Saturday, December 4, 2010

Critical Article Summary

Kaivola, Karen. "Revisiting Woolf's Representations of Androgyny: Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Nation." Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 18.2 (1999): 235-261. MLA International Bibliography
This is a deconstructive-type criticism. The author is very enthusiastic about Orlando, she says it is “hailed by feminists as one of the most important twentieth century meditations on gender” (235). She also suggest something I hadn’t read before about Woolf’s motives, that she intends to make the reader see how they are like Orlando (236) Androgyny was in vogue in the 60’s-70’s. It was a way to escape society’s imposed gender roles of postwar. But it lost its shine with feminist critics as they started to believe it being used as a device to glaze over these gender conflicts. It began feeding into patriarchal and hetero-normative ideas. She mentions Elaine Showalter, a critic of female literature who saw Orlando as weak. She argued that Woolf's interest in androgyny was “merely an evasive fantasy” (239) Kaivola does not agree.
She discusses the cultural nervousness that existed when someone’s identity was in question. This is because it is the signifiers that define identity that define one’s place in society’s hierarchy. This was a prolific idea in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She doesn’t think the androgyny concept should strictly discuss gender, believes it is more complex than that. She writes “identity is multiple, contradictory, relational, situational and fluid” (238). So to consider gender apart from other parts of identity like race is contradictory to the complicated social phenomenon. The androgen term is multifaceted. : At once it represents a hybrid ideal of both sexes; harmony between the sexes. But it can also have a repressive effect on homosexuality and embraces status quo. Kiavola calls Orlando a playful negative response to these cultural pressures to have a stable singular identity. The symbol of androgyny is used to try and overcome gender distance. But continued male dominance proves that it is impossible to transcend gender roles. Hierarchies based on difference are hard to overcome. She discusses “hybridity” a term first used in a biological context. Suggest this might be a better term and do a better job allowing tensions to exist naturally.

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