(seen in two short stories by Olivera Nikolova and Jadranka Vladova)
In the course of the last decades, the central issue of the academic literary feminism, according to Nina Baum, has become the theory itself. Thus, it seems that the literary theory exists in itself only, completely separate from literature as a (historically) powder charge of its existence. The new literary theory streams follow up on the previous ones, denying or further developing the (almost) philosophical postulates that are the basis for the bigger and bigger distance of theory from literature, the matter and flesh, and its deeper and deeper diving into the abstract, i.e. in itself.
Nevertheless, the literary theory, regardless of the degree of abstraction that it has reached, always concerns one of the points of the eternal trinity: author-text-reader (or, more precisely, in the feminist studies, woman author-text-reader). Within this triangle, one of the most frequent issues is the importance that the theorists place with one or another of these three ends, as well as their mutual relations. Traditionally, until the 20th century, the literary criticism and theory were largely focused on the author. He (and more rarely she) was the stable, firm element behind the work of art (very often identified with the narrator), who used the text to express his ideas and produce certain meanings. The focus of structuralists in the 50es and 60es of the 20th century, on the other hand, moved towards the text, the literary work. Using the linguistic theories of Saussure, they think that literature is not an expression of the creative mind of the author, but a linguistic structure whose meaning is controlled by the rules of the language. Literature is therefore seen as a system (i.e. signifier), of rules and codes (i.e. signs) that enable it to fill itself with meaning (i.e. to signify).
Defocusing from the author in the poststructuralist era somehow culminates with Barthes, who wrote about the death of the author. The American reader-response school, on its behalf, went even further, shifting the focus to the reader (or the female reader), relativising the universality and inalterability of the meaning of the text. Thus, a text can have an endless number of meanings, since every reader, with the very act of reading interacts with the text, giving it his own, unique meaning. A bit later, Derrida, who (as the structuralists) finds the complete meaning of the text in itself only (“there is nothing beyond the text”) introduces temporality in the way that the meaning of a text is manifested. According to him, every text postpones its meaning, i.e. as the time passes, the new meanings, that were initially hidden, less visible, and yet present at the margins of the text (or existed only in the area of unconscious with the author when the text was created), appear, reveal themselves, and in this way open new readings of the text.
The feminist literary theory somehow brought back the author, i.e. the woman author in the focus of the theoretical discussions. Nancy Miller, defining the term arachnology and following up on Barthes, says that indeed a text functions as a net of many meanings, but the author (i.e. woman author) is in the centre of this net, as a spider, the weaver of the net. The term author here is not meant in a limited way, as an individual who writes the work. As Foucault says, the author is very much like a narrator, and this term does not exceptionally and solely concern a real individual, but it can even be an alter-ego of the real flesh and blood writer. Therefore, the contemporary theory speaks less and less about an author of a narrator, and more and more about a subject. Today’s subject, who has replaced the author, i.e. narrator, has a special philosophical meaning, which suggests awareness and self-awareness, power to act and impose his will.
The manifestation of the subject (and the diversity of this manifestation) is the topic that I will further review on two examples of short stories, written by two women authors, different in generation and style: “Saturday Evening” by Olivera Nikolova and “Mischievous Amor” by Jadranka Vladova. Both short stories are placed by the authors in the chronotope of the marriage, and the narrators in each of them speak in first person singular, but this is where the similarities between the two texts start and end.
On a Saturday evening, reserved to leave home, spend time with friends and have fun, Olivera Nikolova shows the crisis in a marriage via a realistic prose. Her subject, who presents herself as a sad and disappointed woman, speaks about her alienation from her husband via losing her illusions of love and closeness: “I sit opposite him and I see him as a completely strange man. Those lines, that face, his eyes and his smile, a bit playful and inflammably contagious, felt quite close, almost mine, only couple of hours ago. Even more – I loved them.”
The subject in this short story, in the spirit of realism, has the goal to persuade us in her existence, her views, shape as a real person of flesh and blood. Her credibility is depicted by the author via a process of identification – in the first person narration, it is easy to notice the similarities – both the subject and the author are women, the time of the story is now, and even the marital status is the same. In this way, with us, the readers, the identification of the author with the narrator is easily built in a single subject – quite in the realism spirit, it seems (or better to say, we believe) that the author speaks of herself.
Skilfully and systematically, the subject in this short story, via a heavy and serious prose, builds an atmosphere of emptiness, disappointment and sadness. These feelings are transferred by oppositions such as once and now: “Once there words seemed usual. Why do I consider them so important now?” or the way in which the subject is positioned opposite the object (narrator/author opposite her husband): “he had a new suit, I had an old dress…, my rejected hand upon our entry; his self-confident composure…” Stable, persistent in her view of things from the beginning to the end, concentrated on the disillusionment moment, in the spirit of the modernism, the subject is imposing herself as a single, real transmitter of the absolute truth. With a visible pessimism, Olivera Nikolova’s subject in this generally realistic prose, also functions as an “alienated individual” of the modernist literature, an almost Joyce-like or Elliot-like character, who faces the breaking down of a belief (that she loves her husband) which used to be central in the building of her identity (in this case, that of a beloved wife).