In Gilbert and Gubar’s “Infection in the Sentence: The Woman Writer and the Anxiety of Authorship,” they examine the affect of patriarchal literature on female writers. The foremost literary theorist on the psychology of literary history is Harold Bloom, who applied Freudian structures to literary genealogies, coining the phrase “anxiety of influence” to mean: “[the artist’s] fear that he is not his own creator and that the works of his predecessors, existing before and beyond him, assume essential priority over his own writings” (46). He continues to explain that a literary Oedipal struggle occurs because since “a man can only become a poet by somehow invalidating his poetic father” (47).
In Bloom’s exclusively male and patriarchal model of literary history, there is no explanation or consideration of female writers. His use of “he” and “father” are not interchangeable with “she” and “mother”, because the literary history of women is a very different and distinct course. The female writer has few, if any, predecessors, so she does not want to annihilate her “foremother” because she does not have one. Likewise, she does not want to annihilate her “forefather” because she does not have the relationship to him that the male artists do. She does not experience the “anxiety of influence” the way her male counterparts do; her precursors not only embody patriarchal authority, they “attempt to enclose her in definitions of her person and potential which, by reducing her to extreme stereotypes (angel, monster), drastically conflict with her own sense of her self” (48). The female author is battling against her male precursor’s reading of her–she is not competing with him but instead struggling to break free of the limitations he created for her.
Gilbert and Gubar describe women as experiencing an “anxiety of authorship”, which they define as “a radical fear that she cannot create, that because she can never become a ‘precursor’ the act of writing will isolate or destroy her” (49). Women are attempting to break into a patriarchal structure, within which they are already socialized and deemed inferior. Gilbert and Gubar say that contemporary female authors are free of these limitations and isolation that their eighteenth- and nineteenth-century foremothers faced.
However, I’m not sure if these struggles are completely done away with, particularly in regards to the patriarchal literary structure and extreme stereotypes. On the one hand, we do see a greater population of female writers (within certain genres, although this was discussed more in my previous post on Cixous) and a broader range of female characters, but on the other hand, even these characters still somewhat fit these “angel/monster” polarized identities. In contemporary literature, television and movie storylines, women are the “girl next door” or the “bitch”, the sweet girlfriend or the heartless mistress. Slowly, I think, women’s roles are becoming more complicated, more empowered—i.e., the popular Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen (don’t judge me, I just watched the movie this weekend so she’s the first one I can think of. P.S., it was amazing J ). But I think the fact that this is still pointed out as significant means that it is still considered different; strong female lead characters, ones that don’t fall into either of the two aforementioned categories, are still considered the Other. How far have we come from the initial challenges that female writers faced? Do you guys think that the patriarchal and male literary structure has been broadened and expanded to include enough accomplished female literary figures that women have “foremothers” to look to? And if so, do they experience the “anxiety of influence” that their male counterparts do?