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THE CHALLENGE OF WOMEN'S PERIODS Joyce W. Warren One of the most obdurate institutional restraints in literature is its periodization. Reinforced by the needs of teaching, of criticism, and of professional specialization, established literary periods persist because they serve all of these activities. Originally created by a critical establishment that was maledominated for a predominantly white male literarytradition and sanctioned by a chronological inevitability, such literary periods have always been fictions, but fictions with the tenacity of convenience and convention. Now, however, as the profession disentangles itself from the white male establishment, it confronts the inadequacy of the old periodization of literature. New historicists, African American specialists, Asian American specialists, literaryhistorians, and feminists who may belong to some of the other categories as well—all have mounted an attack on traditional literary periods. Still, inscribed in anthologies, perpetuated by the college curriculum, and central to most faculty search committees, these periods appear unyielding and their replacements a matter of considerable debate. The feminist challenges to the periodization of American literatureprovide the focus of this collection of essays, although, as will become apparent, these concerns intersect with other issuesand interests.Although feminist criticshave worked successfully to recover neglected women writers and to place them in the canon along with established women writers, generally these critics have not been able to dislodge the periods into which American literature isdivided. Typically, women writers are simply wedged into established literary periods that hardly suit them. For example, Emily Dickinson is sometimes located in the so-called American Renaissance, a category of all-male writersthat was created by F. O. Matthiessen in the 19405 for his own and the nations purposes and that, although frequentlychallenged, still dominates studies of nineteenthcentury American literature. Only by being considered a disciple of the much lesser poet Ralph Waldo Emerson can Dickinson be added to this literary period , and even then she is out of place. Or, if located with writersin the lasthalf X : JOYCE W. WARREN of the nineteenth century, Dickinson is no more easily accommodated among the prose writers of that era. In the twentieth century, critics have found it difficult to find a place for Gertrude Stein in the literaryperiod of modernism with its present boundaries. Despite the priority of Steins experimental work,critics continue to begin the period with Ezra Pound. The awkwardness of this situation , the challenge she poses to Pound's supremacy, has perhaps occasioned the creation of the new term "High Modernist" to designate the old guard. The condescending implications of this designation are obvious: if the male writers are "high modernists," does that mean that Stein is a "low modernist"? But gender is only one factor in the complicated process of questioning established literary periods. Issues of race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality combine with gender to challenge traditional periodization. African American literary critics, for example, have generally approached periodization by separating black literature from the conventional divisions of white writersand identifying African American periods (the Harlem Renaissance, for example, instead of modernism). As Crystal Lucky points out in her essay here, however, those periods are themselves rendered more problematic by the inclusion of African American women writers. Similarly, adding ethnicity to a gendered critique of periodization, as Shirley Geok-lin Lim and Amelia M. de la Luz Montes do here, or addressing issuesof class, as Montes and Carol Singley do, further problematizes the question of periodization. Moreover, a consideration of lesbian writers, as, for example, in Susan McCabe s essay, generates an additional challenge to the boundaries of preestablished periods. In this interrogation of the boundaries and framings set by traditional periodization , certain general questions recur. If women writersbreak the boundaries of literaryperiods, can and should other periods be established? Isperiodization even a useful organizational concept? More specifically, if some periods, such as realism or modernism, appear to be categories largely gendered as male, can they be expanded to include women writers or should they be abandoned altogether ? Are there periods that might be defined by women's work and would such periods then be limited by gender? In other words, should there be separate "women's periods"? Or would the establishment of separate periods for women simply reify socially constructed binaries that support current hegemonies and result in a totalizing appropriation of difference? Instead, should each woman's body of work constitute its own period, without restrictive boundaries or political signifiers? Ultimately, this book asserts that, whether seen individually or in groups, women's periods will subvert or provide...


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