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Mother Courage and Its Abject: Reading . the Violence of Identificationl KIM SOLGA TOWARD AN EPIC FEMININE Fifteen years ago, Elin Diamond suggested that feminist theatre theorists could learn a thing or two from Bertolt Brecht and altered the course of an industry. "Brechtian Theory / Feminist Theory: Toward a Gestic Feminist Criticism" (1988)' revolutionized the way many of us talk about theatre, as Diamond imagined how feminist critics might "re-radicallize]" (84) such commonplace Brechtian techniques as the "not-but" and the Verfremdungseffekt for our perfonnance theory and practice; her work promptly generated a number of inquiries into the productive potential of aligning Brecht's theory with contemporary feminist concerns (see esp. Reinelt). Diamond's own rejuvenation was expressly theoretical; she never intended to engage the prickly problem of Brecht's own dramas and the "too many saintly mothers" (83) peopling them. Reading her work now, with the luxury of distance, this choice comes as no particular surprise. Few feminists writing about theatre in the later 1980s would have chosen Brecht as a source of inspiration:' Diamond's intervention appeared within a critical climate still hostile to his not unproblematic female characterizations, as several prominent scholars of his drama, taking a cue from the seminal work of Sara Lennox in the late 1970s, parsed his dramatic treatment of women and found it lacking.4 I want to emphasize forcefully that I, a young scholar whose engagement with this critical heritage has always been across a luxurious distance, far from the visceral, politicized moment of its production, find these critiques to be both stimulating and essential to a full account ofBrech!,s work. Yet I am also not fully satisfied by them. Though Diamond's own gestic feminist project implicitly allies itself with contemporary critiques of Brecht's dramatic oeuvre, as it dismisses the plays as "conventionally gendered" (83), it also invites the question we are now, at a new critical juncture, prepared to tackle: how might we ure-radicalModern Dramo, 46:3 (Fall 2003) 339 340 KIM SOLGA ize" the plays, as well as the theory, as inherently potent loci of materialist gender perfonnance? My paper offers one response to this question, as I read Mother COl/rage and Her Children for signs of a inaterial epic feminine by rejuvenating the much-maligned figure of Courage's mute daughter, Kattrin. Though Mother COl/rage has, at times, been favoured by feminist critics for its title character's rejection of conventional maternal paradigms, those same critics tend to perceive Kattrio as a kind of revved~up maternal ideal, whose hyper-sentimentality about babies and boyfriends wrecks any feminist message the play might have presented. In counterpoint to this argument, I re-cast Kattrin - the play's silent centre and consequently its object of discursive production - as the fig-' ure through whom a demystifying and interrogatory perfonnance of both "femininity" and "maternity" takes place. At the heart of my argument lies the spectral violence that follows Kattrin through the play, the violence that defiles her before the drama begins and marks her and re-marks her as defiled, disgraced. and undesirable as the narrative progresses. Kattrin is born of violence , but the buried story of her origins and her troubled attempts to transcend them energize her damaged body with extraordinary subversive potential.5 As I reframe Kaurin under the banner of Diamond's gestic feminist criticism , I take my immediate cue from work done by Gay Gibson Cima and Alisa Solomon on Good Person ofSzechl/an6 Cima's provocative reading of the play in Performing Women (1993) suggests that, in perfonnance, the doubly gendered Shen Te functions not to reinforce basic gender differences between passive/helpless/feminine and powerful/masculine but actually to subvert such polarities by dramatizing the "untenability" of an either/or paradigm (95).' Solomon's "Materialist Girl: The Good Person of Szechwan and Making Gender Strange" (1994)' follows Cima's lead (although Solomon ultimately rejects Cima's reading), as it more forcefully engages Diamond's critical program at the latter's own frontier. Solomon reads Shen Te's selfconsciously theatrical transformation into Shui Ta as evidence of the play's inherent concern with the perfonnative processes through which gender identity...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5286
Print ISSN
0026-7694
Pages
pp. 339-357
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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