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Gertrude Stein and feminist literary theory

Gibbs, Anna (1989) Gertrude Stein and feminist literary theory. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Abstract

This thesis attempts to render intelligible some significant issues in feminist literary theory - and perhaps 'feminist theory' more generally - through a reading of some of Gertrude Stein's writing, concentrating especially on The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and some of Stein's shorter prose.

The issues explored all arise out of the confrontation of Anglo-American empiricism with what has been qualified - too neatly - as French theoretical work in the domains of philosophy, and literary theory. I refer particularly to a body of work that may be broadly termed 'postmodern', though in fact it is heterorather than homo- geneous.

While this work is troubling to feminists for its reinscription of metaphors of Woman, local rather than global uses of it may open up new possibilities for feminist readings of texts other than those that form a part of the realist canon and have come to dominate (especially) American thought about feminist strategies of writing and reading. Modernist and postmodernist texts fit less easily into a critical framework which concerns itself primarily with defining and delimiting a female literary tradition, and hence depends upon notions of the self as individual, autonomous entity; of experience as conscious and transparent; and writing as representation.

My reading of Gertrude Stein aims to show both how her texts resist this kind of interpretation, and how, within a framework of sexual difference, they may be mobilized to elaborate (and problematize) questions of authorship, of the possibility of feminine subjectivity, and of 'writing the body'.

Further, I argue that a focus on these issues reveals the androcentric bias of most discussions of modernism, especially as it is opposed to postmodernism, and that an adequate reading of Stein's writing must force a redefinition of the relations between the two. Thus, the very theoretical work which facilitates a new understanding of Stein's textual strategies can in turn be revised by such a reading.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Humanities
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: repository@murdoch.edu.au. Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Frow, John and Melrose, Susan
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/52950
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