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Rachel-K
Posts: 1,495
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Is "The Cleft" Feminist?

If you think of Lessing as a "feminist" writer--and this is certainly a novel with gender as its subject--do the characteristics assigned to "Squirts" and "Clefts" surprise you? Are these the typically expected male/female behaviors, characters, and interactions?

Do you read this as a "feminist" novel?
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IBIS
Posts: 1,735
Registered: ‎11-22-2006
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Re: Is "The Cleft" Feminist?

[ Edited ]
Although THE CLEFT is dense with feminist imagery, it lacks fully formed characters or a structured plot. Doris Lessing upset the creation story by making man evolve after woman.

But according to this novel, man's arrival is not necessarily an improvement to the human race.

It's a science-fiction cliche... that anatomy is destiny.

There is a group of mindless females, Clefts, who are passive, timid, incurious, instinctively nurturing, without men. Like the fairy tale of Sleeping beauty, they are awakened by the birth of Squirts, males, who are intellectual, inventive, daring, independent and need women only to relieve their lusts and breed more men.

So far, I find one aspect disappointing, the "truths" of the Old She's, the oral traditions passed along the generations, we see that the Squirts are untidy and obsessed with pointless games, and sex, while the Cliefts nag constantly, are far more aware of their emotions and the consequences of their actions.

That's almost as insightful as was passes for "chick-lit" these days.

I hope to see insights that Doris Lessing's previous work has led me to expect.

IBIS

Message Edited by IBIS on 12-02-2007 06:38 PM
IBIS

"I am a part of everything that I have read."
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Jessica
Posts: 968
Registered: ‎09-24-2006
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Re: Is "The Cleft" Feminist?


If you think of Lessing as a "feminist" writer--and this is certainly a novel with gender as its subject--do the characteristics assigned to "Squirts" and "Clefts" surprise you? Are these the typically expected male/female behaviors, characters, and interactions? Do you read this as a "feminist" novel?


Well, defining feminism is difficult to begin with; there are so many different forms of it. I'm not prepared to categorically say Yes or No to the question of whether this is a feminist novel.

But since this is a novel, I was focusing on the language Lessing uses to describe Clefts and Squirts.

(This, from Wikipedia, on postmodernist feminism: The largest departure from other branches of feminism, [this] is the argument that sex as well as gender is constructed through language. The most notable proponent of this argument is Judith Butler, in her 1990 book, Gender Trouble .... For Butler "women" and "woman" are fraught categories, complicated by class, ethnicity, sexuality, and other facets of identity. She suggests that gender is performative. This argument leads to the conclusion that there is no single cause for women's subordination, and no single approach towards dealing with the issue.)

In the book, Lessing does refer to Squirts/Monsters as "boys" and The Ones/Clefts as "girls." But don't these words come with centuries of meaning that we, as readers, can't escape? I wonder how the book would have read if she had left out all gendered language. Would we have assumed that Squirts were boys and Clefts were girls (I guess she'd have to not refer to biology), based only on their actions -- the "gender is performance" idea? I bet we would have.

The question then, is whether ones "performance" netted the performer power over another.

Did it? Who had the ultimate power here? Was it the pathenogenetic Clefts? (Maybe not. They lost that power as their encounters with the Squirts increased.) Was it the Squirts, who managed to lure the Clefts out of their traditions?

I'm not sure who had the most power here, in the big picture.
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Rachel-K
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Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Is "The Cleft" Feminist?

Hey Jessica!

If the novel is about origins, what effect does it have to shift the history of power, the sense of ancestry, to make it female? (I'm not sure I find these females very appealing as characters or ancestors!) What would it do to our perceptions to walk around looking at women as "originals" and men as an experimental, brand new species?

The idea of leaving out gendered language is really interesting. I would never have thought to imagine this novel without it, but how interesting to wonder how long you could go before "giving away" the genders of the characters!
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