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Given, received, withheld: Purple Threads by Jeanine Leane, the short story cycle and the fragmentary nature of knowing

Kadmos, H.ORCID: 0000-0002-7834-1695 (2014) Given, received, withheld: Purple Threads by Jeanine Leane, the short story cycle and the fragmentary nature of knowing. Outskirts online journal, 31 .


Feminist theorists have written extensively about the nature of knowledge about, and formed by, women. Broadly, their contributions have focussed on ‘the critique of the individualism of modern epistemology, [and the] reconstructions of epistemic subjects as situated knowers’ (Grasswick, 2013, np). They have challenged traditional views of knowledge as fixed and unyielding by claiming that various facets of identity, such as gender, sexuality, ethnicity and class, impact on reading and research, shaping, for instance, the questions that are included and excluded from the reader’s lines of enquiry. These factors are therefore epistemologically significant in thinking about who can know, and what one can know. For instance, philosopher Lorraine Code asserts that the creative interplay between objective and subjective facets of knowledge construction mean that ‘knowing other people, precisely because of the fluctuations and contradictions of subjectivity, is an ongoing, communicative, interpretive process [that] can never be fixed or complete …’ (1991, 38). This claim seems particularly pertinent to the interactive processes by which individuals come to a greater sense of who they are in the context of the wider family. In this article, I draw from this body of work to examine how the short story cycle might, in a specific and concrete way, imaginatively represent these processes. I argue that characteristics of the short story cycle, such as the open-ended lapses between stories, and the focus on minor narrative arcs, make it a suitable form through which readers may piece together disjointed and sometimes inconsistent detail to achieve some sense of knowable truth about women whose lives contain aspects that remain unarticulated. I illustrate these arguments with the example of Purple Threads (2011), a collection of stories based on the personal experiences of Wiradjuri writer and scholar, Jeanine Leane. By focussing on discrete experiences in each individual story, Purple Threads builds a uniquely Australian picture of three generations of women and girls who experience simultaneous and multiple oppressions on the basis of their colour, sex and class, yet survive and in many ways thrive by drawing on a range of skills and resources. Specifically, I use examples from this cycle to show that knowledge passed within and between generations in families is not neutral, objective or finite, but accumulated through exchanges that are often uncertain, sporadic and inconsistent.

Item Type: Journal Article
Publisher: University of Western Australia
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