Peripheral visions: Postmodern community in contemporary feminist writing

Date of Completion

January 1995


Women's Studies|Literature, American




This dissertation presents a new model for interaction between postmodernism and feminism based on recent theories of narration and community. Postmodernism and feminism have often been perceived as antagonistic toward each other; particularly, feminism's tendencies toward creating connections are deemed incompatible with postmodernism's perceived lack of coherent referentiality and foundations. Thus, the postmodern feminist writer's central problem becomes how to assert women's individual subjectivity within a postmodern aesthetics which tends to deny that subjectivity can be achieved. Such a project entails writing a "cohesively fragmented" text, successfully creating a paradox.^ Postmodern textual cohesion, a contradictory phenomenon, simultaneously acts to unify and disperse. The cohesive impulses create community within difference, illuminate historical omission, and enter into discourse with admittedly fallible language. The literary works discussed--Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine, Adrienne Rich's The Dream of a Common Language, and Toni Morrison's Jazz--articulate the paradox. Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine relates the often conflicting narrative accounts of her geographically displaced tribe without validating any one version; likewise, Adrienne Rich, writing explicitly feminist poetry, maintains that " (women) need to grasp our lives inseparable" from the "rancid" humanity we live in, both discursively and historically. Toni Morrison's Jazz articulates the paradox of interconnected lives separated from history and language.^ Narrative in these texts is the most powerful agent in forming community. Yet, there are several potentially dangerous problems with the narrative process of communal creation; such an endeavor might generates a tendency toward the exclusion of difference. However, rather than operating as communal metanarratives, the cohesive factors of women's postmodern narratives promote multiple, alternative truths and thus allow for diversity. These feminist narratives often seek to disrupt complacent acceptance of patriarchal metanarratives and invoke communal voices that both actively contest historical and discursive suppression as well as insist on plurality. They rely on multiplicity and diversity rather than the shared ideals of centralized community to create cohesiveness. ^