Reclaiming the Earth Gods: A Feminist Reading of Western Myths

By:
Prof Grazia Sumeli Weinberg
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Commenting on modern Western imagination, Africa's most respected writer and Nobel prize winner, Wole Soyinka, expresses a serious concern at the gradual erosion of Earth in European metaphysic scope. As a result 'man has now restricted his vision of existence to the hierarchic circuits immediately above earth' (Myth, Literature and the African World, Cambridge UP, 1976, p.37). And yet, he says, 'in 'European antiquity ... man did, like the African, exist within a cosmic totality, did possess a consciousness in which his own earth being, his gravity-bound apprehension of self, was inseparable from the entire cosmic phenomenon (p.3).

Soyinka's observation is shared by Italian philospher, Adriana Cavarero who, like the African dramatist, laments the displacement and/or suppression by the West of a chthonic realm in contemporary understanding of the world. For Cavarero, Soyinka's earth-bound gods translate directly into an original matriarchy which, she contends, has been fashioned in such a way as to sustain patriarchal hegemony. In her view, a crime has been committed against female subjectivity in the 'shift from mythos to logos, from the culture of the Great Mother to the patriarchal symbolic order (In Spite of Plato, Polity Press, 1995 pp. 4-5). Yet, she adds, it is possible to investigate 'the traces of the orignal act of erasure contained in the patriarchal order, the act upon which this order was first constructed and then continued to display itself'. (p. 5)

In this paper, inspired chiefly by these two thinkers, I would like to propose a critical reading of the works of Dacia Maraini, Italy's most well-known feminist writer. Maraini's presentation of an array of figures taken from Western myths has a double function: to uncover 'the traces of the original act of erasure' by revealing the dynamics behind this act of aggression and b) to give cohesion, via the discursive properties of her writing, to her reappropriation of the maternal/earth forces which have been eroded in that culture.


Keywords: Patriarchy, Earth Gods, Matriarchy
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies, Philosophy, Ethics, Consciousness, Sexuality, Gender, Families
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Prof Grazia Sumeli Weinberg

Professor of Italian, Department of Classics and Modern European Languages, University of South Africa
Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa

Prof. Sumeli Weinberg has specialized in modern Italian literature and especially in feminist studies. She has published extensively on the works of Dacia Maraini and Cesare Pavese, and has also given attention to the writings of Erminia Dell'Oro and Aldo Nove. Her pioneering monograph on the works of Dacia Maraini (University of South Africa, 1993) provided a full overview of Maraini's output in drama, fiction and poetry. To date she has produced a substantial corpus of critical writing. Several essays on Maraini and Pavese focus on myth and feminist readings. Her recent work has focused on the crisis in education both globally and in South Africa, specifically with regard to the corporatization of the university and the changing condition of the professoriate.

Ref: H06P0418