Breaking the Sequence

Breaking the Sequence: Women's Experimental Fiction

Ellen G. Friedman
Miriam Fuchs
Copyright Date: 1989
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Breaking the Sequence
    Book Description:

    These nineteen essays introduce the rich and until now largely unexplored tradition of women's experimental fiction in the twentieth century. The writers discussed here range from Gertrude Stein to Christine Brooke-Rose and include, among others, Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, Jane Bowles, Marguerite Young, Eva Figes, Joyce Carol Oates, and Marguerite Duras. "Friedman and Fuchs demonstrate the breadth of their research, first in their introduction to the volume, in which they outline the history of the reception of women's experimental fiction, and analyze and categorize the work not only of the writers to whom essays are devoted but of a number of others, too; and second in an extensive and wonderfully useful bibliography."--Emma Kafalenos, The International Fiction Review "After an introduction that is practically itself a monograph, eighteen essayists (too many of them distinguished to allow an equitable sampling) take up three generations of post-modernists."--American Literature "The editors see this volume as part of the continuing feminist project of the `recovery and foregrounding of women writers.' Friedman and Fuchs's substantive introduction excellently synthesizes the issues presented in the rest of the volume."--Patrick D. Murphy, Studies in the Humanities

    Originally published in 1992.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5994-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Permissions Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    • Contexts and Continuities: An Introduction to Women’s Experimental Fiction in English
      (pp. 3-52)
      Ellen G. Friedman and Miriam Fuchs

      The search for or theorizing of an exemplary feminine literary discourse has occupied both Continental and American critics. American critics have sought this discourse in the muted themes of women writers, particularly of the nineteenth-century.¹ They have found that women writers expressed dissatisfaction with or ambivalence toward prevailing ideas of appropriate behavior in fiction and life through covert means—subtexts, minor characters, patterns of imagery that undermine or question the values that the surface plot and major characters seem to confirm. For instance, Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar see Jane Austen’s deep ambivalence toward prevailing values in the “duplicity”...

  6. Perspectives
    • Illiterations
      (pp. 55-71)
      Christine Brooke-Rose

      To be an “experimental” woman writer is one thing. To write about the situation of “experimental” women writers is quite another. This will not be a description of specific writers, least of all myself, and their difficulties but a general, lightly deconstructing speculation on ancient prejudices—and what are prejudices but ill iterations of untenable positions in the face of change? And what can protests against these be but themselves illiterations?

      Three words. Three difficulties.To be a woman: vast and vastly written up.To be a woman writer: narrower but proportionately ditto, and contained in the first.

      Assuming that...

    • Male Signature, Female Aesthetic: The Gender Politics of Experimental Writing
      (pp. 72-82)
      Marianne DeKoven

      Manifestoes for avant-garde (experimental, postmodern, antirealist, metafictional, surfictional, innovative) and feminineféminine, feminist, female, women’s) stylistic practice often sound remarkably alike without knowing that they do or taking cognizance of one another in any way.¹ A consideration of the politics of that mutual failure of recognition, my primary concern in this essay, shapes itself for me as a consideration of a few atypical successes: recognitions, all formulated by women, of the affinity of the two traditions. Julia Kristeva in fact actually conflates them. Sheequateswith revolutionary avant-garde literary practice the eruption into masculine writing of the feminine pre-Oedipal, presymbolic...

  7. First Generation:: Before 1930
    • Dorothy Richardson Versus the Novvle
      (pp. 85-98)
      Gillian E. Hanscombe

      Pointed Roofs, the first volume of Dorothy Richardson’s experimental novelPilgrimage, was published in 1915. The writing of the succeeding twelve volumes occupied the remainder of Richardson’s life, the last,March Moonlight, being posthumously published in 1967. She conceivedPilgrimageas one novel and each constituent volume as a chapter: “I told them, since they admitted they had read only one volume of mine, that each volume is a single chapter of one book & cannot therefore be treated in the manner they suggest” (“Data for Spanish Publisher”).

      The conception was certainly remarkable for its time. In 1915 Richardson was forty-two...

      (pp. 99-114)
      Rachel Blau DuPlessis

      Between 1928 and 1931, Gertrude Stein wrote a brief essay called “Forensics,” an oblique study of the role of gender asymmetry and power in the formation of discourse—the capacity to speak, the speaking, and what comes out. In 1928, Virginia Woolf wrote a book-length essay calledA Room of One’s Own, a major study of the role of gender, power, and oppression in the history of culture: unequal access to resources, intellectual harassment, recruitment and formation of artists, writing and sexual difference.

      Stein wrote, “Forensics are a plan by which they will never pardon. They will call butter yellow....

  8. Second Generation:: 1930–60
    • Breaking the Master Narrative: Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea
      (pp. 117-128)
      Ellen G. Friedman

      “I am sure that it needs a demon to write it. Or a fraud.” Writing to Francis Wyndham in November 1958 concerning her work-in-progress, Jean Rhys thus expressed her sense of violating Charlotte Brontë’sJane Eyre(1847) with her own revisionary novel,Wide Sargasso Sea(1966), for which she usurped Brontë’s characters and plot (Letters158). Brontë’s material did not lead Rhys to create a wholly independent narrative. In fact, maintaining the connection with Brontë was crucial: “It might be possible to unhitch the whole thing from Charlotte Bronte’s novel, but I don’t want to do that” she wrote to...

    • The Radical Narrative of Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood
      (pp. 129-139)
      Donna Gerstenberger

      The critical reception of Djuna Barnes’sNightwoodis marked by a history of readings that focus on everything except its radical narrative achievement. This is a fate that Barnes shared with Joyce, as critics spoke to subject matter and biographical inferences, noting only in passing that the narrative method itself seemed confused or confusing. For Joyce, however, subsequent critics came more quickly to view his narrative practice as significant in itself and there to acknowledge the radical nature of his achievement. Barnes’s fate has been to wait until recent years for a recognition of her narrative achievement.¹

      Barnes’s first critical...

    • Jane Bowles: Experiment as Character
      (pp. 140-147)
      Millicent Dillon

      In The mid-1950s, as Jane Bowles was trying to write a novel,Out in the World, the work kept fragmenting. To one friend and then another she would say, “I can’t write—but I must write.” Her husband, Paul, who had been a composer when she married him but was now a novelist, kept urging her to go on. “What’s the use of my working? You’re so much more successful than I,” she would tell him. Then when he pressed her further, she would add, “I know you believe in me but leave me alone. I can’t write—but I...

    • H.D.’s Fiction: Convolutions to Clarity
      (pp. 148-160)
      Linda W. Wagner-Martin

      Hilda Doolittle’s reputation as a writer was first based on her brief image-centered lyrics. Ezra Pound had named the Imagist movement in 1913 when he sent some of H.D.’s early poetry to Harriet Monroe atPoetry, signing the author’s name “H.D., Imagiste.” Monroe accepted the poems. Pound edited several “Imagist anthologies,” and these were followed by several more, which Amy Lowell edited when Pound moved on to Vorticism and the Continent. Faced with what appeared to be a permanent reputation as an Imagist poet, H.D. began writing more and more prose. She explored its possibilities in fiction, film criticism, journals,...

    • The Music of the Womb: Anaïs Nin’s “Feminine” Writing
      (pp. 161-174)
      Sharon Spencer

      This passage was written by Nin in 1937 when she was deeply involved in the process of articulating a philosophy of writing that would serve her specific needs as a woman writer. She described her unique approach to writing fiction in various ways: as “symphonic writing,” as “the language of emotions,” and as “the language of the womb.” The phrase “music of the womb” unites the two most original—and most basic—characteristics of Anaïs Nin’s body of fiction. Her writing is “musical” because it achieves its experiential impact through carefully constructed lyrical passages built up of textured, interrelated images;...

  9. Third Generation:: After 1960
    • “Stepping-Stones Into the Dark”: Redundancy and Generation in Christine Brooke-Rose’s Amalgamemnon
      (pp. 177-187)
      Richard Martin

      Early in the 1970s, Joanna Russ suggested that for the woman author who decided to eschew the established male conventions of the novel, two options remained: lyricism and life. She defined the lyric mode as “the organization of discrete elements . . . around an unspoken thematic or emotional center . . . ; its principle of connection is associative” (“What Can a Heroine Do?” 12). Russ realized that such writing was destined to meet with denigration in terms such as “these novels lack important events; they are hermetically sealed” (13). In one sense, Christine Brooke-Rose goes a stage further...

    • Marguerite Young’s Miss MacIntosh, My Darling: Liquescence as Form
      (pp. 188-198)
      Miriam Fuchs

      Marguerite Young’s prodigious experiment in prose fiction took 18 years to write and, according to Bernard Bergonzi who reviewedMiss MacIntosh, My Darlingin 1965, it came to 3,449 pages in typescript and weighed 3¼ pounds in book form.¹ By Bergonzi’s method of viewingMiss MacIntoshin equivalent forms, the book weighs somewhat less than half a gallon of water and a little less than somewhat less than half a gallon of oil—identical volumes of different liquids of varying weights.

      The conversion of text to page numbers, page numbers to pounds, pounds to gallons, and gallons to corresponding volumes...

    • Fiction as Language Game: The Hermeneutic Parables of Lydia Davis and Maxine Chernoff
      (pp. 199-214)
      Marjorie Perloff

      Laurie Anderson’s “FromAmericans on the Move” from which “False Documents” is drawn,² is remarkable for its exclusions. Anderson’s are stories singularly devoid of plotting, characterization, description, and figurative language. Even the autobiographical convention (the narrator is almost always the writer herself) is undercut in that we learn little about the “ I ” who tells these stories. Family history, cultural identity, psychological makeup—all these are subordinated to what we might call Anderson’s hermeneutic stance, her role as would-be decoder of a system of signs whose ability to communicate has been short-circuited. As Michel Serres has put it: “[if]...

    • The Artists of Hell: Kathy Acker and “Punk” Aesthetics
      (pp. 215-230)
      Larry McCaffery

      The artists of Hell

      set up easels in parks

      the terrible landscape,

      where citizens find anxious pleasure

      preyed upon by savage bands of youths.

      (Jim Morrison,The New Creatures Poems)

      And when we tell ourselves we have reached the paroxysm of horror, blood, and flouted laws, of poetry which consecrates revolt, we are obliged to advance still further into an endless vertigo.

      (Antonin Artaud, “The Theater and the Plague”)

      Disasters, revolutions, and volcanoes do not make love with the stars. The erotic revolutionary and volcanic deflagrations antagonize the heavens. As in the case of violent ove, they take place beyond...

    • Voices in the Head: Style and Consciousness in the Fiction of Ann Quin
      (pp. 231-239)
      Philip Stevick

      The conventions for imagining and rendering character are, of course, infinite in their permutations, and it surprises no one to read any number of recent novels and find that the human figures in them look, talk, and move through their worlds in ways unlike characters in Dickens or Flaubert or Dostoevski or Conrad or anyone else. The conventions for rendering the inner life more or less directly, on the other hand, are rather remarkably limited, remarkable given the obvious fact that we are all at least as different from each other on the inside of our heads as we are...

    • One Hundred and Three Chapters of Little Times: Collapsed and Transfigured Moments in the Fiction of Barbara Guest
      (pp. 240-249)
      Kathleen Fraser

      In her antinarrative novel,Seeking Air, Barbara Guest has chronicled a remarkable struggle between her protagonist—a fantasy-prone and well-barricaded urban American—Morgan Flew and a world that refuses his control (essentially his lover, Miriam, and a doppelgänger figure called Dark). Guest’s subject is that which cannot be directly or simply told. We live in her characters’ imaginations of each other (in the displaced subjunctive of what theymightbe more than in the certain and determined world of traditional narrative where one is given fully reasoned explanations and familiar conversations).

      To enter into Morgan Flew’s mind is to collapse...

    • The Sense of Unending: Joyce Carol Oates’s Bellefleur as an Experiment in Feminine Storytelling
      (pp. 250-264)
      Perry Nodelman

      Explaining how innovation in American fiction has traditionally been understood as a manifestation of the need to escape social norms, Nina Baym says,

      There is no place for a woman author in this scheme. Her roles in the drama of creation are those allotted to her in a male melodrama: either she is to be silent, like nature, or she is the creator of conventional works, the spokesperson of society. What she might do as an innovator in her own right is not to be perceived. (77)

      The anthropologist Sherry B. Ortner suggests that assumptions of this sort are universal:...

  10. Literature in Translation
    • Experimental Novels? Yes, But Perhaps “Otherwise”: Nathalie Sarraute, Monique Wittig
      (pp. 267-283)
      Germaine Brée

      Do women write “experimental” novels or not? And if they do not, is it by choice or, as has been perhaps inadvertently suggested, because of their still marginal place in literature? At the outset of this discussion we run into problems of definition and selection. The label itself looks back to the mid-1880s and to Emile Zola’s blueprint for a system of relations that would enable him methodically to investigate and represent in a vast work of fiction the “real” though hidden structures and movements of contemporary French society. What Zola meant by experimental is open to doubt. In a...

    • The Clandestine Fictions of Marguerite Duras
      (pp. 284-298)
      Maria DiBattista

      Before the world can be represented, it must be felt to exist, but it is precisely this feeling that often fails Marguerite Duras. Her characters are persons displaced (by the reactive power of trauma) or banished (by the force of circumstances) to the limits of what Maurice Blanchot eerily designates as “le lieu sans lieu, le dehors” (the placeless place, the Outside) (142). InOutside, a collection of her journalistic pieces, Duras regards the outside world as a spectacle that claims her attention in moments of leisure or imaginative distraction, and then primarily as "cinema" (12), the unreal space of...

  11. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 299-300)
  12. Selected List of Women Experimentalists
    (pp. 301-318)
  13. Index
    (pp. 319-325)