E. Ulus on Direnc, Isci & Kolinska’s Women in Dialogue: (M)uses of Culture.
1Dilek Direnc, Gunseli Sonmez Isci and Klára Kolinská, eds. Women in Dialogue: (M)uses of Culture. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2008. 245 pp. (Hardcover).
2ISBN-10: 1847184502. ISBN-13: 978-1847184504.
3 Over the past few decades, women from diverse backgrounds have intensively undertaken the role of questioning the culture of their societies, along with allegedly “male-dominated” or “racist” cultural practices. In this context, many authors have boldly interrogated the status of women on social, political and academic grounds. In this process, provoking questions from feminist writers contributed to criticism against problems as diverse as the isolation of women from the public sphere, various kinds of sexist/racist discrimination, and the denial of women’s social rights and restrictions on decisions over their own bodies. In the simplest terms, these feminist contentions sought to rethink about the future and evaluate the past of female experience.
4Women in Dialogue: (M)uses of Culture follows this tradition; the contributors aspire to “recover the voices of women” from myriad ethnic or political milieus. There are fifteen essays in this influential study, written by academics as well as creative writers with a sound background in feminist literary criticism. The articles focus on what may appear quite diverse and colourful topics, but it is clear that all authors are motivated by the critical movement mentioned above.
5Women in Dialogue opens with a comprehensive preface written by Dilek Direnc, Gunseli Isci and Klára Kolinská, successfully bringing together the articles included in this book. The first of the book’s two sections, which contains ten of the fifteen articles, opens with “Orientalism Unveiled: Hester Donaldson Jenkins and Demetra Vaka Brown” by Eleftheria Arapoglou. The author juxtaposes the autobiographical narratives of these two writers, displaying thus the differences between women’s representations while simultaneously revealing colonial discourse and racial stereotyping. Next, in “Ida Hahn-Hahn and Ida Pfeiffer: Are Nineteenth Century Female Travellers the More Open-minded Europeans?” Veronika Bernard questions the reliability of the travel writers by focusing on both positive and negative aspects of their narratives.
6Janet Peterson Gerstner’s essay entitled “Victorian Woman or New Woman? Woman or Artist? Anxiety, Authority and Ambivalence in Elizabeth Stuart Phelps’s Confessions of a Wife,” explores the narrative techniques of Confessions of a Wife and attracts the reader’s attention to the motif of “woman’s entrapment in marriage” in this less-known work of Phelps. In the next article, “A Spy in the House of the Other: Anais Nin, Modernism, Autobiography, and Feminine Self-Disclosure,” Theodora Tsimpouki closely examines Nin’s proto-feminist diaries in order to reveal the complexity that structures the practices of female autobiographical writing.
7As mentioned above, one of the most appealing features of Women in Dialogue: (M)uses of Culture lies in its multifaceted and pluralistic vision; the essays included deal with disparate geographical regions and topics, but with common or similar focal points. For example, in “The Transatlantic Crossroads: Brazilian Feminisms in the Post-War Era,” Peggy Sharpe discusses the ideas of two feminist writers from early 20th century Brazil, N. Cobra and A. Bittencourt, showing how their demands for basic egalitarian rights are still valid and unsatisfied. Another example of the volume’s diversity is Nieves Pascual Soler’s article, “The Colours of Grief in Cuba,” which reviews Cuban-American writer Cristina Garcia’s novel Dreaming in Cuban. By drawing upon psychoanalytic theories, the author’s interesting study elaborates on Garcia’s narrative techniques and displays the relationship between body, memory and community.
8 One of the three editors of this collection, Klára Kolinská, contributes an article entitled “Female Bonds in a Male World: Catharine Parr Traill’s The Backwoods of Canada as a National Canon-forming Text,” which illustrates the “existential trauma” of Canadian women writers through their narratives. On the other hand, Eleonora Chiavetta’s essay, “A Garden of One’s Own: Figurative Language in Some Flowers by Vita Sackville-West,” is an analysis of British writer Vita Sackville-West’s works on flowers and gardening. Chiavetta demonstrates the relationship between Sackville-West’s distinctive interest in flowers/gardening and her rich figurative language.
9One of the most thought-provoking articles in this collection belongs to Amber Fatima Riaz, whose essay contemplates the controversial area of women’s veiling practices in modern Muslim societies. In her essay entitled “Breaking Down the Walls: Challenging the Concept of Zenana in Blasphemy,” Riaz takes Tehmina Durrani’s novel as a point of departure in order to delineate aspects of veiling in the social, cultural and aesthetic spheres while examining the function of veiling in public/private space.
10The last article of the first section by Oya Batum Mentese is different in style. In “Can Feminist Theory in the Academy be Politically Activist? A Survey of Feminist Criticism from the 60s to the Present,” Mentese first takes the reader on a trip in the history of feminist movement, reviewing different sorts of feminisms such as “French feminism,” “post feminism” and “eco feminism.” Then, she encourages the reader to think about the connection between feminism in theory and practice. However, this is not a purely theoretical study, as Mentese draws insightful examples from Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, Angela Carter’s Wise Children and Charlotte Bronte’s Vilette.
11The second part of Women in Dialogue: (M)uses of Culture opens with the poems of Mimi Khalvati, a British poet born in Iran who is also known as “Persian poet.” The poems in this essay entitled “Mother as Muse” are inspired by the theme of motherhood, youth memories and creativity. Another prolific poet and academic, Eleanor Wilner, contributes with a highly stimulating essay under the title “Out of Silence: Women against War.” Wilner, who is also known as a civil rights and peace activist, focuses on the reflection of war culture in literary tradition. According to Wilner, the state of “old silence” of women should change so that people can rise against “this bloody repetition called history” and the “glorified heroism of the warlords.” Wilner uses mythological characters in modern contexts, offering new interpretations.
12“Spinning and Weaving This Woman’s Life: A Reflection,” an essay by Judy Light Ayyildiz, includes some of her poems, excerpts from her novel, journal entries and memoirs. Combining these various artistic forms successfully, Ayyildiz depicts her relationship with the women who have held a place in her life, and how music and writing ignites her creativity. Thus, the American writer evaluates her personal past and creative career by assessing the cultural and cross-cultural sources of her multidimensional inspiration.
13In “Women’s Literature,” Erendiz Atasü, a renowned Turkish writer and a feminist, questions the motivational forces behind the creative process, literary works and characters. Atasü attempts to trace and recover the feminine literary voice, a theme which her essay shares with the essays of other contributors in this book. Similar to Ayyildiz, Atasü underlines the connection between her past and her creative process. The author explains the impact of her female relations upon her life that led to the writing of the semi-autobiographical novel The Other Side of the Mountain. By the end of her essay, the writer’s desire to decode the dominant patriarchal voice has become clear: “Am I writing political stories? Yes, in a way. But I am still creating women’s literature; in every work I produce, I try to decipher patriarchy and to show its intricate ways of violating women’s lives.”
14The last article in the collection is “The Cult of the True Oysterhood” by Ayşe Lahur Kırtunç. As one can infer from the title, poet and academic Kırtunç meditates on “The Cult of the True Womanhood,” the nineteenth-century movement among upper and middle class white women, whose “cardinal virtues” were piety, purity, submission and domesticity. Instead of these values, Kırtunç offers the metaphor of the oyster “blessed with the ability to automatically clam shut and to protect itself from the outside world until danger subsides.” Following this introduction, Kırtunç offers her “musings,” embellishing them with language manipulations, poems and other comments. Some of the themes of this essay deal with the culture of violence, torture, ultra-nationalism and state oppression. Lastly, by praising the Chaos and proposing to think outside the safe limits of Order, Kırtunç urges readers to refuse the “given” facts and start questioning: “Sometimes it is psychologically more fruitful to ‘let go’ of control, pass through that de-structured state, and discover what happens on the other side. Chaos is definitely part of the process of creativity. It generates the new order spontaneously from deep within itself.”
15 All in all, Women in Dialogue: (M)uses of Culture is a work that compiles essays from an international group of women academics and creative authors with various backgrounds who have a vested interest in feminism, literary narratives and dialogue. Almost all essays in the volume call for an alternative female perspective, which, borrowing Eleanor Wilner’s words, could transform patriarchal “monstrous history.” As stated by the editors, the collected essays underline “the necessity and desirability of dialogue among women” since “[d]ialogue opens up new channels of communication across time and space, across cultures and generations, for exchange of ideas and emotions, for sharing experience and knowledge, for inspiration.” In this respect, the collection fulfils its promise and becomes a meaningful contribution to the ever growing field of feminist studies and literary studies and, therefore, is highly recommended to those interested in cultural studies, feminism and literary criticism.
16Reviewed by Ekrem Ulus, Lecturer, Ege University, School of Foreign Languages.
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