Feminism and the Death of the Author

  • Mary Eagleton


The woman author in Carol Shields’s short story ‘Absence’ has a similar problem to Julie Burchill.2 The letter ‘i’ on her keyboard is not merely sticky but actually broken. How can she write without the ‘i’? Shields’s story does not only narrate the problem, it enacts it; there is no letter ‘i’ in the course of the story. The first clue to this absence comes at the end of the opening paragraph when the narrator describes the letter rather than writing it: ‘a vowel, the very letter that attaches to the hungry self’ (108). This impediment in the process of writing leads the narrator to an exploration of the significance of ‘i’. Its loss frustrates the rhythm of her writing; her grammar is affected, particularly in preventing the use of the gerund that the author finds so indispensable; her vocabulary is constrained; the very sound of her writing is altered. To this extent, the story is a light-hearted jeu d’esprit or a kind of writing exercise for budding authors. But the story pursues the problem further. It also suggests the political, philosophical and aesthetic problems concerning the centrality and significance of the writing subject, the signature and the authorial T. It is at this point we move from the small ‘i’ to the capital T that provokes Burchill and her ‘everlasting self’. The question now for Shields’s author is not how can she write without the ‘i’ but how can she write without the ‘I’, the authorial subject.


Sexual Identity Woman Writer Female Author Opening Paragraph Male Author 
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© Mary Eagleton 2005

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  • Mary Eagleton

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