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Moving across a Century

Women’s Short Fiction from Virginia Woolf to Ali Smith


Edited By Laura Lojo Rodriguez

The difference between modernism and postmodernism has been object to constant revision from a variety of critical perspectives. The present collection of essays on women’s short fiction tackles anew this thorny distinction from the theoretical perspective sketched by psychoanalytical philosopher Slavoj Žižek. According to Žižek, modernism hints at the incompleteness of the Symbolic Order, but does so from a separate, marginal and alternative sphere of enjoyment. Postmodernism, on the contrary, exposes the fundamental inconsistency of the Symbolic Order by giving it a central place at the very core of the text. The key distinguishing feature is the mutation of the status of paternal authority throughout a century to which modernist and postmodernist texts are responsive. Starting from this theoretical premise, this volume analyses the work of five major women practitioners of the short story – Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Elizabeth Bowen, Angela Carter, and Ali Smith – to offer fresh critical readings of canonical pieces that exhibit either a modernist or a postmodernist sensibility. The volume has, therefore, both critical and theoretical value: it redefines Woolf ’s and Mansfield’s modernist status, the transitional character of Bowen’s short stories, and the different versions of postmodernism found in the work of Carter and Smith, while, at once, contributing to the reassessment of modernism and postmodernism from a new theoretical angle. The methodological consistency of the book – half-way between collection of essays and monograph – places it at a remove from the usual collection of critical pieces from disparate perspectives around a particular issue.


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Chapter 4. “In Me More Than Myself ”: Enjoyment at the Heart of the Symbolic in Angela Carter’s Short Fiction 83 - ANA Ma LOSADA PÉREZ


ANA Mª LOSADA PÉREZ Chapter 4. “In Me More Than Myself ”: Enjoyment at the Heart of the Symbolic in Angela Carter’s Short Fiction This chapter reads Carter’s work as exemplary of Postmodernism in the light of what Slavoj Žižek considers as Postmodernism’s defi ning feature: the presence of enjoyment at the heart of symbolic reality. For the purpose of description, this chapter focuses on six stories from Carter’s four short story collections: “The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter” from Fireworks (1974), “The Bloody Chamber”, “The Erl-King” and “Wolf-Alice”, col- lected in The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979), “The Fall River Axe Murders” from Black Venus (1985) and “Lizzie’s Tiger” from her posthumous collection American Ghosts and Old World Wonders (1993). In all the six stories some characters encounter enjoyment and others suc- cumb to it. In terms of the paternal metaphor that Freud, and Lacan after him, used to account for the origins of the processes of subject-formation, the main characters of these stories either confront or embody the anal father, a paternal fi gure of unlimited enjoyment whose comeback renders symbolic reality, the “Name-of-the-Father”, inconsistent and threatens to thwart the subject’s integration into the symbolic order, and thus into the domain of desire. Our analysis of the relation between Carter’s characters and enjoyment reveals that the latter is not external to symbolic reality in her fi ction; on the contrary, it is produced by symbolic reality itself in its enforcing of prohibitions, what renders characters as postmodernist subjects split into...

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