A Desire for Women: Relational Psychoanalysis, Writing, and Relationships between Women

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This book explores women's desire for women as it is located in examples of twentieth-century British and American women's writing, including fiction, memoir, and poetry by such writers as Virginia Woolf, Vivian Gornick, Dorothy Allison, Mary Gordon, Toni Morrison, Marilyn Hacker, and Audre Lorde. Suzanne Juhasz discusses how literary writing functions to enact and negotiate a series of relationships between women: daughter-mother, mother-daughter, lesbian lover-lesbian lover, writer-reader, and reader-writer. She shows how writing is a component of interpersonal relationships and how relationships are central to the construction of personal and social identity.

Uniquely weaving together psychoanalytic, feminist, queer, and literary theory as well as memoir to examine the value and meaning of relationships between women, Juhasz explores the writings of adult daughters, mothers, and lovers to consider how language both traces and shapes the contours of experience. She emphasizes the initial bond between mother and infant as the bedrock of identity formation, a process involving love, recognition, desire, and language, and shows how that relationship serves as source and model for all future loves.

Juhasz's lucid prose unravels the meaningful yet overlooked intricacies of the relationships that inflect much of women's writing in the twentieth century.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813532738
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2003
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.46 (h) x 0.89 (d)

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Excerpt from A Desire for Women: Relational Psychoanalysis, Writing, and Relationships between Women by Suzanne Juhasz

Copyright information: http://rutgerspress.rutgers.edu/press_copyright_and_disclaimer/default.html
A Valentine card from an eleven-year-old girl to her mother. Handmade, complete with her own poetry and drawings. It's twelve bright construction paper pages long, offering a tribute to her mommy with one page for each month of the year. One four-line poem, one drawing, and a pasted-on calendar: January, February, June, and July. The illustrations are actually collages, with material from the real world pasted to each page. There are gold beads around the neck of the glamorous January mother, in her tight white gown with a long slit, with cutout faces of smiling men circled around her. Confetti makes falling snow on the February mother, who is playing "like a little girl,/ Out in the snow with us." Yarn forms a sweater on the knitting March mother. A piece of plaid taffeta is a tube top, carefully stuffed to form little breasts, on the May mother, who is sunbathing on her chaise lounge. That same taffeta fabric becomes a bathing suit plus matching towel and hat, replete with jaunty yellow pipe cleaner feather, for "Mom at the beach in July": "wow! is she some looker!/After you've seen her flash that smile / It's no wonder that Daddy took'er." Aluminum foil makes a cup for June's tennis champ mom, as those same cutout rounds of male faces smile in the air around her. Actual leaves make a pile around the October mother, with only her face and hands showing above it: "There's so many leaves & Mommy's so small,/ You can't eventell where's she's gone!" On through every month, concluding with that cute blonde head peering around a jewel-decorated Christmas tree. Then comes the finale: inside a border of brightly crayoned flowers is this poem, printed in fancy pink letters:
I've gone back through the year
And remembered what Mommy does.
And I wondered & thought & then thought some more,
And didn't decide because-
How can I choose when she's always so sweet,
So loving, so kind, & so swell.
I love her more every day in the year,
Though at times I don't show it so well.
But I try to keep from acting up,
And control this temper I've got.
'Cause I'm so grateful that,
When God picked out mothers,
He gave me the best of the lot.
I saw this card again for the first time in forty years when I was visiting my mother a few summers ago. She was in her eighties, I in my fifties. She took down a large cardboard box from a high shelf in her bedroom closet. Opening it, she revealed a collection of these cards. She had saved them for all these years.
I was astonished. I knew that I used to make greeting cards. I even had a logo for them.
But I had no memory of what they looked like or what they said. I was amazed by how elaborate they were and by the sentiments they expressed. So much love. So much attention. So much, well, need. Before her recent death my mother and I kept our distance from each other. It was our solution-certainly mine-to a troubled relationship. But there I was, over and over, ardent champion and devoted swain of my sexy little blonde bombshell of a mother. I seem to have preferred the book-length format. I would cut holes in the colored paper pages and tie them together with a ribbon. "Memoirs of Mommy," for example, a birthday card, is another many-faceted portrait with five drawings and the accompanying lyric:
Oh I have a little mother,
And I wouldn't want another.
Her birthday is today,
And of her I've this to say-
A rip-snorting Girl Scout leader is she,
And as busy as a Girl Scout leader can be.
'Though I've really got to add,
Her temper's rather bad.
But men love to hold her arm, or more!
She's got that special charm. Alors!
She's very athletic, just see her shine
at golf or tennis, she's really fine!
She works in the lab and forgets our lunch,
she'd much rather be with the hospital bunch.
Oh, I have a little mother,
And I wouldn't want another.
Her birthday is today
And I've one more thing to say-
Reading today, I detect a hint of hostility regarding those forgotten lunches and that bad temper, but the accompanying drawings mitigate such a message. The cute but scowling mommy wields a baseball bat, a knife on her hip, and she is surrounded by her battle-scarred family: father on crutches, one daughter wearing a sling, another with her head bandaged. Even Spice, the family dog, has a bandaged leg. It's clearly meant to be funny.
In a valentine dedicated to my "Red Hot Mama" she is drawn as a showgirl, with her bottom (covered by a pink candy heart) to the air and a false eyelashed wink to her eye.
Hollywood will be calling you
With the figure you've got, Pal,
But won't you please, stay at home
And be my glamour gal!
Be mine, Valentine!
In another scenario my mother is a charming spider, holding a pink heart toward which, drawn on a fold-out arrow, her whole family of flies (father, two daughters, and pet dog), zoom-each carrying a little pink heart. The poem reads:
Said the spider to the fly,
"My heart is large.
Its walls are high and wide.
Do you suppose that all your hearts
Would deign to step inside?"
In a get-well card titled "I Got the 'No-Mommy' Blues" I myself appear on the cover as a Sinatra-esque suitor, sitting at a table in a bar in my 1950s teenager uniform of plaid Bermuda shorts, knee sox, and blazer, a bottle of whiskey and a shot glass beside me, holding a cigarette that makes smoke clouds above my head, my dog howling at my knees. "I'm sad and lonely and feelin' low," goes this lovelorn ballad: "But I really can't help it cause I miss you so." It continues, under a drawing of me as a kind of pasha on a puffy cushion, waited on by grandmother and housekeeper:
The house is too quiet! Nary a loud word! While profanity is "hardly ever" heard! My stomach is happy, the meals are on time, And cakes, pies, and pastries make them sublime!
No, I declare, this kind of living ain't my style. I want my normal life; I want my mommy back: "You're kinda nice, as I recall." I implore my mother, beneath a picture of her on a hospital bed, her broken arm covered by her "baby doll" nightie, surrounded by flowers and radio and gifts, to leave her life of ease and "come home quick and chase away these blues." Under the final drawing of the mother returned, still in her nightie, and the family celebrating, the caption reads, "When you're home all will be in rosy hues!"
In bold relief, in a form unmodulated by the accumulation of years and experience, I saw need and desire. On every clever page I saw that girl's quest for love and recognition, fueled by intense desire for her mother. Wanting her mother's love, she showed her in every conceivable fashion-in her rhymes, her drawings, her inventiveness, her sheer hard work-how much she loved her. Actively desiring her mother, she tried to find a form for that yearning. She became the poet-lover, one in a long tradition of literary swains. In this fashion she competed with other more conventionally obvious admirers: all those smitten gentlemen. She sought to be noticed by her mother, whose attention, as represented in these texts, was frequently elsewhere. What would bring her the gaze of the beloved? Her cards, of course: a showcase for just how talented, smart, devoted, and worthy she could be. Surely a mother would love such a daughter.
But there was more to it. For I knew that along with the intensity of the feelings for my mother was my own pleasure in making those cards-the sense of my own self that I know I experienced when composing the poems and drawing the pictures. I am a writing daughter, then and now. Because I liked doing it and was good at it, it was endlessly gratifying. Writing gave me to myself as much as it gave me to my mother and, I hoped, gave my mother to me. In these ways writing became a part of the relationship between my mother and me: a way to be in the relationship and to affect it. Other women in my century, writing as daughters, mothers, and lovers, have likewise found the space of language to be what the psychologist D. W. Winnicott called a "facilitating environment."
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Table of Contents

Prologue: "Memoirs of Mommy" 1
1 Love and Language 7
2 Daughter Writing and the Search for Recognition
Vivian Gornick's Fierce Attachments: A Memoir, Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina, and Susannah Moore's My Old Sweetheart 32
3 A Wedge-Shaped Core of Darkness: Representing the Mother
Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse 61
4 Mother Writing and the Narrative of Maternal Subjectivity
Mary Gordon's Men and Angels and Toni Morrison's Beloved 90
5 The Shapes of Maternal Desire
Liza Nelson's Playing Botticelli 120
6 Riding the Flying Mare and Being Her: Complementary Identification and Lesbian Desire
Poetry by Merle Woo, Therese Murdza, Judy Grahn, Marilyn Hacker, Amy Edgington, Pat Parker, Lori Faulkner, and Janice Gould 143
7 A Drive from the Mother's Blood: Lesbian Relationship
Audre Lorde's Zami: A New Spelling of My Name 167
8 Readerly Desire and the Transference Relationship
Joan Could's Spirals: A Woman's Journey through Family Life 190
Notes 221
Bibliography 229
Index 237
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