By Karen Kaivola
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Extra info for All Contraries Confounded: The Lyrical Fiction of Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes, and Marguerite Duras
Woolf's lyrical fiction entices, but it does not necessarily incite a reader to greater political or social consciousness. I do not mean to suggest that lyrical, associative writing is always apolitical: many modern poets' work demonstrates quite the contrary (take, for example, the poetry of Adrienne Rich). 1 Rather, I want to emphasize that Woolf's writing both produces political and social critiques and obscures these critiques. Because Woolf's fiction is ambivalent in this way, it lends itself to the ongoing debate about the relationship between art and politics.
This equivocation makes for provocative writing, Page 9 but it coexists uneasily with feminism, for feminism is not ambivalent or equivocal: its politics of resistance to male privilege and domination is unambiguous. Still, these texts are of particular interest to feminists precisely because they represent female subjectivity in contradictory ways that help us understand how it is constructed in the world. If these texts occupy a problematic position in relation to feminism, they are equally problematic in relation to other political positions rooted in a commitment to social change.
And, of course, incest is just one of many forbidden subjects. Female vulnerability in the world provides a useful way to understand writing that both reveals and conceals, especially writing that also subverts normative notions of sexuality, desire, anger, and aggression in order to write about female experiences differently. To make trouble by representing what the dominant culture doesn't want representedsuch as female experiences of incest or anger at women's subordinate status and limited opportunitiesis to risk some form of punishment that may involve being labeled in undesirable ways or being ostracized from one's family and community.