Page 36 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
a difference — an assumption about an importan t relationship
between a r t and life is at stake here as well.
Less familiar to many o f us are the issues that su rround the
notion o f “the image o f women” in literature. But here too,
are assumptions to be exam ined about the relationship between
literature and the rest o f life. And here too the questions have
agendas which are important, and have interesting parallels
with the issues o f “Jewish litera tu re” — the wish to assert, secure,
and liberate an identity.
One o f the first strategies o f contemporary feminist scholar­
ship is to demarcate images o f women in o rde r to establish how
women have been depicted, and to examine the significance
o f these depictions. Images such as virgin, temptress, helpmate,
witch, and mother have been extensively explored in many d if­
feren t genres. When the images are “negative,” the agenda usu­
ally involves the hope that making stereotypes explicit can g rad ­
ually free readers from their constraints. When the images are
“positive,” the agenda shifts to highlighting emancipatory roles
which may guide readers in the conduct o f their lives. Often
the search for positive images consists in reading negative im­
ages differently — to allow an affirmation o f denigrated female
powers. For example, images o f women traditionally dismissed
as “mad,” are reread in terms o f the problems o f rebellion
against restrictive patriarchal roles.
WOMEN WRITERS’ ROLE
The search for positive images also involves a program o f
encouraging writers to create new visions and to articulate
women’s own “voice.” This strategy o f contemporary feminist
scholarship, the idea o f giving a traditionally oppressed group
the opportunity to “tell their own story,” again parallels the
agenda o f defining Jewish literature. But here we must raise
questions about what it might mean for women to “tell their
own stories,” and whether new and emancipatory images o f
women can successfully be created in this way. For example,
do authors who are, by gender, “women” necessarily have some
privileged access to knowledge about the natu re and conditions
o f womanhood? I f so, how and why? And even more crucially,
what does it mean to write “as a woman” and “as a m an”: Can
woman write o ther than “as a woman?” Do women “writing