Chapter 2 Feminist Revision Mythology Revision is the foreground for reinterpretation
Feminist Revision Mythology
Revision is the foreground for reinterpretation. Many feminist writers revised the mythical structure and presented a new mythical vision. The book “The SAGE handbook of writing developed process” mentioned that, According to Fitzerald the term “Revision” means making changes at any point in the writing process. Deciding what could or should be changed in the text and how to make desired changes and achieve it. That is, making the desired changes. Changes may or may not affect the meaning of the text and they may be major or minor (Roger Beard and Debra myhill, pg 80)
In other words revision can be described as revision scans. The whole text is reproduced into a new text with new ideas, perspective and concepts which is totally different from the original text. It includes both internal and external evaluation of the text. Flower et al. and Hayes et al. draw the central framework for the revision process. They defined that revision is an international strategic activity which is consciously implemented by the writers. Revisionists examine the work of revision under four components. First they define the task, then they evaluate the text, third the selection of strategy and fourth the execution of the revised text (Roger Beard and Debra ……,83). The first feminist revision mythological novel which was written by Barbura Hill Rigney’s Lilith’s Daughters women and Religion in contemporary fiction in 1982. In Irigaray, Incarnation and contemporary women’s fiction, Abigail Rine states that Rigney’s novel explore some of the ways in which contemporary women are perceiving, revising and exorcizing the archetypal images and ideas of traditional religions. Rigney’s book talks about the archetypes in Christianity like Jesus, Mary, Eve and the garden of Eve (Abigal Rine …..). Rigney’s novel pays a way for many feminist critics to revise mythology from feministic point of view, Rigney’s works give a view to look upon the Christian archytypes.
In the book Readers guide to contemporary Feminist literary criticism,Maggie Humm talks about feminism in mythology. Women in mythology are well documented and discussed but generally from male perspectives. Myths represent social issues in imagistic stories drawn from history. Inevitably these stories of the past often present an outmoded set of masculine and feminine characteristics. The reason behind the acceptance of feminist myth is more acceptable in literary world it’s because of other canonization male myth critics like Empson, Frye and Me Luhan. Myth offered post-war writers a comforting structure within which to locate private needs.
In Sylvia Plath’s and Anne Sexton’s poems myths provide a structure of meaning and is represented by ambiguous Mother image chosen by both writers as poet daughters uncertain about their roles as poet mothers. Many women poets explore myths in order to bring female identity. Feminist critics utilized myth in both the fields of Psychoanalysis and in the field of Literary studies (Maggie Humm).
In The Reproduction of Mothering (1978), Nancy Chodorow shows the relationship between mother and daughter world from female personalities. It’s because male children grow and develope their masculinity in the masculine world , then the world becomes nothing for the mother or daughter. The repudiation of the feminine appears, exemplified in traditional mythology in the story of Perseus triumphing over Medusa. It who represents the feminine unconscious. The mother who represents both world. one is as a motherhood and another is adult world. Mrs. Ramsay, Pratt claims that myth not only explore literary and social problem but also it links rituals of daily life with prehistoric symbols in order to explain contemporary events.
In Neumann’s narrative of mythical mothers and daughters, the power of relations between mother and daughter, the power of relations between mother and child often simply resemble the power of relation in his own society. Adrienne Rich attacks Neumann’s theory for existing stereotypes. Rich argued that men they maintain their own cultural rituals to explore their own unconscious fear of women into mythical monster and in the Western tradition into myths of rape and violence to women. Medusa is being considered as a traditional symbol of castrating female. Rich says Medusa can be explained by the internalized gynophobia which women might have as part of our patriarchal inheritance.
Maggie Humm strongly states that one of the strongest reason for a feminist focus on myth is the link between Myth and orality. Myth aid minority groups as a vehicle for expressing social reality through analogy or masks. Finally myths can be appealed to women because it often portrays the private experience of women’s lives (Maggie Humm)
Alicia Suskin Ostriker is one of the most prominent feministic critics. Her numerous volumes of poetry shaped the feministic movement after the 1960s. In 1993 the book called Feminist Revision and the Bible consists of two lectures which focuses on the impact and entanglement of feminist biblical revision. As well as several of her own poems re-imagine the mythic character Lilith of Jewish lore (Abigail, content). In the article, ‘The Thieves of Language; women poets and revisionist mythmaking, Alicia Ostriker was the first critic to contribute the idea of feminist revisionist mythmaking. Ostriker illuminates women’s revision of classical myths ‘as an invasion of the sanctuaries of existing language’, specifically ‘the treasuries where our meanings for “male” and “female” are themselves preserved (Abigail….)
Alicia Ostriker’s another critical work called Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women’s poetry in America highlights the works of women in male dominant society. Ostriker started to begin her poetry in 1960s and her themes dealt with women’s experiences, like birth, motherhood etc.. Ostriker found that women were been portrayed negatively and as a marginalized character in Ancient Myths. Ostriker seeked to create “revisionary myths” replacing negative myths about women with new and revised stories of women’s authority and power (Gale and Cengage).
Ostriker’s poems gives a new identity for woman and her revisionist mythmaking shape the woman roles into positive role. Stealing the Language: The emergence of women’s poetry in America the final chapter deals with “Thieves of language women poets and Revisionist Mythology.” It discovers the view of male and female writers and always revised and rewritten from the female point of view. Alicia ostriker defined Revisionist Mythmaking as whenever a poet employs a figure or story… “the figure or tale appropriated for altered ends, the old vessel filled with new wine, initially satisfying the thirst of the individual poet but ultimately making cultural change possible”(Elizabeth Caroline, 33).
From the quote it is clear that Ostriker viewed revision as filling an old vessel with new wine myth. This is been considered as free sacred, when it is revised or revisioned. The whole sacred myth is an alternate from the beginning till the end. Ostriker says that revision is considered as multiple purposes. Myth is always been constructed and created by collective male society. Feminist critics and writers break those male constructed myths into various scared myths and revised or revisioned from the multiple perspective or view. Myth had been considered valuable for feminist to revision from the feministic point of view. Many fairytales, folklore were revisioned in the western era. The Myth of Eden that appears in western literature is the same myth which can be seen in Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve (1977). This novel describes about the contemporary revision of myth and variations on late twentieth century technologies and joins to form a new eve (David Bevan, 7)
Heather Walton says that Alicia Ostriker is a prominent critical interpreter of feminist revisionism. ‘Women poets and revisionist mythology’ appeared in ‘Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women’s poetry in America(1987). Ostriker mentioned that American female poets articulate a female position within the Mythology of culture. Ostriker wrote many revisions about Jewish and Christian tradition in Feminist Revision and the Bible (1993). Ostriker was a Jew, she was aware of revisionist mythmaking is a new strategy recently developed by women. Ostriker interprets the work of women poets not as an attempt to replace the male body of tradition with a female form. She asserts that the sacred stories women inherit from the common stories are too precious, too desirable to be discarded and replaced by a new mythology more friendly to women (Heather, 344).
In the book The Pleasure of the feminist text: Reading Michele Roberts and Angela Carter, Angela carter endlessly demythologizes and deconstructs oppressive stereotypes (or myth) of gender to create new, artificial myths, Evelyn. Carter revised or revisioned many fairytales and she give the important roles and highlighted the marginalized characters in her fairy tales. Angela carter’s most famous collections of revision short fiction, The Bloody Chamber and other stories became famous Carter attempted to change the altered meanings of the traditional norms. Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is considered as a foreground for other revisionist fairytale by female writers. Her revision work remained as feminine subjectivity. Veronica L.Schanoes states that the title story “The Bloody Chamber,” a revision of Bluebeard , is a perfect illustration of the Gibert and Gubar Irigarayan an model of mirrors (Fairytale, Myth and psychoanalytic theory: Feminism and Retelling the Tale,87). Carter’s The Bloody Chamber,written in a traditional style and it is considered to exhibit the feminist ideas. Carter handles the fairytales in such a way to exhibit feminist power and strength.
The book The study guide for Angela Carter discussed about The Bloody Chamber.The title of the story talks about Bluebeare, the mysterious French Nobleman who murders his own many wives. The legend, as recorded by the 17th century author Charles Perrault, begins with the marriage of a girl to an eccentric, wealthy man. He leaves away on business. The newly married husband hand over the keys of his every room and cabinet of his house. There is one rule that she should not particularly use one key which belongs to the room at the end of the great gallery but unfortunately she enters into that restricted room. In that particular room she finds many dead bodies of her husband’s previous wives, all with their throats cut, she can’t able to bear it she drops out the key,it stains her cloth with blood and she is caught by Bluebeard. He discovers her disobedience. “The Bloody Chamber” adds details of character and setting that raise issues of sexual awakening and sexual depravity, of the will to live. The young bride is the one who tells her the story and her courageous mother comes to rescue her. Carter revisits the age old Ancient tale with feminist view (Gale and Cengage learning).
Other works of Carter’s like Night at the circus (1984), The Passion of New Eve, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman not only revised the culture but also history and function of that culture. In these novels Carter talked from woman’s perspective. The novel begins how man try to capture an extraordinary woman with words, and ends with the attempt at a complete subversion of that patriarchy in a sort of cosmic, comic reversal (Scott Dimovitz).
The book Heterotopia in Angela Carter’s Fiction: worlds in collision mentioned that Angela Carter’s works covered from eighties, seventies and nineties with specific themes becomes the mainstream for post feminism. Carter had been regarded as one of the most feminist critics. Through Revision mythology Carter recreated the view of woman which had been portrayed falsely in Ancient culture (10). Alicia Ostriker, one of the seminal figures in the field of feminist revisionism blends both creation and deconstruction. writer “simultaneously deconstruct a prior ‘Myth’ or ‘story’ and construct a new one which includes, instead of excluding herself “(Haley Taylor, 4).
Many authors presented a series of retellings during 1999. In Canongate Myth series project, Margaret Atwood presented her mythical work in Canongate myth series. Margaret Atwood focuses on the tale of Odysseus, from Homer’s myth in The Odyssey. Atwood shifted myth from narrative perspective to secondary character. Atwood narrates the story from Penelope’s perspective. Atwood gives voice for Penelope and transforms her from a silent and faithful wife to an individual and a strong woman who is now free and narrated her own story. Penelope is considered as prominent figure in our literary world. Atwood pulled out traditionally mythic male world of heroism and gave voices for the female world. Atwood blends a modern voice with ancient forms and characters to produce a startling fresh take on, one of the most famous myths of all time (Rachel Sherlock, 2016). Atwood’s early works such as Double Persephone, Good Bones and The Rubber Bride, are the Atwood’s mythological works.
In the book on Margaret Atwood: Works and Impact, Reingard M.Nischick states that Atwood’s visual art, poetry and novels frequently talks about Greek Goddess or Mother Goddess widely worshipped throughout the Neolithic and Bronze Ages around the world (pg,216). Atwood’s poem Two-headed poems (1978) talks about the myth of two heads or faces. Such as Deceit(one of the miseries released from Pandora’s box) and Sphinx as goddess of birth and death. Atwood’s other poems such as Lady Oracle(1976), Fitcher’s Bind(1970) talks about goddess trinity and other kinds of myths (218). The Handmaid’s Tale talks about triple goddess and it talks about Mythical figure of Jacob-Rachel-Leah-Bihah (221).
The book The Motivated sign: iconicity in language and literature, Christina Ljungberg mentioned that Atwood’s work and poetry centers on the revisionism and exploration of myths and literary conventions. Atwood frequently inverts literary forms and received images in order to question their origins and functions (351).
Atwood engages Greek Mythology in most of her poems and fictions. In her Revision mythological work, female characters are far away from the traditional archetypes and they appear as strong and powerful women.
Muriel Rukeyser was an American Poet and political activist. Her poem consists of rich themes about feminism, equality, social justice. In 1968, Muriel Rukeyser’s famous poem called ‘Myth’ was responded in Gustave Moreau’s (1864) painting Oedipus and the Sphinix (Ben Hickman, 43). The poem talks about the main characters of Oedipus and Sphinx. Oedipus is blind he walks alone in the road and he realizes it was Sphinx who stands in front of him. Oedipus asked to Sphinx then why he didn’t recognize his mother
Oedipus said, “I want to ask one question
Why didn’t I recognize my mother?”
Sphinx replied that he answered incorrectly because he didn’t mention ‘Women’. Oedipus tried to argue with Sphinx, Oedipus argued that his answer was right and he told that every people know that ‘man’ refers to mankind ‘human being’ but then Sphinx told that it does not mean ‘everyone.’ Because of this reason Sphinx inferred to kill him. The “Myth” this poem talks about tragedy of Oedipus. Oedipus was a king who was searching for his real father on one fine day he traveled, on the way he killed the unknown man. When he reached Thebes, there was a Sphinx outside the city, which killed the people and ate them. Sphinx questioned Oedipus. He guessed and answered for the question that it is ‘Man’. Sphinx left him alive and the people of Thebes made Oedipus as a king of Thebes. After long years whole Thebes was affected by Plague and Oedipus found out the reason that it was because of him who had mistakenly married his own mother and finally he himself blinded him and he himself banished from the place.
In Muriel Rukeyser poem ‘Myth’ talks about the story of Oedipus in a different manner from feministic perspective. In her poem Oedipus is shown as a blind man and now he is arguing with Sphinx. Sphinx replied on that day he answered incorrectly, Oedipus was confused He recalled the question “What walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon and three in the evening?” again Oedipus strongly says that his answer was correct the answer is ‘Man’. Sphinx counters and says that he didn’t mention ‘women’. It is the most highly remarkable point in Muriel Rukeyser’s poem ‘Myth’. Rukeyser draws attention about the society of her time and shows how woman were not given equal rights when compared to men. This particular single part poem is highly remarkable and draws attention about the flaws in society.
Muriel Rukeyser mentions another important thing about Greek Mythology, she states about the Sphinx which is always looked as a monster with female face, and with lion’s body along with eagle wings. This poem ‘Myth’ is being given importance for ‘women’ and it also encompasses the women world. Muriel Rukeyser chooses Greek Mythology to highlight the women’s issues in her poem ‘Myth’.
Rukeyser uses the imagery to describe Oedipus as “old and blinded” which states that the helpless old man is not only blind but also he is blind in his answer. Rukeyser uses repetition in her poem ‘Myth’. Sphinx repeats “you answered” and “you gave the wrong answer”, he is now responsible for his own fault. Rukeyser revision changes the story of Oedipus.
The book on Crisis and the US Avan-Garde Ben Hickman sates that Myth for Rukeyser was a central mode of passion, a powerful expression of struggle. When we see ourselves in myth, we do not see our uncorrupted, primitive being, but a common desire for a better world. Rukeyser allies myth to poetry as a ‘type of creation in which we may live and which will save us.’ It comes from what she called ‘the lost, the anonymous, and the dream – singers.’ Myth are forgotten dreams rather than hidden qualities and such they are contingent and future oriented (44).
Louise Gluck wrote wide number of poetry, Faithful and Virtuous Night which won the National Book Award in Poetry. The seven Ages won National Book Award in 2006 and Vita Nova won the Boston Book Rewi’s Bingham Poetry prize. Gluck’s poetry is anthologized in the Vintage contemporary American book of poetry. Gluck’s poems includes the archetypes of biblical, classical, historical and fairy tale myths (Victoria Parker, 6). Her books Meadowlands, Vita Nova and Averno contains classical Odysseus, Persephone myths.
Revision is particularly a necessary task for female writers and poets because women’s writing and self identity have historically been restricted by a canonical body of images and myths about women dominated by male versions portrayals “negate everything of what she is about; and mutes the image of woman in books written by man. She finds a terror a dream…. Not herself” (Parker, 71). In the book on The poetry of Louise Gluck: A Thematic Introduction Lee Behlman argued that contemporary Jewish American authors such as Nathan Englander, Michael Chabon and Art Spigelman had attempted to come to terms with their “second generation” version of the folklore, magical-realist devices. They contrived the provisional relationship to myth and folklore, Behlman argues, impossibilities of gaining direct access to the past but Gluck suggests about pleasure and value found in producing and reading versions of the self through acts of fantasy and projection (Daniel Morris, 23).
The book Fairytales, Myth and Psychoanalytic theory : Feminism and Retelling the tale draws the concept of Revision. It talks about Revision is only a revision so far as the author sets out to rewrite a specific story. It is impossible to revise by accident, on one hand, or for a specific story to be a revision only in the eyes of the reader, on the other. (Veronica L.Schanoes).
Meadownlands Gluck’s a collection of poems are written about different figures and situations which takes place in Odyssey. She considers that answer and stories are never stable. Apart from original form, revision is the only way to create new vitality immediacy and for a tale. Revision is infact the only way to keep a story a living part of the culture around it. In Meadownlands, Gluck changes the story of Odyssey’s and Penelope’s life story. The Meadownlands, the title states about a nostalgic pastoral mode, Gluck gives a new look for Penelope from the feminist point of view. She is the heroine who undergo long suffering, self-punishing. Gluck takes up the concept of non reunion, but atlast closes sequence a rare moment of tenderness in “Reunion”
“And as he speaks, ah,
Tenderly he touches her forearm”
This is followed by “The Dream” which opens
“I had the weirdest dream,
I dreamed use were married again”
This shows about ‘reunion’ thought between husband and wife, but ends it ends with lack an edge.
“never turned anyone into a pig
I make them look like pigs”
Lack of absence desire both the partners hopelessly self-absorbed (Elizabeth Frost, review).
Feminist revision on mythology played an important role in our society giving a new identity for the women in male centered society. Revision is a feminist strategy of subverting patriarchal values. A women writer gives new dimension for the women in our society. Revision is a fertile ground for all the modern mythological works.