Difficult Figuration: Feminine Signifiers in Male Texts



Like response theory and deconstruction, feminist criticism has pursued a reader-oriented, revisionistic interpretive practice, as well as a rigorous critique of the ideological infrastructures of interpretation. But unlike its male counterparts that have often taken an ahistoric turn, overlooking ‘the issues of race, class, and sex, and giv[ing] no hints of the conflicts, sufferings, and passions that attend these realities’,1 the feminist approach to reading has been more pragmatic, politically-oriented, revalorising women’s experience and exposing their traditional suppression as signifiers in culture. For feminists, ‘the question of how we read is inextricably linked with the question of what we read. More specifically, the feminist inquiry into the activity of reading begins with the realization that the literary canon is androcentric, and that this has a profoundly damaging effect on women readers’.2 Theory and practice, response and canon revision actively interact in feminist criticism. The act of reading is in this perspective ‘frankly political’, a ‘search for feminine identity’, a struggle to regain access to the process of signification. The interpretive act is integrated, if somewhat ostentatiously, into a political practice aimed at reversing the sociocultural roles ascribed to women in patriarchal culture. The task of understanding ‘one’s own feelings, motivations, desires, ambitions, actions and reactions’ is related directly to a critical examination of ‘the forces which maintain the subordination of women to men’.3


Feminist Criticism Woman Writer Feminine Identity American Scene Primal Scene 
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Notes and References

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Copyright information

© Marcel Cornis-Pop 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Virginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUK

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