Carla Kaplan

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The Erotics of Talk: Women's Writing and Feminist Paradigms

The Erotics of Talk: Women's Writing and Feminist Paradigms
  • Oxford University Press
  • December 1996
  • ISBN: 019509915X
  • 256 pages
  • Buy online

Is feminism in "crisis"?

With many feminists now questioning identification and focusing on differences between women, what is the fate of feminist criticism's traditional imperative to rescue women's stories and make their voices heard?

In this provocative rereading of the classic texts of the feminist literary canon, Carla Kaplan takes a hard look at the legacy of feminist criticism and argues that important features of feminism's own canon have been overlooked in the rush to rescue and identify texts. African-American women's texts, she demonstrates, often dramatize their distrust of their readers, their lack of faith in "the cultural conversation," through strategies of self-silencing and "self-talk." At the same time, she argues, the homoerotics of women's writing has too often gone unremarked. Not only does longing for an ideal listener draw women's texts into a romance with the reader, but there is an erotic excess which is part of feminist critical recuperation itself.

Drawing on a wide range of resources, from sociolinguistics and anthropology to literary theory, Kaplan's highly readable study proposes a new model for understanding and representing "talk." She supplies fresh readings of such feminist classics as Jane Eyre, "The Yellow Wallpaper," Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and The Color Purple, revealing how their "erotics of talk" works as a rich political allegory and form of social critique.

Reviews and praise for The Erotics of Talk: Women's Writing and Feminist Paradigms

"The Erotics of Talk is a deft and courageous book which stares in the face some of the critical impasses of current feminist theory. It is a book which offers to feminism real grounds for hope and real chances for movement."

Helena Michie, Rice University "The Erotics of Talk is an invaluable and very timely contribution to feminist theory and literary criticism. It is a work of great sophistication written with clarity and elegance and is bound to be profoundly influential."

Hazel V. Carby, Yale University

"In a sequence of readings that infuse several of our most overread 'feminist' novels with new intellectual life, Kaplan demonstrates that silence does not in fact operate in opposition to speech. On the contrary, silence offers writeres from Charlotte Brontë to Alice Walker one among a constellation of conversational tropes and narrative strategies that can make readers desire to hear what has been silenced and perhaps, then, transform the community of readers into a community of attentive listeners. This argument moves feminist criticism an important step forward—from what might be called the politics of victimology to what Kaplan aptly terms 'the erotics of talk.'"

Nancy Armstrong, Brown University

"The Erotics of Talk provocatively revisits the 'classics' of women's writing established by the emergent feminist criticism of the 1970s and 1980s. Kaplan persuasively demonstrates how the politics of the historical moment shaped the paradigm for feminist readings. Her call for shifting the paradigm from the politics of voice to the politics of talk will challenge feminist scholars and teachers to rethink the meanings of resistance, silence, and dialogic conversation in women's writing. Written with admirable lucidity and stylistic 'punch,' this book produces illuminating readings of familiar texts as the basis for feminist theorizing."

Susan Stanford Friedman, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"In her provocative re-readings of feminist classics, Carla Kaplan initiates a generational shift in feminist literary criticism. Kaplan complicates notions of silence, voice, and dialogue that have been so central to our critical enterprise by positing an "erotics of talk" that critically privileges the utopian quest for an ideal listener. Because texts by black women writers are central to Kaplan's project, it thereby offers substantial insights for black criticism as well. Eloquent, politically engaged, and humorous this is a very important work."

Farah Jasmine Griffin, University of Pennsylvania