Peer Review Research Essays

Happiness (or not) after rape: hysterics and harpies in the media versus killjoys in black women’s fiction

This paper argues that Sara Ahmed’s theorizing of the feminist killjoy is very relevant to the treatment of the rape victim in public discourse. The analysis draws on Ahmed’s categorization of different kinds of killjoys to consider how, in media representations, rape victims are confronted with particularly reductive and simplistic happiness scripts. These scripts present victims as being unreliable, because they are seen as irrevocably harmed, or they supposedly cause their own unhappiness with their refusal to move on from the pain of their experiences. Having established the ambivalences of the media framing of rape survivors, fictional representations reveal the true complexities of happiness for rape survivors in the discussion of two novels: The Color Purple by Alice Walker (born 1944) and Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat (born 1969). Walker and Danticat emphasize that heteronormative scripts of happiness are inadequate in such cases, and that survivors must be allowed the right to be unhappy in a quest for justice. Ultimately, a more complex understanding of happiness admits that while the process of healing is not necessarily simple or swift for victims, there are possibilities for joy beyond normative understandings of what contentment might mean. [Access the full article at the website for The Journal of Gender Studies.]

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Beyond Symbolic Rape: The Insidious Trauma of Conquest in Marguerite Duras’s The Lover and Eileen Chang’s “Lust, Caution”

This article contrasts two visions of trauma: a symbolic imaginary on film where women’s violated bodies stand in for philosophical ideas about sex, violence, and politics; and a more complex literary imaginary using what Ann Cvetkovich calls an “archive of trauma.” The starting point for discussion is troubling representations of women on film; The Lover (1992, dir. Jean-Jacques Annaud) and Lust, Caution (2007, dir. Ang Lee) both portray their heroines falling in love with their abusers, men whose shame and vulnerability are expressed through a symbolic rape. Rather than dwelling on this dubious aspect of the films, the main discussion returns to the more nuanced view of trauma in the source texts: The Lover (1984) by Marguerite Duras (1914–1996) and “Lust, Caution” (1979) by Eileen Chang (Zhang Ailing) (1920–1995), neither of which include sexual violence in an obvious way. Duras’s traumatic portrait of French colonialism and Chang’s sinister portrayal of the Japanese occupation of Shanghai refuse symbolic rape as shorthand for conquest. Instead, these stories present an archive of trauma through a series of objects that represent emotional value, and provoke affective responses. Duras and Chang lament what Cvetkovich labels “insidious” or everyday trauma—the impossible histories—carried by women as a result of colonialism and war. [Access the full article at the website for Feminist Formations.]

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Breaking the Bonds of Domination: Embodied Heroines, Rape Culture and Possibilities of Resistance in Short Stories by Isabel Allende and Rosario Castellanos

This article explores representations of rape culture in short stories by two iconic Latin American women writers: ‘Fleeting Friendships’ and ‘Cooking Lesson’ by Rosario Castellanos (1925–74); and ‘Revenge’ and ‘The Judge’s Wife’ by Isabel Allende (born 1942). Though Castellanos and Allende have different theoretical and stylistic approaches, both writers initially present uncomfortable pictures of women’s disempowerment and sexuality. This, however, unease with women’s sexual agency interrogates, challenges, and ultimately subverts the rape script. To address the question of whether the heroines of the stories comply or resist sexual domination and violence, two related feminist theories of intersubjectivity and embodiment frame the analysis: Jessica Benjamin’s intersubjective space and Ann Cahill’s theory of intersubjectivity and embodiment. [Access the full article at the website for Contemporary Women’s Writing.]

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The Life and Death of Language: A Kristevan Reading of the Poets Gwyneth Lewis and Medbh McGuckian

This reading of Gwyneth Lewis (born 1959) and Medbh McGuckian (born 1950) considers language and identity through the frame of Julia Kristeva’s ideas about foreignness, strangeness and abjection. For Lewis, the focus is the loss of Cymraeg (the Welsh language), while McGuckian’s key poems present lost languages and minor modes of speaking… [Read the full abstract for this article on Academia.edu or access it on the Orbis Litterarum website.]

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Confessing the Secrets of Others: Pascale Petit’s Poetic Employment of Latin American Cultures and the Mexican Artist, Frida Kahlo

In her 2001 collection, The Zoo Father, the poet Pascale Petit (born 1953) directs her words to her abusive and neglectful father. In one particular poem from this volume, entitled ‘The Fish Daughter’, she is moved to reflect upon the power and effect of these words: “You could make a rasp / from the teeth on my tongue, / with the things I’m saying, / and grate the past with it. / I open my cavernous mouth / so you can see how everything / is toothed: my jaws, / palate, pharynx . . .” (11.6-13)The power of speaking is reified in this poem, as the tongue becomes a tool for shaping wood that can obliterate the past suffering. [Read the full article online on the Journal for International Women’s Studies.]

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