full name / name of organization:
March 2-3, Philadelphia
Chair: Shealeen Meaney
“Like Water going back to itself”: Gender, Place and Culture in 20th Century American Fiction
The gendering of space and the spatializing of identity are processes of much interest in contemporary culture study. This panel will examine women’s representations of place and emplacement in American Women’s Literature of the 20th century. From the closing of the frontier at the end of the 19th century to women’s continued struggles to escape the domestic sphere at the end of the 20th, American conceptualizations of identity have always been preoccupied with space, fixity, and mobility.
For instance, the wilderness has long been conceived of as a space of individuation, a testing ground for the independent seeker, and an “outside” to the protection, as well as the surveillance and discipline, of the dominant social order. In the United States, wilderness has also been seen as constitutive of a kind of national exceptionalism and a formative element of a uniquely “American” character. As the 20th century arrived and carried on, a growing tendency to conflate “the west” with “the wilderness” developed, and a tendency to conflate both with masculinity grew as well. And yet, a feminine gendering of the wilderness and an association of womanhood with the natural world has a long and complicated history in America. As the passage from Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms in the title of this panel suggests, many women writers have found the environments, tropes, and orders of the natural world to be rich territory for examinations and expressions of gendered (and raced!
On the other hand, many critics have noted that the early industrial and information technologies at the turn of the 20th century and the concomitant urbanization and feminization of the workforce allowed women to forge new forms of femininity and personal identity. Thus, the liberties of mobility and the respatialization of women’s work shaped the landscape of women’s fiction of the first half of the 20th century, as recent studies of popular “middlebrow” women’s literature have suggested. Finally, feminist studies of women’s travel writing and theories of nomadic subjectivity have raised important questions about the privileges and problems of both fixity and mobility as gendered (and gendering) conditions in contemporary culture.
This panel will bring together analyses of gender, geography, and subjectivity to query the ways that women writers in the United States have used representations of place and emplacement to redefine ideals of self, nation, and gender in 20th century literature.
Please send 1 page abstracts via e-mail. shealeen_at_att.net.
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Received on Wed Jul 13 2005 - 07:38:47 EDT