Finding a Way in the Dark: The Both/And of Feminist Revisionism

Author: Alicia Carter

Carter, Alicia, 2018 Finding a Way in the Dark: The Both/And of Feminist Revisionism, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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This thesis examines the role of La Llorona lore in deconstructing cultural myths about the maternal body through the production of a creative output, Dogs in the Dark, and an accompanying exegesis. This project explores how the figure of La Llorona functions as a site of female monstrosity in her own social, cultural, and textual environments, and engages with the ways in which these representations have been challenged and rewritten, specifically in the work of Mexican-American authors Gloria Anzaldúa and Sandra Cisneros. At the same time, this thesis also examines Angela Carter’s self-proclaimed ‘anti-mythic’ novel, The Passion of New Eve (1977), as an example of a radically different approach to feminist revisionism. While Anzaldúa and Cisneros celebrate the process of recovering mythical women as symbols of resilience and strength, Carter’s New Eve contests the power of reclaiming such figures. I position my response to these two opposing views as one that considers a third approach, a both/and response in literature that embraces the dichotomy of La Llorona herself: a figure that is neither explicitly evil nor explicitly good, but that holds both aspects in parity simultaneously.

My novel, Dogs in the Dark, attempts to embody this both/and in the character of Nika, an Australian art historian travelling through Mexico in search of a painting missing for several decades. Through depictions of Nika’s changing pregnant body, her ambivalence towards motherhood, and her own familial past, this novel interrogates Julia Kristeva’s notions of the maternal body as a site of abjection, while also considering the female/male gendered binary of nature versus culture, as outlined by Sherry B. Ortner, in the external and environmental surrounds Nika experiences. Moreover, the novel offers a new imagining of a La Llorona tale in a contemporary and cross-cultural context.

The exegetical portion of this thesis provides an analysis of my novel alongside the work of Anzaldúa, Cisneros, and Carter. I first outline the long history of La Llorona folklore, and discuss her function in relation to concepts of maternal monstrosity and feminine abjection. Secondly, I analyse Anzaldúa’s ‘She Ate Horses’ (1990) and Cisneros’s ‘Woman Hollering Creek’ (1991) in relation to these ideas, and consider how their approaches celebrate the symbolic potency of La Llorona as a figure of feminine resistance in a culturally specific context. I then turn my attention to Carter’s New Eve, and to a broader conception of a ‘universal naturalness’ associated with the feminine that Carter sets out to debunk and satirise, rather than embrace. Because Carter writes from a vastly different position of privilege to that of Anzaldúa and Cisneros, she also provides a lens through which I am able to scrutinise my own creative practice and, consequently, my final discussion focuses on the limits of such an endeavor, as well as the potential for further research into a both/and reading of feminist revisionism.

Keywords: feminist revisionism, foklore, la llorona, angela carter, gloria anzaldua, sandra cisneros, creative writing, novel, both/and

Subject: Creative Arts thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2018
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Dr Lisa Bennett