chapter  4
18 Pages

Located Selves

In both An Autobiography and A Daughter, the Body is often conceptualised in terms of specific locations and topographies. Thus, Gandhi’s bodily ‘experiments’ vary considerably depending on whether he is in London, South Africa or India. The link between aspects of embodiment and ‘place’ is equally strong for El Saadawi, whether in the recurrent association of femininity with the kitchen, or the remembered smells of Cairo which plague her in exile. To this extent, these texts corroborate the insights of recent materialist-feminist work in the field of ‘critical geography’. Gillian Rose’s Feminism and Geography (1993), Doreen Massey’s Space, Place and Gender (1994) and Linda McDowell’s Gender, Identity and Place (1999) exemplify its focus on the ways that women’s subjectivities are partly determined by their insertion within a variety of socio-spatial locations. In descending order of scale, these range from global diasporas, through nation spaces, cities and rural areas to domestic dwellings and, indeed, the Body.1 As McDowell argues, in such work, ‘place’ is not conceived simply as ‘a set of co-ordinates on a map’ but must also be understood as a conjunction of ‘practices that … result in overlapping and intersecting places with multiple and changing boundaries, constituted and maintained by social relations of power and exclusion’.2 Nonetheless, while ‘place’ is never limited to geo-spatial co-ordinates in feminist ‘critical geography’, it is rarely entirely divorced from them. Somewhat surprisingly, such work appears to have had little impact on feminist

inflections of Auto/biography Studies. While Sidonie Smith observes that ‘bodies locate us topographically, temporally, socioculturally as well as linguistically in a series of transcodings along multiple axes of meaning’,3 little work has been done on ‘place’ as a thematic of subjectivity in feminist analysis of the canon. On the face of it, this is a surprising omission, given that it offers another potential avenue to decentre the canon’s putatively ‘universal’ Subject, which by implication transcends the particularities of socio-geographical location as well as time. As was seen in the last chapter, according to Neuman, the canonical Self is represented as something ‘whose whole essence or nature is only to think, and which, to exist, has no need of space nor of any material thing or body’.4 However, the same lacuna is also evident in discussions of western women’s lifewriting, with the limited exception, as noted in the Introduction, of working-class texts. Thus, one searches in vain in the indices of the feminist overviews of the

field provided by Marcus and Anderson for categories such as ‘place’, ‘space’, or ‘(dis)location’ in relation to the female writers they discuss.5