ANTI-PATRIARCHAL STRATEGIES IN THE MAJOR WORKS OF DJUNA BARNES (FEMINIST, DECONSTRUCTIVE)
WOLFE, JUDY LOUISE
Doctor of Philosophy
Djuna Barnes wrote when phallocentric assumptions constituted the unquestioned values of Western culture. Yet in Ryder, Nightwood, and The Antiphon, Barnes challenged and subverted the phallocentric values of the patriarchal society by deconstructing the binary oppositions fundamental to the patriarchy. Western thought is predicated upon binary oppositions in which a primary term is viewed as positive and a secondary term is viewed as negative. In her three major works, Ryder, Nightwood, and The Antiphon, Barnes presents several such sets of opposition, male/female, human/animal, heterosexual/homosexual, and life/death. Barnes inverts the binary oppositions so that the terms can no longer be viewed as positive or negative, but merely as different. Thus Barnes is anti-patriarchal in her deconstruction of these binary oppositions basic to Western culture. In Ryder and in Nightwood, the most basic oppositions presented are human/animal and male/female. Unlike Western culture which valorizes human consciousness above animal consciousness, Barnes deconstructs this opposition to assert that in giving up animal consciousness for human consciousness mankind has lost something of value. Deconstructing the opposition of male/female in Ryder, Barnes reveals the phallus as an instrument of oppression. In Nightwood, the major characters are homosexual, but their suffering clearly is not the result of their homosexuality. In its failure to condemn homosexuality, Nightwood is inherently anti-patriarchal, for in patriarchal Western culture heterosexuality is obligatory. The Antiphon, too, is anti-patriarchal and treats pairs of opposition deconstructively. At the center of The Antiphon is the story of an attempted paternal rape. Ironically, the values of the patriarchy are voiced by the mother in the play, who demonstrates that victims may adopt the point of view of the oppressor. Abused by father, mother, and brothers, the only daughter of the family is sacrificed as a scapegoat victim. Thus the final dichotomy that Barnes deconstructs is that of life/death, questioning our most basic presupposition that life is preferable to death, for death brings peace to life's tortured victims.