The Construction of the Lesbian Reader
Research student report submitted in 1994, one year into my unfinished PhD
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This project aims to examine the construction of lesbians as readers in and through lesbian writing, especially in the post-1980 period. Texts (most often literary and fictional texts) have provided the major source of knowledge about lesbian desire and lesbian identity, while other cultural and public discourses have maintained a relative silence. Reading issues and practices thus have a special significance within and for lesbian culture.
Certain lesbian theorists have emphasised processes of re-reading when attempting to recover lesbian history and to address the marginalisation of lesbian experience within society, involving the reconstruction of particular texts and a familiarity with processes of encodement and appropriate decoding acts. However, there has been no sustained analysis of lesbian reader issues, either within reader-response criticism or lesbian criticism.
My project aims to present this sustained focus and to examine theories of reading and their value for lesbian criticism and actual lesbian readers. I use approaches drawn from reader-response theory, feminist theory and lesbian criticism to examine fictional intra-textual constructions of readers as well as actual reader responses. I argue that the expansion of lesbian cultural representation throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s has begun to situate lesbians as a viable consumer group, whereby the marketing of lesbian images and identities allows lesbians to read, and “lesbian” to be read in more places/positions than ever before.
Since I began work on this project in January 1993 I have completed relevant library and literature searches and compiled a detailed working bibliography. I have read a wide range of relevant theoretical material in the areas of reader-response theory, lesbian studies and cultural studies. I have also read fictional works in preparation for textual analyses.
In order to gain the views of actual readers’ around issues of “lesbian” texts and readings I devised a questionnaire as a framework for qualitative structured interview sessions. I conducted interviews with twenty lesbian readers and have since transcribed and begun to analyse this material. This material has been helpful in forming the basis for my decision to structure the dissertation into six main sections: definitions of “lesbian texts”; the author-function; marketing and publishing issues; reader identification issues and analyses of individual texts; lesbian criticism and awareness of the reader; quality and ethical issues relating to lesbian writing and publishing.
I have written drafts of sections of my dissertation around definitions of “lesbian texts”, constructions of the lesbian reader, and have begun written work on the reader and lesbian criticism. I have formed valuable contacts with lesbians working in publishing and bookselling throughout the year and conducted personal interviews.
I intend to conduct several more interviews with lesbians working in the book trade before producing a draft of the chapter on marketing issues. I have a number of dates arranged within the next two months. I intend to produce a completed draft of the lesbian criticism chapter within this time, and to plan appropriate analyses of intra-textual readers in fiction.
I view the following six to nine months as a period of more concentrated writing leading to the production of drafts of the six main sections of my dissertation. I believe I am on schedule for completion in January 1996.
A valuable project and one that I still have ideas and theories about. But ah, how time can mislead us and life can change us …