- Eve’s Apple, Or Women’s Narrative Bytes
Take the tale in your teeth, then, and bite till the blood runs, hoping it’s not poison; and we will all come to the end together, and even to the beginning: living, as we do, in the middle.—Ursula R. Le Guin, “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night; Or, Why Are We Huddling About the Campfire?”
In the quotation above, Ursula Le Guin recommends “tak[ing] the tale in your teeth . . . [with the hope that] it’s not poison.” Teetering between the past and the futuristic novel, Le Guin hopes the narrative might bring with it a cultural communion at the end of its journey. But Teresa de Lauretis, in Alice Doesn’t, confirms the toxicologist’s dread that the tale is poison. At the top of her now oft-quoted chapter on desire in narrative, de Lauretis posts this warning from Laura Mulvey: “sadism demands a story” (qtd. in de Lauretis 103). Returning to both the mythical and the psychoanalytic Oedipus, de Lauretis traces the gendering processes in narratives that “waylay” women. The hero, the subject of the story, is masculinized, and the object of his quest is femininized. Caught in the web of oedipalization, the narrative can only lead to a bad end for women. They can never get in the driver’s seat of narrative action. Unlike Le Guin, de Lauretis cannot accept the happy “we” in narrative’s address or in its production [End Page 631] to include men and women in the same way. Ending her chapter with a poem from Muriel Rukeyser (“Myth”) that tells of a later encounter between the Sphinx and Oedipus, de Lauretis quotes this exchange: “‘When I asked, What walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening, you answered, Man. You didn’t say anything about woman.’ ‘When you say Man,’ said Oedipus, ‘You include women too. Everyone knows that.’ She said, ‘That’s what you think’” (157). Although de Lauretis critiques narrative, she cannot imagine anything but narrative, suggesting, then, the disruptive strategy for women to be “narrative with a vengeance.” In other words, narrative with a vengeance suggests taking the tale in your teeth and deploying its poison elsewhere.
Rather than remaining within this bleak, pathological environment for fictional production, women might rather look to altered states of fiction for a healing process. Poisoned by the story, as it structured gendered roles in the cultural imagination, women might reel happily away from the traditional conventions of narrative into a new technology of writing, which disrupts the linear hold not only of the story, but also of its engine—print culture. Hypertext fiction offers myriad alternative conditions to the narrative regime: multiple paths through the fictional terrain that break with the linear path of story; online collective authorship, which opens out the singularized production in the direction of new, accretional possibilities; and an electronic environment which adds new dimensions to earlier conventions of time and space. These are only a few of the possibly healing properties hypertext fiction might offer women. As readers and writers, they may discover a new “freedom of choice” as they happily click among multiple screen links rather than trudge along the forced march of print. All together, these functions comprise the sense of an interactive environment. In contrast to what de Lauretis has described as the gendering of subject and object positions, this interactive environment promotes an exchange of agency, which makes those once-rigid positions more porous and interchangeable. Moreover, collective production offers the discovery of different voices within the subject position.
Understanding how a subject position, or something like subjectivity, appears within electronic flow, however, both opens up new possibilities and offers itself up to the reinscription of traditional narrative strategies. The new mode of production might also find itself operating [End Page 632] within the same old cultural imaginary that once told the tale. Memories of gendered operations might haunt the new forms, reinscribing old traditions onto new experiments. An ambivalent form of fiction appears, bearing traces of promised relief from the same old story, while also making a nostalgic...