Reading Authority and Subjectivity Cross-Culturally: Some Women’s Fiction and Autobiography Since the 1950s

Golafshani, Leili (2008). Reading Authority and Subjectivity Cross-Culturally: Some Women’s Fiction and Autobiography Since the 1950s PhD Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, The University of Queensland.

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Author Golafshani, Leili
Thesis Title Reading Authority and Subjectivity Cross-Culturally: Some Women’s Fiction and Autobiography Since the 1950s
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2008-03
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Carole Ferrier
Gillian Whitlock
Tony Thwaites
Total pages 226
Total black and white pages 226
Language eng
Subjects 420000 Language and Culture
Formatted abstract
This thesis is a comparative study of how overcoming the anxiety of authorship and acquiring some degree of “authority” has been achieved in several particular, and culturally different, instances of  women writers’ practice since the middle of the twentieth century. The discussion focuses centrally  on some works by Doris Lessing and Janet Frame, and by the Iranian writers Azar Nafisi, Shirin  Ebadi and Azadeh Moaveni. How this struggle for authority and authorisation can be read in and  through various texts is considered in relation to women’s literary cultural production in several  different sites and contexts, with particular reference to notions of mother-daughter affiliation, and  to exile and border crossing, both actual and metaphorical. Drawing on connections and conflicts between various feminist and postcolonial theoretical and critical approaches to the author, authorship and subjectivity, my thesis presents a comparative cross-cultural study of some twentieth-century women’s autobiography and fiction. I discuss two fictional works by Frame and Lessing produced in the 1950s and early 1960s, both prefiguring a wave of feminist critique of the family and the situation of women within it. Their autobiographies, written decades later, reflect upon the construction of their own female subjectivity within that context and some of the ways in which their fiction tried to represent it. The context of the emergence of the Iranian women writers I discuss is also one of considerable social upheaval which impacts upon family relationships. They choose to write autobiography rather than fiction to articulate their sense of themselves as the subjects of their writing. The thesis considers the writers’ choices between genres including those commonly designed as autobiography/ memoir/ autobiographical fiction/ fiction. A series of case studies examines the specific political, historical, and cultural conjunctures that affect conceptualisations of author and authorship. Foucault's notion of the author-function allows us to consider how author and authorship vary in different social contexts, with the author-function for an Iranian woman writer with a particular culture and nationality differing from
the author-function for a British or “Commonwealth” woman writer. The thesis considers the author in her embodied, historical presence, and her subjectivity, located in time and place. Lessing and Frame grew up in “Commonwealth” white settler societies marked by British colonialism and its institutions (including the family); they rebel and become outsiders and writers of fiction, and of autobiography that considers their sense of alienation and exilic positioning in relation to (post)colonial cultures. The Iranians I discuss do not write ‘fiction,’ but as women, writers and intellectuals, they also experience a sense of exile within their homeland that they write about in autobiographical memoir.
Following the discussion of my theoretical framework, in chapter two I argue that the colonial space of southern Africa creates the grounds for the psychological and territorial contest of a daughter’s separation from her mother, and that autobiography provides for Lessing a medium through which she can reconcile with the mother who was a major factor in her becoming a writer. In chapter three, I discuss Lessing’s autobiographical fictions Martha Quest and The Golden  Notebook and show that internalised concepts of “whiteness” and whites’ responsibility for  dragging the world towards progress, or “the legend of the big push” as William Easterly calls it  (34), are central to Martha and Anna’s sense of self despite their struggle to evolve a non-colonial subjectivity.  Since the Nineteenth century, Iranians have had colonial encounters with European  modernity. In much of the twentieth-century, they embraced it through blaming Arab and Islamic culture, reviving the distant culture of Persian-Empire and diachronically tying it to modernity to claim a contemporaneity with the Europe. In 1979, with a revolution in Iran, this trend was reversed. This time, the majority of Iranians tried to forge a modern subjectivity by upholding their Islamic identity and resisting the coloniality of European modernity. In particular, Iranian women, in various art forms, have represented their colonial encounter with Western modernity in the postcolonial and global condition of post-revolutionary Iran. In chapters four and five, I discuss Iranian women’s memoir, focusing centrally on Nafisi’s Reading ‘Lolita’ in Tehran and Ebadi’s Iran Awakening. Iranian women’s memoirs are emerging not only as a new sub-genre but as a new movement in the literary and cultural aspirations of Iranians producing poetry, fiction, cinema, and memoir. Similarities as well as differences in the various experiences of exile and postcoloniality emerge in this contrast between Nafisi and Ebadi. I hypothesise that Iranian women’s memoirs occupy three different discursive positions: one in which the female subject acts as an apologist for the culture despite her questioning of it, and gives a depiction of the culture that mainly overlaps with anti-imperialist and Islamist discourse (Shirin Ebadi’s Iran Awakening); one in which the female narrator is a collaborative native- informant whose depiction of the non-European culture overlaps with discourses of Orientalism (Nafisi’s Reading ‘Lolita’ in Tehran); and one in which the woman writer is a hybrid subject who can manage to appropriate, translate, rehistoricize and read cultural meanings anew. Hybrid writing can traverse the Western and Islamist hegemonic discourses which render Muslim cultures as static, pure and fundamental. The writer opens up a third space where she can negotiate and compare the meaning of the two opposite worlds through transculturalisation, transnationalism and deconstructing the binary of Western and Middle Eastern identities (Moaveni’s Lipstick Jihad). Ebadi and Nafisi share a return to traditional, realist writing which includes critical realism, and omniscient narrators. However, Nafisi does not share Ebadi’s strong sezse of history and individual responsibility: she does not see it as identity-building but rather as a burden to be dealt with. Lessing sees herself as escaping the society of Southern Rhodesia, and remains in physical exile in London. In comparison, in chapter six, focusing on Frame’s autobiography, I discuss how Frame was deeply wounded by both her family and her country and for a time literally and metaphorically exiled from her nation. Death and madness are associated with both motherhood and country and she is, accordingly, alienated from both. Autobiography acts as a therapeutic mediator for her to heal her traumatic experiences and construct a coherent self as a writer. Chapter seven discusses how the narrator in Frame’s fictional memoir Towards Another Summer develops a female post-colonial subjectivity after immigrating for a time to the imperial centre of London, and her experiences there provide an interesting comparison with those of Lessing. It was a traditionalpattern for New Zealand writers to spend some time in Britain, but Towards offers an account of how, unlike Lessing, Frame eventually decides to return to the country where she grew up.  The discussion of the emergence into authority of these women writers draws out variations in the literary representation of gendered subjectivity in some Western, non-Western and cross-cultural contexts.
Keyword Memoirs
Autobiographical Narratives
Cross cultural
Feminist literary criticism

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Created: Fri, 21 Nov 2008, 14:57:56 EST by Ms Leili Golafshani on behalf of Library - Information Access Service