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Narrative in the Feminine

Daphne Marlatt and Nicole Brossard

Susan Knutson

Publication Year: 2000

What does it mean to tell a story from a woman’s point of view? How have Canadian anglophone and francophone writers translated feminist literary theory into practice?

Avant-garde writers Daphne Marlatt and Nicole Brossard answer these, and many more questions, in their two groundbreaking works, now made more accessible through the careful, narratological readings and theoretical background in Narrative in the Feminine.

Susan Knutson begins her study with an analysis of the contributions made by Marlatt and Brossard to international feminist theory. Part Two presents a narratological reading of How Hug a Stone, arguing that at the deepest level of narrative, Marlatt constructs a gender-inclusive human subject which defaults not to the generic masculine but to the feminine. Part Three proposes a parallel reading of Picture Theory, Brossard’s playful novel that draws us into (re-) readings of many other texts written by Brossard, Barnes, Wittig, Joyce, de Beauvoir, Homer...to name a few. Chapter 12 closes with a reflection on the expression <’e>criture au f<’e>minin — a Qu<’e>b<’e>cois contribution to an international theoretical debate.

Readers who care about feminist writing and language theory, and students and teachers of Canadian literature and critical and queer studies, will find this book invaluable for its careful readings, its scholarly overview, and its extension of the feminist concept of the generic. Not least, the study is a guide to two important works of the leading experimental writers of Canada and Quebec, Daphne Marlatt and Nicole Brossard.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press


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pp. iii-iv

List of Figures

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pp. v

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pp. vii

Earlier drafts of sections of this book have appeared in the following articles: ‘‘Protean Travelogue in Nicole Brossard’s Picture Theory: Feminist Desire and Narrative Form,’’ Modern Language Studies 27.3, 4 (Winter 1997), 197-211; ‘‘Reading Nicole Brossard,’’ Ellipse 53 (1995), 9-19; ‘‘ ‘Imagine Her Surprise’: The Debate over Feminist Essentialism,’’...


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

This book is composed of three relatively distinct parts. Although arguments build from chapter to chapter and connections run through the whole, I have tried to write so that sections and chapters can be read on their own. Part One addresses certain prominent themes within feminist writing theory: French feminism...

PART ONE: Gender and Narrative Grammar

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1 Writing Women: Some Introductory Questions

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pp. 3-22

In a wide range of disciplines and discourses, feminist thought has wrought a sea-change, a fundamental and thoroughgoing transformation of what we understand and how we understand it. One such domain, called up by the key words—gender, narrative, writing—is rich with provocative and difficult questions. In what sense is narrative complicit with...

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2 Theories of the (Masculine) Generic

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pp. 23-32

Writing in the feminine can be accurately defined as writing that encodes a feminine generic. Unfortunately, the usefulness of this definition is limited in that it requires answers to two questions: what is the meaning of feminine, and what is the meaning of generic? It has become important to specify that feminine, in this formula, does not signify the ‘‘always...

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3 Narrative, Gnosis, Cognition, Knowing: Em[ female]bodied Narrative and the Reinvention of the World

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pp. 33-50

Language at every level, from the smallest semantic unit, or seme, to the elaborate achievements of scientific and philosophical discourse, is constitutive of human thought. In the last twenty years, scholars have focused increasingly on the link between cognition and the naturalized linguistic organization we call narrative. An ancient and foundational link...

PART TWO: A Narratological Reading of How Hug a Stone

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4 Fabula: Beyond Quest Teleology

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pp. 53-65

Narratological analysis often begins by establishing fabula events, perhaps rephrasing the narrative as a sentence. Using this procedure, we could describe How Hug a Stone as follows: the narrator and her son travel in England for a month with the intention of better understanding the narrator’s mother. As a working model of the fabula, such a summary corresponds...

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5 Story: Where the Body Is Written

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pp. 66-78

Story is the register of geography and emotion, where abstract actants are coloured in to show characters caught up in events. At the register of story, the body is written because there the fabula is embodied through the medium of narration and the technique of focalization. Focalization represents fabula events through the perceptions of particular characters...

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6 Textual Subjectivity, Marlatt’s i/eye

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pp. 79-94

In any narration, someone who knows tells something that is known, so that narrative is itself an epistemological structure. At the textual level of analysis, the focus is on the one who knows: the narrator(s). In How Hug a Stone, the narrator is ‘‘nameless’’ (65), identified only as ‘‘i,’’ but because she is such a powerful focalizer, the text tells us a lot about her way...

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7 Intertextual Narrative

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pp. 95-109

The world of How Hug a Stone is full of voices, many and various, hailing from a wide range of sources. Some belong to characters in the story, family members and friends with whom Kit and his mother interact while travelling in England. Others are more ephemeral: Marlatt overheard the phrase ‘‘narrative is a strategy for survival’’ (75) on a car radio (personal...

PART THREE: A Narratological Reading of Picture Theory

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8 Fabula: Hologram

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pp. 113-135

...The hologram of Picture Theory is clearly such a metaphor: ‘‘Ainsi voiton surgir d’inédites métaphores ayant partie liée avec le cerveau: l’hologramme, l’ordinateur’’1 (‘‘Synchronie’’ 82). Drawn from the dreaming of lensless photography, fibre optics and virtual reality, the hologram is a high-tech fantasy of women’s being in a post-patriarchal age—a new picture...

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9 Story: The Holographic Plate

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pp. 136-154

At the fabula level, Picture Theory and How Hug a Stone share important features: a collective subject actant and an open-ended, exploratory narrative structure. At the story level, however, the two books exemplify diverse strategies. The strong focalization that characterizes How Hug a Stone, governing characterization and temporal-spatial relations,...

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10 Text: In Which the Reader Sees a Hologram in Her Mind’s Eye

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pp. 155-168

The first edition of Picture Theory (1982) has a design on the bottom right-hand corner of page 97, showing the corner of the page lifting to reveal a three-dimensional city, its highrises modelled in shimmering white outline against a dark grid. ‘‘Enter this book/city,’’ suggests the picture, ‘‘and enter a virtual and three-dimensional world.’’ The image corresponds...

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11 Intertextual Metanarrative

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pp. 169-189

I have suggested that the narrative fabula of Picture Theory must be read intertextually: the island passage recalls Sappho and her collaborators, chiasmatic structures echo classical odysseys, exiles and returns, and the quest itself is so overdetermined that it can scarcely be used. Picture Theory demands intertextual interpretation no less at the narrative...

PART FOUR: Afterword

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12 In the Feminine

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pp. 193-206

Écriture au Féminin, as Barbara Godard specifies in her introduction to The Tangible Word, ‘‘confronts the symbolic’’ and disrupts the binary oppositions structuring normative discourse. The term itself and the writing it has come to represent can be distinguished from feminist writing, defined by France Théoret as ‘‘manifestory, aiming at communication,’’ and...

PART FIVE: Bibliography, Appendix and Index

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pp. 207-233

E-ISBN-13: 9780889207424
Print-ISBN-13: 9780889203013

Page Count: 245
Publication Year: 2000

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