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Demand My Writing: Joanna Russ, Feminism, Science Fiction

Volume: 18
Copyright Date: 1999
Edition: 1
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Demand My Writing
    Book Description:

    In this major study of the work of Joanna Russ, Jeanne Cortiel gives a clear introduction to the major feminist issues relevant to Russ’s work and assesses its development. The book will be especially valuable for students of SF and feminist SF, especially in its concern with the function of woman-based intertextuality. Although Cortiel deals principally with Russ’s novels, she also examines her short stories, and the focus on critically neglected texts is a particularly valuable feature of the study.

    eISBN: 978-1-78138-051-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Joanna Russ published her first science fiction story ‘Nor Custom Stale’ in the popularMagazine of Fantasy and Science Fictionin 1959, when she was 22 and in her second year at the Yale School of Drama. ‘It is Miss Russ’s first story—’ wrote the editors in their introductory note to this text, ‘first, we are confident, of many’ (75). Joanna Russ has since not only written many stories, she has also accomplished a few things that the editors might not have expected from this young woman. Together with writers such as the French author Monique Wittig, James Tiptree,...

  5. Part One: Agency
    • Introduction to Part One
      (pp. 15-16)

      The story of feminism as told by Julia Kristeva in ‘Women’s Time’ begins with the utopian vision of ‘Woman’ as a self-knowing subject who acts as an equal to all other individuals in the social system. This is also the point where my exploration of Russ’s work will take off in Part One, tracing the materialist feminist moment through her short stories and novels. The main site of intersection between Russ’s fiction and radical materialist feminism lies in both discourses’ desire for women’s agency and knowledge of self. The epigraph for this chapter from Monique Wittig crystallizes this impulse. However,...

    • CHAPTER ONE The Act of Telling: Who is the Subject of Narrative Action?
      (pp. 17-45)

      One way to conceptualize agency in narratological terms is to assume a homology between the linguistic structure of a sentence (subject-predicate [-object]) and the structure of human behaviour (agentaction [-object]). An agent (subject) performs an action which may affect an object. A similar homology exists between the logic of a narrative text and the stories of people’s ‘real’ lives (or rather the ways in which people construct/invent their own lives as stories). Without this structural similarity (which does not suggest complete identity), narrative texts could not be comprehensible.¹ It is this analogy which renders stories plausible. Conversely, the stories an...

    • CHAPTER TWO Acts of Violence: Representations of Androcide
      (pp. 46-75)

      Materialist feminism operates with the assumption that sex constitutes the most basic social class distinction. The utopian goal, then, is to eradicate sex as a socially relevant category by way of a feminist revolution. Beginning with the stories around Alyx, Russ’s fiction develops androcide as the focused representation of a revolutionary war. Taking the life of a member of the sex that has denied women the capacity to act opens new ground for female characters in the existing archive of comprehensible and permissible story lines.

      I will, therefore, examine androcide in terms of its narrative function within the texts, shunning...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Revolutionary Act: A Dialectic of Sex/Gender in The Female Man
      (pp. 76-92)

      The Female Manpartially shares the radical materialist feminist premise that positions women as a sex-class in a dual system of oppression formed by patriarchy and capitalism. To demonstrate precisely how the novel uses and departs from this premise, I will put it in dialogue with the materialist feminist classic,The Dialectic of Sex(1970) by Shulamith Firestone. Firestone was one of the first ‘second-wave’ feminists to utilize Marxist concepts for the interpretation of patriarchal power structures, taking sexual difference as the most fundamental category of social division. This view of sex-class as a natural category has been subject to...

  6. Part Two: Sexuality
    • Introduction to Part Two
      (pp. 95-98)

      Kristeva’s delineation of Western feminism uses the trope of a circle for the concept of time which inspires her second feminist moment. This circularity corresponds to a focus on the female body as a site where feminist politics ground their liberatory narratives. The purpose of Part Two is to analyse the ways in which Russ’s fiction participates in such liberatory narratives. As Part One has shown, Russ’s fictional texts intersect on many levels with her own critical work as well as with other contemporaneous materialist feminist discourses on agency. My analysis of these intersections foregrounded how Russ narrativizes the issue...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Author-izing the Female: Women Loving Women Loving Women
      (pp. 99-129)

      Women as a group have been denied a public voice and access to discursive authority. The ways in which women have submitted to and written against their confinement to ‘private’ discourses (for example, the epistolary mode) has been explored by feminist literary scholarship. The feminist narratologist Susan Sniader Lanser inFictions of Authority: Women Writers and Narrative Voice goesback to the mid-18th century, when both the novel and modern gender identity emerged simultaneously:

      Certainly taboos against women’s public writing, along with the practice by which novels were presented as the ‘true’ histories of their narrating protagonists, discouraged the presence...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Patterns of Innocence: The Rescue of the Female Child
      (pp. 130-154)

      Rich’s ‘lesbian continuum’ incorporates multiple forms of woman–woman relationships that give first priority to emotional links to women. This community of women differs significantly from the materialist notion of a sex-class, revealing as it does the intimate connection between women’s role in reproduction and compulsory heterosexuality. Patriarchal discourse, according to Rich, has produced a social system of coercion, which demands that women form primary relationships with men and sever their original ties to the mother. The different ways of associating with women covered by the lesbian continuum reach from rediscovering images of women in literature and history/historiography (as delineated...

    • CHAPTER SIX Lesbian Existence: Impossible Dreams of Exteriority
      (pp. 155-166)

      Radical feminist thinkers affiliated with Kristeva’s second moment in feminism, such Adrienne Rich, Mary Daly or Andrea Dworkin, base their cultural criticism on the idea that heterosexual intercourse serves as one of the central sites of women’s oppression in patriarchy.Therefore, from this perspective, it is only from within patriarchal conceptualizations of sexuality that feminist interventions can displace this oppression. As Chapter Five demonstrated, attaining agency does not complete the processes of feminist utopian speculation in Russ’s fiction. Russ simultaneously explores how women’s economic position in patriarchy is linked to their bodies and their sexuality through a complex system of mutual...

  7. Part Three: Indeterminacy
    • Introduction to Part Three
      (pp. 169-173)

      Radical materialist feminists and feminists concerned with sexual difference have demanded that images of women in literature speak to the actual experience of women in ‘real life’. Parts one and Two explored ways in which Russ’s fiction intersects with these concerns. The readings showed that while Russ’s work does develop from prefeminist to explicitly feminist and critically feminist interpretations of social power and sexuality, both concerns are present in most texts and in tension with each other. However, those readings also indicated that there is a third strand in her writing, which undermines and contradicts the foundations of these first...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Patterns of Experience: Sappho and the Erotics of the Generation Gap
      (pp. 174-196)

      In Part One of this book, which focused on agency, I discussed the relationship between rescuer and rescued in ‘Bluestocking’ (1967) in terms of Elaine Marks’s ‘Sappho model.’ The tensions between Alyx and Edarra develop from the antagonistic through the maternal to the sexual, at which point they are diverted through a mysterious appearance of twomalesexual partners. From this perspective, I would argue that Russ’s rescue stories, which affect all of her intimate relations between women, are closely affiliated with the ‘Sappho model’—at least in the subtext. In these rescue stories the maternal, the erotic and the ‘autoerotic’...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Great, Grand Palimpsest of Me: Fragmented Locations and Identities
      (pp. 197-209)

      The title ofThe Female Manechoes Germaine Greer’sThe Female Eunuch(1970), in which Greer reveals the stereotypical concept of femininity as one of lack, which constructs the woman as a castrated man. Placing the concept of a gendered identity within the cultural context, Greer asks for alternative versions of this identity:

      We know what we are, but know not what we may be, or what we might have been … Nothing much can be made of chromosomal difference until it is manifested in development, and development cannot take place in a vacuum: from the outset our observation of...

    • CHAPTER NINE Vampires, Cyborgs and Disguises: Politics of the Theatrical
      (pp. 210-229)

      Situated within the historical context of postmodern culture in transnational corporate capitalism, feminism(s) have had to reassess all-encompassing theories about ‘women’ and their ‘oppression’ in ‘patriarchy’. The totalizing claims of the ‘information society’ over all aspects of lived social relations make it nearly impossible to find discursive spaces from which to argue oppositional politics. Russ’s fiction seeks precisely such discursive spaces. As my readings have demonstrated, her work shows an uneasiness with stable identities and sweeping, monolithic political claims from her beginnings as a writer in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Russ shares this searching uneasiness with a number...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 230-234)
  9. Primary Bibliography
    (pp. 235-244)
  10. Secondary Bibliography
    (pp. 245-250)
  11. Index of Names
    (pp. 251-252)
  12. Index of Novels and Short Stories by Joanna Russ
    (pp. 253-264)