Writing the body spiritual: sexual/textual/spiritual links in the writings of Antonia White, Emily Coleman and Djuna Barnes
This study undertakes an examination of the textual search for female spiritual identity by three Modernist writers, Antonia White, Emily Coleman and Djuna Barnes, and identifies their aesthetic approach to such a spiritual quest as "writing the body spiritual." Like Gilbert and Gubar's "sexual linguistics," "writing the body spiritual" describes a gendered approach to textuality, but extends gender firstly in its definition, by including masculine/feminine holism, and secondly in its reach, by incorporating within its sphere of influence also the spiritual. White, Coleman and Barnes query woman's placement on the negative side of Enlightenment binaries and, by textually highlighting her relationship to the spiritual, show these positions--female, flesh, matter, the profane--to be comprised in large part by their supposed opposites. In bringing such binaries together, they seek also to establish their literary subjecthood as god-the-author-of-their-texts, for they perceive their writerly authority in relation to god threatened by the "inferior" position imposed on them as sexually active women.In tracing the spiritual dimension in the writings of these three authors then, this study foregrounds the "spiritual" as a third and interrelated element in the relationship between female sexuality and art during the Modernist period. It presents the sexual/textual/spiritual triad as a combined and interwoven influence in these women's writing and shows their texts to be the products of the interaction among all three elements, specifically in the unconscious. The unconscious thus becomes the key to spiritual explorations in their works and its intricate connections an essential part of "writing the body spiritual." For, even as White, Coleman and Barnes pursue their spiritual journeys in the context of Catholicism and pre-Christian Gnosticism, their internalized relationships with earlier love-objects shape the contours of their spiritual beliefs and color its affects. Through the application to their texts of Lacanian psycholinguistics, Kristevan semiotics and Winnicottian object relations theory respectively, this study explores the spiritual unconscious in each writer's work and shows that aesthetic practice, "writing the body spiritual," to be predicated in each case on a sexual unconscious.
- English