Reimagining the Body: Corporeal Practices and Female Subjectivity in Contemporary American Women's Fiction
Shin, Yoon Ha
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This dissertation studies the experience of the female body since the Women's Liberation Movement through the lens of contemporary women's fiction in the United States. Analyzing six novels by Erica Jong, Rita Mae Brown, Kathy Acker, Sarai Walker, and Carole Maso, I investigate four topics of central concern in feminist sexuality and body studies, namely, sexual liberation, abortion, motherhood, and the "thin ideal" body. Fictional representations offer opportunities to not only think through the body politics of the nation state but also embody the ideas and concepts that feminists and scholars have discussed. I examine different ways in which the female subjects in the novels fight against institutional heterosexuality, neoliberalism, and patriarchy by means of their corporeal practices. The four chapters, respectively, explore the genre of consciousness-raising fiction and criticize heteronormativity within the context of feminist literature; problematize heterosexual love as a capitalist enterprise and interpret abortion as a symbolic act of resistance; align the postfeminist rhetoric of acquiring the slender body with that of neoliberal individualism; illustrate the significance of fluidity in the maternity discourses with regards to the potential of the maternal body. The six works of fiction employ the feminist practice of consciousness-raising as a narrative strategy to create a political space in which women delve into the relation between their individual bodies and the social, cultural, and historical conditions attached to them. By focusing on women's bodily experiences while also taking literary techniques and styles into consideration, my readings of the novels in question advance a feminist critique of the body and contribute to the understanding of fiction’s vital role in engaging with social reality.