The Phallocentrism in ‘If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller’ and the Feminism in ‘Mrs. Dalloway’

Topics: Feminism, Gender, Gender role Pages: 6 (2002 words) Published: May 4, 2013
The Phallocentrism in ‘If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller’ and the Feminism in ‘Mrs. Dalloway’

All literary texts, according to Bennett and Royle (153-154), can be thought about in terms of how they represent gender difference and how far they may be said to reinforce or question gender stereotypes and sometimes provoke us to think about the very idea of gender opposition. On top of the essential anatomical or biological difference between the male and female, various kinds of gender-stereotypes are then articulated, e.g. the male is strong, active rational whereas the female is weak, passive and irrational. The history of Western culture has long been dominated by the logic of the gender-stereotypical description. Patriarchy upholds the notion of phallocentrism, which involves the supposed priority of the male, in which the phallus means power, authority, presence and the right to possession. As Culler suggests, ‘Numerous aspects of criticism, including the preference for metaphor over metonymy, the conception of the author, and the concern to distinguish legitimate from illegitimate meanings, can be seen as part of the promotion of the paternal. Phallogocentrism unites an interest in patriarchal authority, unity of meaning, and certainty of origin,’ (63). Italo Calvino presents his phallocentrism in his ‘If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller’, first by defaulting the Reader, the protagonist, as a male character. ‘Calvino’s phallocratic orientation in the male Reader’s blatant domination of the female Other Reader is a logocentrism of patriarchy,’ (Brink 310). As de Lauretis (70) reminds us, Calvino offers us ‘the intimate connection of narrative with love, articulated in the necessary link of distance and desire…in this book reading is a function of desire, literally. The pursuit of the book’s reading corresponds to the pursuit of the unattainable love object, narrative closure is impeded by the dispersal of meaning; and the pleasure of the text is infiltrated or undercut with the jouissance of the text. The archetype of this fiction is the male sexual act.’ Calvino thus craftily paralells Reader’s attempt of satisfying dual desires, a relationship with Ludmilla and getting the correct and complete copy of ‘If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller’. The notion of ‘castration’ in literature can also be seen as a phallocentric representation in Calvino’s book. Castration, the removal of the phallus (the important male biological feature), is unpleasant and undesirable that has a special resonance with the oppression of women, who have often been considered as both castrated and castrating, especially in psychoanalysis. She argues that castration is the numbered chapters of Italo Calvino's book, suggesting that the various fragmented named chapters that appear in the book are themselves castration images. Ludmilla, the female Other Reader, is portrayed as a stereotypical perfect passive reader, who reads for purely escapist purposes, in a phallocentric paradigm. The way she acts fits perfectly the gender stereotypical description of a female. Ludmilla ‘never finishes a book; she eschews the company of authors, publishers, all the purveyors and agents of dominant discourses,’ (Brink 328) It proves that Ludmilla is reluctant to take over the authoritative role of the author. Moreover, Lotaria, Ludmilla’s sister, is a feminist who thinks literature should be used to further her polemic agenda. Lotaria, as suggested by Booker (132), is presented as a ‘threatening, castrating female, the implication of which is that Calvino is reacting to a perceived threat from the feminist sector’. She made a complaint about Ludmilla’s ‘peculiar’ reading habit, ‘Ludmilla reads one novel after another, but she never clarifies the problems. It seems a big waste of time to me. Don’t you have this impression?’(Calvino 44) That Lotaria tries to challenge Ludmilla’s habit is actually an attempt to challenge the conventional passive role of readers....
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