Notes On ‘Her Blood And His Mirror Mary Coleridge Luce Irigaray And The Female Self' Notes
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Battersby, Christine (1996) 'Her Blood and His Mirror: Mary Coleridge, Luce Irigaray and the Female Self.' In Eldridge, Richard Thomas (ed.) Beyond Representation: Philosophy and Poetic Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 249-272. Though one shouldn't treat the feminine in context-blind ways, there are characteristic features of the female subject-position that are likely to reveal themselves. Characterised by opposition and reversal, though this shouldn't be conceptualised as merely destructive. In (post) Romanticism, the male genius retained his maleness while encompassing bisexual characteristics, while the female genius was seen as de-sexed by her supposed 'masculinity'. Positions women as monstrous and creatively sterile hermaphrodites. Via mimicry and mirror imagery, Coleridge and Irigaray construct a fluid subject position. However, this emerges only via strategic attempts to explore the impossibilities for women in that form of femininity that's 'beyond' (that constitutes the edges of) the masculinised self. The Madwoman in the Attic (Gilbert and Gubar, 2000) interprets Coleridge's poem as an encounter with a true, authorial female self. But this is weak in the way it locates the female self as surviving within Romanticism: a Romanticism they depict as monolithic (they don't explore the notion of androgyny that was equally important to Romanticism, or consider that Coleridge wasn't primarily interested in owning her female sexuality/self but - given her pseudonym - renouncing sexuality; an ideal that left her with severe problems). They also get the title wrong: it's 'a mirror', not 'the mirror'. Coleridge tries (and fails) to construct her authorial self by adopting (and reversing) the persona of Anodos - the hero of MacDonald's Phantastes. Coleridge's pseudonym indicates an interest in renouncing sexuality. Problems: MacDonald's androgyne was a feminine male and his women were sexless and lacking any real personality. In MacDonald's novel, it's the quest for a pure white woman that becomes Anodos's search for a lost feminine other half. However, this affirming of self (though slaying self and sexual desire) is open only to males - the females are ciphers. Coleridge could neither identify with MacDonald's female love objects nor ally herself with the lover who sublimates physical lust into mystical bliss. MacDonald's females are allied with marble rather than living women. Re: Coleridge's poem, like Anodos, the 'I' looks through a mirror to a woman trapped in a glass prison. Yet, unlike MacDonald's white mirror-princess, the woman in Coleridge's mirror is marked by harsh red. Whereas MacDonald's mirror transforms reality into eternal beauty, in her glass Coleridge 'conjured up a vision bare.' No exquisite pale love-object but a lover herself - envious, vengeful, bleeding. Wild despair. Not the same celebration of changelessness that will eventually lead beyond desire; rather, desire is positioned as indeterminate, both dying flame and leaping fire. Paradoxical affirmation of the 'hideous wound' of the female body, desire, and denial - willing the visions to pass. Female poet retains the horror of flesh while simultaneously blocking traditional models of spiritual transcendence. Caught up with the paradoxes and contraries of the other within. Female gazer remains locked in a model of self/other relationships in which the other is also the self. Trapped by the hermaphrodite position. The woman is the 'shade of a shadow': indeterminate to the end. Poem offers neither a sense of the gazer's autonomy nor a consciousness of interiority based on 'the authority of her own experience.' 'I am she' is refused, while also given a position of finality that means it's not simply negated. Impossible either/or situation. Unable to identify either with the 'ghost' in her glass or the 'fairer vision' of MacDonald's mirror, her own 'I' disappears in play of mirror-images. Situates herself on both and neither side. Makes forays into the moonlight but lives in the twilight. Speculum reverses the direction of the gaze, using woman's body as the apparatus through which to regard the philosophers' accounts of being. Lacan - illusion of a 'self' that's autonomous and whole. We block off 'otherness' and the infinite that persists at the edges of vision. In Lacan, 'woman' represents the mother/other against which the masculinised self constructs itself. Irigaray used topology of an impossible (curved and shifting) mirror to show how women can't position themselves either side of this self/other divide. Woman is the blind spot of man's gaze. Irigaray reverses Plato and Lacan's mirror imagery as she works to produce a 'burning point' that would reflect back and destroy the metaphysical past. Division
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