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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.65, No.3, 523 ~ 542, 2019
Aesthetic Distraction in Gertrude Stein’s “Melanctha”
Meeyoung Kang
Beyond the antithetical distinction between modernist and realist approaches on Gertrude Stein’s “Melanctha,” I elucidate how the two seemingly incompatible perspectives interrelate, enacting the aesthetic of distraction. Modernist narratology intertwined with brevity and allusive implication of the form of short fiction along with feminist violation of patriarchal language draws upon the aesthetics of distraction by sequencing contradictory modes of reception and faculties of discursive and sensuous entities. This illustrates how Melanctha distributes a patriarchal discursive self on one side and drawing on sensuous images of women’s desire on the other. To reify the contradictory conglomeration, I classify “Melanctha” as a feminist tragic short fiction, situating it at the intersection of traditional tragedy and modern feminist short fiction. Within the classification, “Melanctha” continuously has its generic boundaries blurred and ultimately expanded by incorporating contradictory perceptions and sensibilities, deviating from readers’ expectation for genre, language, and woman. As a result, the authority of tragic tradition is replaced by new perceptions brought about by the shock effect which is derived from the deviated expectations and archetypes, leading to experimental language as well. The newly offered perception through distraction and epiphany renders the stories political in that it produces and disseminates the perceptible that was once imperceptible. Reinforced by the density of the form of short story and counter-ideological resistance, the moment of epiphany in “Melanctha” enacts literary politics.
Key Words
Gertrude Stein`s “Melanctha,” short fiction, contradictory perceptions, Walter Benjamin`s Aesthetic of Distraction, Jacques Ranciere`s Literary politicization
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