The Anxiety of Authorship in Contemporary Literature

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?

Monsieur Venus and the Sexuality of Raoule

In Monsieur Venus, I was surprised by how sexuality and sex are addressed, particularly in Raoule’s case. Rachilde writes of Raoule having sexual desires that she desired to express, which seemed to be a bit of a taboo for a woman during that time; virginity was highly valued, and Raoule’s aunt Mademosielle Ermengarde actually becomes concerned with her health when Raoule begins acting differently. On pages 25 to 26, Rachilde describes when Raoule underwent a “complete change” after seeing a special kind of book. A concerned Ermengarde fears that Raoule could have a “serious illness” and calls in doctors to examine her niece, “[who] closed her door to them. However, one of them, very elegant in his person, witty and young, was clever enough to get himself admitted by the capricious patient. She begged him to return, and moreover there was no improvement in her condition” (26). What stands out to me in this paragraph is how Rachilde writes about Raoule’s sexual desires and engagement. Sex is not outright addressed but merely alluded to—many times, Raoule’s desires are described in their intensity, but not explicitly stated. I think it’s interesting that there is a deliberate avoidance of discussing sex. I kept thinking of Cixous’s “The Laugh of Medusa” article that we read last week, in which she urged women to write “for women”, to articulate their desires, speak for their bodies, etc. Rachilde is very much so writing “for women”: though more shy in the manner in which she addresses sex, she is still addressing it as something that a woman wants and is actively initiating. Her use of third person perspective allows for somewhat of a distance as she writes about Raoule’s desires; nevertheless, her thoughts and passions are still expressed to the reader.

This kind of discussion of sexuality is unexpected for this time period, especially in regards to Raoule. As a woman, she takes on a very different role sexually than what we have seen thus far: she is the initiator, aggressive and instigating this kind of sexual relationship. But I guess I still feel as though Rachilde is not comfortable in frankly addressing sex and sexuality—it feels as though, while she is writing bout a new/different kind of woman that desires to have sex and actively pursues it, Rachilde still tries to use subtler or not extremely evocative language in order to make her writing not too racy or “inappropriate”. 

Helene Cixous and the Sexualization of Writing

In “The Laugh of the Medusa”, Helene Cixous writes about the power of women writing and how they must do so to assert themselves. She makes comparisons between writing and masturbation, and she speaks of the desire to write in an almost sexualized manner: “This practice [of imagination]…in particular as concerns masturbation, is prolonged or accompanied by a production of forms…I wished that that woman would write and proclaim this unique empire so that other women…might exclaim: I, too, overflow; my desire have invented new desires, my body knows unheard-of songs. Time and again I, too, have felt so full of luminous torrents that I could burst” (876). Cixous speaks of expression the way one would speak of erotic passion: she writes of overflowing desires, of outbursts, of feeling a shameful sickness for having these “funny” desires stirring inside of her.

Later, Cixous elaborates on this thought to say that writing itself is sexualized: “It will usually be said, thus disposing of a sexual difference,: either that all writing, to the extent that it materializes, is feminine; or, inversely—but it comes to the same thing—that the act of writing is equivalent to masculine masturbation (and so the woman who writes cuts herself out a paper penis); or that writing is bisexual, hence neuter, which again does away with differentiation” (883). But must writing be sexual at all? Calling it bisexual doesn’t “do away with differentiation,” as Cixous says, it just means it’s equally sexualized. Also, I’m curious as to why Cixous says that writing is equivalent to masculine masturbation, but the feminine equivalent is simply that writing is feminine. Perhaps I’m picking apart her words too closely, but I don’t understand why, is this is what she’s saying, it’s only considered masturbation in regards to men but not women. How is it that the woman who writes “cut herself out a paper penis”? This angers me because it should not be the case—writing, and any from of expression, should not be so (masculinely) sexualized that doing so is, in a sense, giving oneself a penis.

Perhaps this is why Cixous keeps urging women to write throughout her text, to take this art back from men: “Writing is for you, you are for you; your body is yours, take it. I know why you haven’t written…because writing is at once too high, too great for you, it’s reserved for the great—that is, for “great men”; and it’s ‘silly’.” (876). Cixous has this same sense of urgency and passion running throughout the text, pointing out how women not only have the right to write as much as men do, but that they should (also, on a side note, I find it interesting that writing used to be a male art, yet now it’s very feminized). 

[LATE] Cluster 2 Post: Sen and Sanger’s contrasting arguments and ideal policies

In Sen’s Population: Delusion or Reality, she examines this growing (delusional) fear of overpopulation and the means in which policy makers will handle it. She calls one the “override approach”, because family’s personal choices are overridden by an external agency.  The alternative approach is “collaborative”, in which women and men make rational decisions, encouraged by open dialogue and education. The override approach uses legal and economic pressures while the collaborative has the government and citizens working together to produce economic and social conditions.

However, Sen’s main point is how this fear of overpopulation is, in fact, irrational and misconstrued. For one thing, it seems as though this fear is held by those in the North concerned with an overpopulation of those in the South, or those in third world countries, when in actuality the growth in certain populations is re-establishing a balance of races that was held pre-Industrial Revolution.

This fear of overpopulation leading to an “imbalance” of races is actually similar to Margaret Sanger’s views. In Sanger’s article “The Case for Birth Control”, she argues for birth control not in fear of a general overpopulation but instead fear of overpopulation of “unfit” people. Sanger outlines nine cases in which a child should not be conceived, ranging from age limitations to health of the parents.

Sanger’s article makes me uncomfortable due to the nature of her requirements and how limiting and particular her opinions are. She looks at reproduction and population through a very individualistic lens—someone in class made the point that Sanger’s ideas seemed very much like the practice of eugenics. Though many of her reasons are understandable—for example, we wouldn’t want children to be born to those parents who have an inheritable disease because then that disease would spread—and not absolutely unreasonable, like some supporters of eugenics have advocated, her reasons are still not feasible policies to be implemented.  She also does not thoroughly express her reasoning nor does she consider opposing arguments; Sanger says that a married couple should wait until after two years of their marriage to conceive children in order for them to truly know each other and understand the responsibilities that marriage and parenthood entail, but she does not consider those parents that do have children earlier than two years in and have successful families.

Sen advocates for the collaborative approach and I think her argument is successful exactly where Sanger’s is not—Sen discusses the override approach at length, using specific examples of when it has been used and how it has worked (or hasn’t). In China, though it would be assumed that the “One-Child Policy” would be a huge success, China’s fertility rates has fallen much less sharply than those countries that encourage collaborative and voluntary reductions in birth rates (page 17). I think Sen is more convincing because she explains the effects of different policies and how they affect a population on a larger scale. Sanger’s ideas, though never implemented, are not convincing nor useful because she does explain them fully. Sen argues against the clichéd fear of overpopulation while Sanger does not explain why exactly it is bad for “diseased” people to reproduce. Even though some of her reasons may make sense and not be irrational, they fail to be compelling because she doesn’t consider the counter argument. 

Analysis and Interpretation of Rich on Lesbianism

I found Rich’s discussion of lesbian relationships as a result of mother-daughter connections interesting though I think there is more to be explored. On page 636, in Rich references Nancy Chodorow’s claim that “women have a richer, ongoing inner world to fall back on…men do not become as emotionally important to women as women do to men,” and relates it to Smith-Rosenberg’s findings on women’s emotional focus on women in eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; Rich introduces the term “double-life of women” to refer to the “intense mixture of anger and love often found in women’s relationships with women”. What causes this mixture of emotions in the first place? Why is it so often found in relationships between women, versus between women and men or men and men?

Rich raises the question of why the desire for love and tenderness in both sexes does not originally lead to women. Considering women are the ones who give birth and are usually the primary care-taker of her children, it is understandable that such intense relationships are formed to women in the first place. But would heterosexuality then develop out of a biological (procreational) desire outweighing an emotional desire (that, it seems, Chodorow is accounting for the reason behind homosexuality)? Also, what about those children who were raised primarily (if not only) by their fathers? How would that affect the ways in which (or from whom) they seek love and tenderness from relationships?

Furthermore, in addressing male power struggles in relation to lesbianism, Rich discusses the assumption that in a world of genuine equality, where men were “nonoppressive and nurturing”, everyone would be bisexual—however, aside from sentimentalizing women’s sexuality, it also assumes that women become lesbian because men are oppressive/emotionally available, as if they are lesbian as a means to “act out.” Heterosexuality is taken to be a norm, and those who are homosexual are deviating from it for a specific purpose.