What do our terms mean? : explorations using psychoanalytic theories and concepts


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Indeed I focus upon society in that I focus upon the social contract and the symbolic order — this is necessary given Atwood's focus upon social dynamics. However, in focussing upon processes which are social, psychoanalysis and phenomenology allow me to acknowledge that they are structural and symbolic. Dynamics such as sexual and marital relations are post-oedipal dynamics of paternal law.

They provide a symbolic position through which the individual subject participates in necessary circulatory networks of exchange. Hence they are the foundation of the social contract in general, rather than the consequence of a specifically Atwoodian scenario or a specifically patriarchal form of society. As a consequence, I can examine the identity of each protagonist in a way which acknowledges the sexually-specific place of the women while also recognising that the demands placed upon these women are, in fact, symbolic ones.

This opens the way for analysis into the question of how the protagonists negotiate the contents and forms of their own psyches in light of symbolic demands. In my analysis the protagonists, their identities as women, are brought to the fore. However, their structural role within society is also recognised. Drawing upon the theories of psychoanalysis and phenomenology allows me to acknowledge the sexually specific place of women, but do so by interrogating the very terms upon which culture is founded. In this there are no simple victors and vanquished, but people — both men and women — who are caught in a System which is not easy to change.

This focus upon the construction of identity means I can explore the very issues feminist critics assess — female sexuality, male-female relations, marriage, the maternal, masculine desire. However, psychoanalysis and phenomenology allow me a more refined exploration by analysing these issues in a wider context of other determinants of subjective identity — representation, signification, libidinal energy, the body, the ego, the unconscious and the like.

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This makes for a more theoretically precise analysis than conventional feminist accounts which see the situation the protagonist finds herself in largely in terms of broadly-based social discrimination. I try to attribute to the characters a more precise function. Where the characters are undeniably acting in their capacity as men or women, I try to articulate the nature — the aim and function — of their sexually-specific roles.

This often means that peripheral characters, especially male characters, are explained. My account shows, for example, that the men function as agents or signifiers of paternal desire.

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In this they are necessary — even if unpalatable. After all, psychoanalysis teaches us that the intervention of paternal and hence masculine desire is essential in order that the daughter not remain locked in the stifling symbiosis of maternal union. Therefore the male characters offer a means of escape from the pre-subjective and pre-oedipal bond, and allow the protagonist entry into the circulatory and symbolic realm.

Thus rather than condemn these figures as power-hungry, I try to explain their behaviour, and acknowledge that they too have a necessary role to play. She creates psychologically complex protagonists and very interesting peripheral characters.

The relationships between the characters are complicated, and sometimes difficult to understand. The fact that both psychoanalysis and phenomenology are theoretical disciplines that explore the formation of identity and construction of the self make them the perfect framework for analysing Atwood's novels. Together these philosophies can provide the key to understanding recurrent motifs, events and relationships in the fictional world and shed light on the subtleties of Atwood's fiction which are often overlooked. I would hope that the credibility of this reading will show the value of psychoanalysis and phenomenology in interpreting and understanding literature, and provide a framework by which other writers' works could be analysed.

Amiel, Barbara.

Maclean's 93, 42, 15 October Andersen, Margaret. Atlantis 1, 1, Fall Bach, Peggy. MacGill's Literary Annual Vol. Englewood Cliffs, N. J: Salem Press, Bromberg, Pamela S. Margaret Atwood: Vision and Forms. Southern Illinois University Press, Brooks, Peter. Cady, Barbara. Los Angeles Times 5 December , Books section: Chernin, Kim.

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The Obsession: Reflections on the Tyranny of Slenderness. New York: Harper and Row, Crittenden, Yvonne. Sunday Sun Toronto 30 September S Davey, Frank. Margaret Atwood: A Feminist Poetics. Vancouver: Talonbooks, Davidson, Cathy N. Regionalism and the Female Imagination 3, , Fall-Winter Fee, Margery and Ruth Cawker. Canadian Fiction: an Annotated Bibliography. Toronto: Peter Martin Associates. Freibert, Lucy M. Canadian Literature 92, Spring Givner, Jessie. Studies in Canadian Literature 14, 1, Godard, Barbara.

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Essays on Canadian Writing 26, Summer Hansen, Elaine Tuttle. Novel 19, 1, Fall Howe, Linda. Ingersoll, Earl G. Jeannotte, M. Sphinx 3, Winter Johnston, Sue Ann. Atlantis: a Women's Studies Journal 9, 2, Spring Keitner, Wendy. Quarry 26, 2, Spring McNeil, Maureen. Feminism and Psychology 1, 2: Mellard, James M. Using Lacan Reading Fiction. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, Mycak, Sonia.


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Parsons, Ann. Judith Spector, ed. Patton, Marilyn. Rao, Eleonora. Salutin, Rick. This Magazine 14, 2, March Sciff-Zamaro, Roberta. Canadian Literature , Spring Solecki, Sam. Canadian Forum 59, November Spector, Judith A. University of Hartford Studies in Literature 17, 3, Struthers, J. London Free Press 2 October Tanner, Stephen L. Chronicles of Culture 4, 4, July-August Texmo, Dell.

Atlantis 2, 2, pt 1, Spring In judging Lady Oracle Barbara Cady unambiguously labelled it a "woman's book" 14 , while Peggy Bach saw it as waving feminist banners. Early assessment of Life Before Man focussed on the question of whether it should be seen as being contemporaneous with the women's movement, against it, or beyond it. Critics Barbara Amiel and Rick Salutin categorised the novel as feminist and political, while Yvonne Crittenden felt that it "takes a swipe at the muddled thinking of the women's movement" S Sam Solecki noted that even though Atwood herself is a leading feminist, in Life Before Man political activity is cited only to be criticised, while Stephen Tanner argued that the novel totally discredits the politically-oriented feminist position.

This measuring of the level of feminist politics could also be seen in reviews of Cat's Eye. Maureen McNeil, for example, found the book disappointing because Atwood had failed to provide positive images of sisterhood and the possibility of a bond between women.

Likewise it was disturbing, according to McNeil, to find Atwood "being so negative" in her treatment of feminism, and it was similarly disturbing to read a book in which women wield power and inflict pain on other women, and feminists appear as dogmatic while men are presented as misunderstood. Similarly Ann Parsons' account of The Edible Woman saw the novel as targeting "a leading source of oppression in the lives of women" 98 , namely cultural pressures upon the formation of women's identity.

What do our terms mean? : explorations using psychoanalytic theories and concepts What do our terms mean? : explorations using psychoanalytic theories and concepts
What do our terms mean? : explorations using psychoanalytic theories and concepts What do our terms mean? : explorations using psychoanalytic theories and concepts
What do our terms mean? : explorations using psychoanalytic theories and concepts What do our terms mean? : explorations using psychoanalytic theories and concepts
What do our terms mean? : explorations using psychoanalytic theories and concepts What do our terms mean? : explorations using psychoanalytic theories and concepts
What do our terms mean? : explorations using psychoanalytic theories and concepts What do our terms mean? : explorations using psychoanalytic theories and concepts
What do our terms mean? : explorations using psychoanalytic theories and concepts What do our terms mean? : explorations using psychoanalytic theories and concepts

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