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Textual temptation: The poetics of flirtation in the works of eight 20th-century women writers

Gladys Eileen Haunton, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The eight novels that are the focus of this study exhibit combinations of style, form, and content characterized here as a poetics of flirtation. In terms of Lacanian theory, the authors of these novels employ modes of representation that disrupt traditions of the masculine symbolic and suggest alternative modes more consistent with feminine-constructed identity. Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping introduces the characteristics of a flirtatious text: prose defamiliarized by the rhythms and syntax of poetry and eroticized by the interplay of opposites and elision of categorical boundaries; sensuous imagery that exploits ambiguity and invokes fecundity; fractured chronology intensified in effect by metaphors of movement and fluidity; formal innovations critiquing textual conventions and echoed in devices of plot and character that connect conventions with patriarchal control of/through language and female resistance with alternate means of expression. Zelda Fitzgerald's Save Me the Waltz (1932) and Virginia Woolf's The Years (1937) demonstrate the purposeful challenge that a break with traditions of the masculine symbolic represents and introduce intrusions of newly accessed, disturbingly illusive realms of signification. Djuna Barnes in Nightwood (1936) and Jamaica Kincaid in The Autobiography of My Mother (1996) toy with the deconstructive power of these textual practices, pushing them to a point where the reader confronts their dangers and evaluates their risks. Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things (1997) and Ntozake Shange's Liliane: Resurrection of the Daughter (1994) examine, conversely, the potential annihilation attached to avoiding such risk and promote the creation of new vocabularies appropriate to necessary deconstructions. In Art and Lies: A Piece for Three Voices and a Bawd, Jeanette Winterson demonstrates the political dimension of textual flirtation by focusing its deconstructive power on social as well as textual practices. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Modern|Literature, American|Literature, English

Recommended Citation

Haunton, Gladys Eileen, "Textual temptation: The poetics of flirtation in the works of eight 20th-century women writers" (1999). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9952683.