from the symbolic? In that case, won’t she eventually just be preaching to the choir?

Looking now at Walker’s discussion of the anonymous female artist in “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,” Walker comes to the conclusion that mothers and grandmothers “anonymously” pass on creativity and artistry to their daughters, who sign their own names to their work. In this case, the legacy of women’s artistry is passed on and recognized; some of their works may perhaps be called “feminine” as per Cixous. However, can mothers and grandmothers “anonymously” pass on creativity to their sons in the same way, and if their sons are influenced by their mothers as Walker describes daughters are, do men, too, pass on the legacy of women’s artistry? Or are men necessarily trapped within the “phallocentric tradition” and cannot ever hope to write a “feminine” text?

As both Cixous and Walker describe, women give their love and creativity without bound and without the desperate need to lay claim to authorship. However, this seems to be a double-edged sword as feminine works (or woman-influenced works) may not always be recognized as such. What does this mean for the anonymous woman artist, then, if the meaning of her work relies heavily on the interpretation of the public? Can she create, simultaneously to escape her own personal objectivity and to effect structural change?

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2 thoughts on “The Anonymous Woman

  1. I enjoyed this post, Sarah! I don’t have answers for your questions, but I was reminded when reading about some controversy this summer regarding J.K. Rowling’s choice to publish a crime novel under a male pseudonym. While her choice to use a pen name at all seems understandable as she’s so well known, she does identify as a feminist in this video about the Women of Harry Potter (a very fun video, by the way: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lnb-XIZwbY0). While she may have done so because most popular crime novels are written by men, I wonder why she didn’t use this opportunity to try to combat those stereotypes. Maybe she assumed the truth would be revealed but I am very curious about it. I also wonder whether Cixous would consider Rowling’s texts “feminine” because they have “strong female characters” or if she’d argue that they perpetuate the “phallocentric tradition” because of the male protagonists. Anyway, for more on the crime novel criticism: http://www.policymic.com/articles/55499/why-did-j-k-rowling-use-a-male-pen-name-for-her-crime-novel

  2. The question you raise about passing feminine artistry down to sons or grandsons is very interesting. It reminded me of the Stack, where the culture seemed to pass down only from mother to daughter and the boys couldn’t help but fall out of the family circle since their parents were absent.

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