2005, Liana Borghi – Figurazioni dell’iperspazio

Liana Borghi, 2005. “Figurazioni dell’iperspazio: dalla Gradiva alla flâneuse“, in: Laura Graziano (a cura di), Mancarsi. Assenza e rappresentazione del sè nella letteratura del Novecento. Verona: Ombre Corte, pp. 171-190.

“From Gradiva to the Flâneuse: Figurations of Hyperspace” era stato presentato come contributo al workshop “Feminist and Gender Theories: Re-figuring the Subject”, nel corso della 4th European Feminist Research Conference: Body, Gender, Subjectivity, Crossing Disciplinary and Institutional Borders, Bologna 28 settembre-1 ottobre 2000. Qui sotto l’abstract inviato per il convegno.

Proposal for the 4th European Feminist Research Conference. Workshop on Feminist and gender theories: re-figuring the subject. From the Gradiva to the flâneuse: figurations of hyperspace

In the spring of 1986 two groups were active at the Libreria delle Donne in Firenze. One was working on 19th century women travellers, organizing a conference and later editing its proceedings. The second was working on other kinds of “travel”: Luisa Muraro, Silvia Vegetti Finzi, Manuela Fraire, Chiara Zamboni and Anna Rossi Doria were among those called to reflect on Jensen’s and Freud’s Gradiva, exploring the bas-relief as a figuration of female subjectivity still relevant to contemporary feminists. The proceedings from the seminars were published with the title Il viaggio. Le donne tra nostalgia e trasformazione (1986). From the discussion of topics like time, desire, nostalgia, repetition, waiting, transition, suspension, and transgression, the female subject emerged as a figure split between the pull of nostalgia and the drive to transform, bent on transgressing the law of the father.

In the light of the many discourses of displacement, location and position in feminist theories of identity and subjectivity, the Florentine discussions on the Gradiva may serve as a useful reference for cultural differences within European Feminisms. Clearly it profits little to delve on the fact that Italian theories of difference have paid scant attention to topics hotly debated in other countries, like racism, neocolonial globalization, questions of gender and sexuality; or that the romanticization of women’s patriarchal alienation and existential exile in these discussions may follow an all-too familiar modernist pattern. It is very useful however to map the lines of continuity and difference between the re-figuring of the Gradiva carried out by a state-of-the art feminism of 1986, and the recent re-figuring of the flâneuse by several critics — like Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Janet Wolff, Elizabeth Wilson, and lately Sally Munt, Anna Scacchi, and Daniela Daniele. In the wake of these readings, I would also like to analyse the flâneuse as a trope for “negative capability” — an old-fashioned literary term used to describe a poet’s opening to inspiration — which can be read in many and complex ways not free from paradox and contradictions. Negativity, like the zero degree of consciousness, opens possibilities.

Identifying with the flâneuse may help us rethink both certain subject positions and our position as critics. A trope grounded in gender and location, the flâneuse connects closely with cultural and epistemological events like the rêverie, the stream of consciousness, and ephiphanies which represent sequence and simultaneity, mobility and access, the compression and dilation of time and space — elements that are also structural in postmodern theories. Consciousness in progress, link between experience and knowledge “fraught with contingency and struggle,” unpredisposed figure of judgment and accountability, modest witness and transgressor, the flâneuse represents historically grounded identity practices, implicated in social and economic circumstances. The romantic flâneuse is implicated in the grand holistic narratives (I am thinking of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Wordsworth); the modernist flâneuse in the mistique of artistic dis/engagement and exile (I am thinking of Djuna Barnes and Gale Wilhelm, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia T. Warner and many others); the postmodern flâneuse in the proliferation of identity, the gap between filiation and affiliation, the affect of hyperspace and the effect of cyberspace (Angela Carter and Sarah Schulman, Rebecca Brown, Janet Winterson and Pat Cadigan are for me the obvious ones). But through and beyond its specific historical anchorage, the flâneuse reflects on questions of agency and participation, complicity and disengagement, alliances and affinities — strategies for a still uncharted becoming.

Liana Borghi



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