Adventures in Reading

Nonfiction: Writing Women in Central America by Laura Barbas-Rhoden, 2003

“Weapons, plots, violence. Lush landscapes and guerrillas. Central America is a site of danger (again), but not because of its revolutions. The danger is in words–the words of women.”

If you’re interested in feminism, literary criticism, women writers, historical perspective, and/or Central America, Laura Barbas-Rhoden’s Writing Women in Central America: Gender and the Fictionalization of History is a feast of information on the Central American authors Claribel Alegría, Rosario Aguilar, Gioconda Belli, and Tatiana Lobo and how these women reinterpret history through their fictional works.

Reading Barbas-Rhoden’s book was peculiar as I’ve never read any of the authors she critiques, but I was very attracted to the subject matter and I enjoy reading literary criticism. Though people frequently ascribe a stark contrast between nonfiction and fiction, Barbas-Rhoden’s book explores how the novel disrupts and adds to historical narrative, and frequently expresses the the silent Other: often women and indigenous populations. (This idea actually played a large part in a paper I wrote about Jane Austen.)

Not being familiar with the authors that are discussed was a definite draw back in that I had no point of reference. On the other hand, Barbas-Rhoden introduced me to some great and thoughtful women writers from Central America.


Revisted Reviews: Intercourse by Andrea Dworkin

After Betty Friedan, Andrea Dworkin seems to top the list as one of the most referenced feminists. Her popularity did not prepare me in the least for what exactly her book de jour is. That is Intercourse coined as saying “all sex is rape,” is actually an intriguing literary criticism with a brief peppering of art history. Often quotes I have seen attributed to Dworkin from Intercourse were taken out of context in that it would only make sense that after Dworkin is read a conversation must occur on art’s ability (and lack of) to reflect and represent life.

Dworkin’s book begins at Tolstoy and moves through biographies of he and his wife and his literary work The Kreutzer Sonata. Dworkin’s book provides a feminist and specific sexual critique on how sexuality is represented throughout classical, fictional pieces ranging from Tennessee Williams to James Baldwin to Bram Stoker to the Bible and how these works reflect the reality of the culture they were produced in. This bundle of information is presented to the reader and then weaved together in a luxurious manner to critique present views on sexuality.

Similar to Reading Lolita in Tehran, it is not necessary that you’ve actually read any of these works. However, as with any literary criticism, it’s difficult to fully engage with Dworkin’s book (whether in agreement or disagreement) without reading the actual texts the critique is based on. Overall, it’s a brilliant piece of feminist literature that is blunt and honest and thought provoking. Whether or not you agree with everything (or anything) that Dworkin says, it’s a thought stimulating book that consistently questions the reader’s attitudes towards sex and culture.

In the original preface to Intercourse Andrea Dworkin wrote “I love the literature these men have created; but I will not live my life as if they are real and I am not,” and over the years this quote has become very important to me. I took a course in Irish literature, which was inspiring between the actual works and the passion my instructor freely shared with the students. But my feminist ideology doesn’t always intertwine well with Joyce and I even had a discussion where a friend pointed this out to me.

I love literature and whether it’s about the colonizer or the colonized I appreciate it and find it moving, but I can never completely distance myself as a reader from the perspective and cultural implications of the author and what the literature can and does represent. Most recently I read The Voyages of Dr. Dolitte by Hugh Lofting, which is a well-written and complex book that nostalgically recalls the excitement and appeal of an adventurous yet innocent age safely removed from the horror of the World Wars it was written during. I read the book and was charmed by it but cannot just read past the racism and imperialism that still lingers in even the edited version.

And I suppose that’s where the quote becomes meaningful to me: I love the literature these people have created, but I will not live my life ignoring the implications of their literature either.