Edith Wharton’s 1911 short story “Xingu,” in which no male appears, illustrates Lacan’s theory of the phallus as a linguistic function that can be possessed by either gender. Lacan argues that the phallus is the power to signify and is a reaction to a lack that represents the inability of language to reach the object it aims at. In “Xingu,” wives in a reading club confronted by a noted author struggle to show their comprehension of an incomprehensible book. A woman who hasn’t read the book saves the group and wins the competition by producing a term that no one understands, Xingu. This signifier without a signified operates as a phallus to take control because no one can admit that she does not know what it means. Wharton’s satire implies that critical authority is a mask over a gap impelled by desire and caught in a web of power relations.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 25-36
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.