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Spectacular confessions: "How It Feels to Be Forcibly Fed." (essay) (Djuna Barnes)

Throughout much of her career Djuna Barnes was engaged in performative journalism, staging sensationalistic events for public consumption, writing interviews with celebrities.1 In one of these pieces, a description of the experience of being "saved" by firemen, Barnes made a provocative claim: "I was a |movie.'" This claim points us to a canny and complex exhibitionism at work in her performative journalism, most visible in her piece on the rebellious female body, "How It Feels to Be Forcibly Fed."(2) This essay is positioned at the intersection of performative journalism and feminist activism and blends the discursive strategies of the celebrity interview with those of the militant suffrage movement's polemical texts. Published in 1914 in the New York World Magazine among sensationalistic stories of escape, intrigue, and pages devoted to feminine culture, this essay is presented, in part, as entertainment. The text, however, continually refers to another feminine arena, not of sensuality or sensationalism, but of militant struggle, feminist anger, and unladylike behavior.(3)

Barnes's deeply conflicted essay points in two directions. First, this essay restages and rereads the celebrity interviews of Barnes's early journalistic career, foregrounding the problem of the woman who looks. Many of Barnes's texts written between 1913 and 1915 depict the celebrity interview as a perilous encounter dominated by scoptic investigations that code exploration and speculation as masculine. Far from exhibiting the feminine discourse of gossip, these interviews are staged as difficult inspections and interrogations. Second, "How It Feels to Be Forcibly Fed" reworks the discourse of forcible feeding generated during the British suffrage movement by foregrounding the figure of the woman who speaks from the body in pain, and examining that figure as a problem in systems of representation and in feminist discourse. Barnes's essay points to the difficult nature of a transformative politics that depends on the display and narration of the feminist body. In the following pages, I will locate Barnes's essay "How It Feels to Be Forcibly Fed" in relation to the celebrity interviews Barnes conducted between 1913 and 1915 and in relation to a distinct subgenre of feminist writing, the narrative of forcible feeding. Both of these paths will lead us to what I term Barnes's "spectacular confession." I mean the term "spectacular confession" to indicate the ways in which feminist confessional gestures that display the female body for radical purposes are entangled with, and complicated by, a structure of representation that positions the female body as silent, passive, spectacular. The phrase "spectacular confession" brings together image and text, specular relations and autobiographical confessions, so that the disruptive effects of the woman who speaks from the body become visible. Before engaging in a reading of Barnes's text as spectacular confession, I will sketch out the particular historical event Barnes's text recalls - the forcible feeding of British suffragettes.

Between the years 1905 and 1914 the militant Women's Social and Political Union produced a constant stream of images of feminine protest as part of the struggle to win the vote.(4) Under the leadership of Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst, the suffragettes represented themselves as a serious political force through both peaceful and militant means: both the artistic production of pageants, marches, posters, and banners and the subversive strategies of rock-throwing and female interruptions of male speech and male space depended on the female body for persuasive force. Feminist theorists engaged in studies of the British suffrage movement have turned our attention in important ways to these visual images of the female body - Lisa Tickner in The Spectacle of Women: Imagery of the Suffrage Campaign 1907-14 has traced the "spectacle of woman" in suffrage artistry, and Jane Marcus in "The Asylums of Antaeus: Women, War and Madness - is There a Feminist Fetishism?" has located a feminist fetishism in suffrage iconography.(5) Assuming that "who wins the eye wins all,"(6) the suffragettes produced themselves as spectacular, did all they could to maintain a public gaze, and assured themselves that they could control the reception of their images.

As spectacle and fetish, no image has been more provocative than the image of the forcibly fed woman. On 5 July 1909, Marion Wallace Dunlop, in prison for stamping on a wall a passage from the Bill of Rights in St. Stephen's Hall, began a hunger strike. By 24 September 1909, the government authorized the "treatment" of force-feeding for hunger-striking suffragettes, thus bringing together as official acts the invasion and control of the rebellious female body. Nearly one thousand women were forcibly fed by the end of the suffrage campaign. Forcible feeding, as event, lent itself to a variety of representations of femininity - those produced by the Artists' Suffrage League imaged forcible feeding as a rape of the womanly woman, those produced by anti-suffragists presented angelic nurses forced to deal with a disorderly and unruly crone. The image of the forcibly fed woman was thus heavily contested and the transformation of experiences of victimization into revolutionary iconography was complicated by the acceptance and depiction of the grotesquery of the oppression of women rather than the creation of "alternative" images of women (like Joan of Arc) favored by suffrage pageantry. According to Tickner, the difficulty of controlling the reception of such images was immense: "There was a sado-masochistic element in WSPU posters [of forcibly fed women] which was intended to heighten a sense of outrage at women's suffering, but which might equally invite a covert pleasure in its spectacle" (38).

Images and narratives of forcible feeding position the female speaking subject as spectacle. The gesture of making public the private experience of the female body, exposing its secrets, describing its invasion, takes place in the realm of the spectacular, produces a speaking subject who is embodied, and who speaks from the female body in pain. That is to say, the term "spectacular confession" brings together the public narration of the private body and discussions of the woman's spectacular position in systems of representation. "How It Feels to Be Forcibly Fed," like the testimonies of activist women it imitates, binds together image and narrative, spectacle and confession.(7)

The problem is, of course, what to make of the disruptive potential of the spectacular confessions and images of the forcibly fed woman. Lisa Tickner's history traces the revolutionary potential of feminist iconography and marks how social and political transformations are achieved through the production of images of women. Yet what Tickner describes when she turns to the image of the forcibly fed woman (which presents a "sado-masochistic element" in WSPU posters) is a limit to the performative activism that can be attained through the display of the female body. There seems to be a (masochistic) image/story that the feminist activist cannot control, that places her in the position of passive objectification and gives her audience the visual power of the (sadistic) spectator. The forcibly fed woman is a problem in and for Tickner's history, a problem that reminds us of Laura Mulvey's analysis of masculine visual pleasure and female spectacle. A discussion of the politics of representation and the problems of female spectacularity begins but certainly does not end with Mulvey's insights, which recognize a division between active masculine gaze and passive feminine image in the visual sphere.(8) Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" gives us a spectacular female body that is defined by its "to-be-looked-at-ness" and a notion that femininity, in the visual sphere, is organized for an active male gaze. And the division is both hierarchical and violent in that the gaze is a mastering one that has no feminine equivalent. This paradigm has undergone radical revision since its introduction in 1975 (with Mulvey herself joining the revisionists).(9)

How then are we to understand the production of forcible-feeding narratives in England and Djuna Barnes's reproduction of the event in the pages of the New York World? First, the image and discourse of the forcibly fed woman as produced by Djuna Barnes locate woman on both sides of the gaze, and thus pose a new set of questions that have to do with female (and feminist) spectatorship. That is to say, Barnes's essay produces complex reading positions for a feminine audience, and these reading positions interrupt the conventional workings of the celebrity interview (which positions both the female interviewer and feminine reader as someone who wants to know, but whose desire is forbidden). Second, Barnes's essay explores the limits of performative activism and presents itself as an alternative to the British suffragettes' narratives and images of forcible feeding (which make spectacular the female body in pain and encourage activism from a female spectator).

How Do I Look?: The Investigative Desire of Woman

From 1913 to 1931, Barnes worked as an interviewer for a number of New York newspapers and magazines: the New York World, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the New York Press, and later Vanity Fair. Barnes's occupation as performative journalist and interviewer of celebrities has everything to do with the relation of spectacle and confession. In fact, her occupation as interviewer was to extort a confession, an act of self-representation, from the subjects of her investigative gaze. The success of the celebrity interview depends upon a desire to penetrate the secret life of the interview's subject - in Richard Dyer's terms, we want to get beyond the level of appearance in the star system:

Stars are obviously a case of appearance - all we know of them is what we see and hear before us. Yet the whole media construction of stars encourages us to think in terms of "really" - what is Crawford really like? which biography, which word-of-mouth story, which moment in which film discloses her as she really was? The star phenomenon gathers these aspects of contemporary human existence together, laced up with the question of "really."(10)

But the interview, in Barnes's view, codes investigation as a masculine activity and prohibits the woman who looks from owning the gaze. When Barnes interviews a male subject, her essay traces the frustration of her desires - she never gets the answer to the question of "really." Barnes's interviewees flee, often literally, from her probing questions (one interviewee escapes on a boat), they refuse to answer, change the subject, or, most significantly for my purposes, they turn the investigative gaze back on the female interviewer by positioning her as spectacle, as Barnes's interview with Arthur Voegtlin indicates:

"All right, don't; but listen, Mr. Voegtlin. I'm going to write about you and I'm going to be honest. I'm going to say that you talked a lot, but didn't say anything."

"That, Gunga Duhl, would be the biggest compliment you could pay me, and I would be sure then that even the persuasions of a charming thing with poppies in her hair could not make me divulge." (I 82)

Voegtlin, in responding to Barnes's mock desire (the desire created by her position as interviewer) turns the tables on her by making Barnes the spectacle and making himself the spectator. And Barnes's canny reportage of the event transforms the celebrity interview into a mocking critique of the impossible position of the girl reporter. Barnes is renamed first "Gunga Duhl" (a name that she earned for her ferocious reporting) and then "charming thing." If Voegtlin did drop his guard and expose himself, he suggests, it would not be a result of intelligent and persistent questioning; rather it would be a submission to the seduction of this "charming thing" with flowers in her hair. This suggests that, for Barnes, many of her interviews ultimately turn on the question, "What is she really like?"

Many of the interviews conducted between 1913 and 1915 (that is, conducted during the period in which Barnes underwent forcible feeding) expose the structure of the interview without reproducing its desired outcome of a narrative of self-exposure. What gets produced instead is a reenactment of the gendered ritual of exchange, secrecy, self-protection, and self-disclosure that organizes the interview as a genre. Within this structure, Barnes is positioned as the spectacle of the woman who looks. One strain of feminist film theory taught us that the woman who looks breaks every imaginable taboo and is subject to punishment.(11) The woman who dares to command the gaze is repositioned as passive object, the gaze realigned with masculinity.

Barnes's desire to cross the space that separates her from the object of her desire (the celebrity) is thwarted by the stasis of her position as woman, as spectacle, as resistance. Not only do her interviewees paralyze her with their ability to avoid interrogation, but she seems to acknowledge her status as image by positioning herself as staged, as a "pen performer." To desire and pursue, to interrogate and penetrate, to look, has a masculine tradition; to be the object of desire, to be penetrated, to be conditioned by to-be-looked-at-ness, has a specifically feminine tradition. Barnes is torn between her need to look and her awareness that she is always being looked at. This split is exaggerated by the fact that her profession positions her as masculine hero and positions her (male) interviewee as feminine desired object. As we have already gathered, this is a contradiction that cannot be easily sustained. However, rather than reproducing this gendered imbalance, Barnes's texts mimic it and expose the social and semiotic scaffolding that props up the interview. Given Barnes's position between spectator and spectacle, power and victimage, it seems almost inevitable that she would choose to write performative journalism, making a spectacle of herself by pinning her authority to her status as female image.

We can read "How It Feels to Be Forcibly Fed" as a deliberate inversion and violent parody of the interviews. Barnes as interlocutor is replaced by a physician, four male assistants, and a long red tube. Interrogation is replaced by invasion: the female body is bound and penetrated, its humiliation recorded by the dispassionate eye of a camera. We can also read "How It Feels to Be Forcibly Fed" as an attempt to locate a spectacular feminism by bringing together the spectacle of woman and the problem of the woman who looks.

Barnes's forcible-feeding narrative binds the spectacular woman (associated with surface) to the medicalized female body (associated with depth).(12) That is to say, both medical discourse and popular forms of representation associate femininity with the visible, but the medical invasion of the female body moves us away from body as surface and the pleasing display of female spectacle to an investigation of the secrets contained within the body. This is a movement traced by the photographs that accompany Barnes's essay; as in the films of medical discourse studied by Mary Ann Doane, these photographs represent the "despectacularization" of the female body. The signature photograph depicts Djuna Barnes as American Girl - healthy, pleasing, young. She is visible as "Miss Djuna Chappell Barnes," an appellation and self-representation that surprises those of us who know her as avant-gardist Djuna Barnes (famous for the fashionable and slightly confrontational black cape, dark lips and eyes). The visible Miss Barnes is transformed through a series of descending photographs into the invisible, enshrouded, and penetrated medicalized body - we are taken from surface to depths as Barnes is taken from the realm of the visible to the realm of the knowable.

In Doane's reading of the medical film, there is a "marked lack of narcissism on the part of the sick woman" (40); that is to say, the woman loses her looks. Or as Barnes puts it: "This, at least, is one picture that will never go into the family album" (NY 176). But in "How It Feels to Be Forcibly Fed" what is at stake is not just the status of spectacular femininity (as we shall see, in Barnes's terms she is no less spectacular when enshrouded), but the status and authority of the gaze. In other words, Barnes loses not just her looks, but her ability to look through the medical investigation of forcible feeding. The look, which I earlier associated with Barnes's own investigations of celebrities, is now associated with medical (and masculine) authority. "It is the truth that the lights of the windows - pictures of a city's skyline - the walls, the men, all went out into a great blank as the doctor leaned down. Then suddenly the dark broke into a blotch of light, as he trailed the electric bulb up and down and across my face, stopping to examine my throat to make sure I was fully capable of swallowing" (NY 176). The physician blots out the natural world and its light with his body, substituting an artificial light whose intensity allows for closer investigation of the female body. The result is that Barnes is illuminated by a light that blinds her; the power of the gaze is denied her and is given to all who surround her: "My eyes wandered, outcasts in a world they knew" (NY 176). The structure of medical investigation literally makes female spectatorship impossible, it throws her vision out of whack, while making visible the authority of the medical (and masculine) gaze. "Things around began to move lethargically; the electric light to my left took a hazy step or two toward the clock, which lurched forward to meet it; the windows could not keep still. I, too, was detached and moved as the room moved. The doctor's eyes were always just before me. And I knew then that I was fainting" (NY 177-78). We are asked to identify with her point of view, to be blinded. But we are also asked to gaze upon her, to take in her "before" and "during" shots from the position of (masculine) authority. A long photograph acts as a visual title to the piece, guiding our reception even more than the verbal title that rests upon it: how it looks to be forcibly fed initially wins out over how it feels to be forcibly fed. That is, through the competition of images and words, vision and experience, the despectacularized woman is respectacularized all over again.

I concentrate on the discourse of the gaze here, for Barnes's narrative abandons the discourse of feminist resistance and collective oppression that conventionally accompanies British narratives of forcible feeding. When the reenactment of the drama of feminist activism is restaged as a drama of scoptic power, the question becomes whether there is a space for feminine resistance in the realm of the specular (more specifically, in the pages of the New York World Magazine or in the genre of performative journalism). Where, that is, can we find a space for the female, not to mention the feminist, spectator in this scene of female victimization? Barnes's gaze is cut off, the woman who looks is blinded - there seems to be no position from which woman can look at her own oppression. The question of the title "How does it feel?" points to another inseparable question, "How do I look?", which positions the woman in question as both object and agent of the gaze: "How does my victimization/femininity look to you?" "How can I look at you/myself without calling up the way that I look?" When read amid these questions, "How It Feels to Be Forcibly Fed" shifts feminist struggle from issues of citizenship to issues of representation and feminine spectatorship: first, as we shall see, by appropriating the masculine gaze, then by carving out an alternative feminine gaze.

How Does It Feel?: The Body in Pain

Consider the opening sentences to Barnes's essay:

I have been forcibly fed!

In just what relation to the other incidents in my life does this one stand? For me it was an experiment. (NY 174; emphasis added)

I have said that vision and interpretation are aligned with a masculine gaze in Barnes's essay, and that the female body becomes a text that can only be read/penetrated by a specialist. But Barnes's claim ("for me it was an experiment"), when read against the captions that follow the descending photographs into the female body ("In goes the feeding tube." "Pouring the meal of pea soup through the nose. She must swallow or choke." "All over for one meal. Weak and fainting, but nourished for a few hours."), encodes as feminine the specialized discourse of "experimentation" and envisions the physician's activity as a crude and mechanical rape of the female body. (We should also notice the ways in which the captions seem to emanate from a different place ["She must swallow or choke"]; they are narrated by the dispassionate voice of authority.) Barnes's professional discourse, her very writing of the event, acts as a defense against medical invasion and allows her to look again at the scene of her own blinding, to look back at the mastering physician. Barnes takes command of the mechanism of investigation in the same way that her exclamation, "I was a |movie,' " positions her not as heroine or starlet but as the apparatus of visual representation itself.

There is another element to be considered as we examine scoptic relations in Barnes's piece. Barnes is not just positioning herself against the gaze of the mastering physician, she is positioning herself as imaginative observer of the English suffragettes:(13) "I saw in my hysteria a vision of a hundred women in grim prison hospitals, bound and shrouded on tables just like this, held in the rough grip of callous warders while white-robed doctors thrust rubber tubing into the delicate interstices of their nostrils and forced fuel to sustain the life they longed to sacrifice" (NY 178). To address the problem of performative activism and to reexamine the impossible position we find ourselves in (the investigative woman cannot look, the spectacular gesture is at odds with radical activism), we should return to the arena of feminist activism that Barnes calls up in her exhibition - the arena of British suffrage. The challenge is to make sense of Barnes's exhibitionism and her play with "spectacular confession" in terms of feminist politics and to examine her performance against and alongside the narratives and images of forcible feeding produced by British suffragettes. Barnes's essay, by concentrating on issues of feminine spectatorship, both reproduces and undermines the conventions of what I see as a feminist subgenre, the narrative of the forcibly fed woman.

Narratives of the experience of forcible feeding were transcribed in a variety of forms - speeches, letters to the editor, fliers, pamphlets, autobiographies, fictional accounts, and letters exchanged between suffragettes - but each account rehearses the gestures that create a reliable subgenre out of these texts and that position each individual account as representative.(14) These narratives, even more than images of this horror, carve out a space for the female spectator/reader that is a space for investment and activism. The dynamic which repositions female spectator as feminist activist sits uneasily next to theories of female spectatorship - this dynamic unsettles the overidentification often associated with the female spectator.(15)

The notion of overidentification has been useful to film and fashion-culture theorists interested in the structure of the female look that enables woman's pleasure in her own objectification: "[cinematic] codes repeatedly narrativize her as desirable body and close the distance between desire and object through an |overidentification' between woman and image, creating one in the image of the other, leaving the female spectator vulnerable to the cinematic codes that promote conventional |feminine' values."(16) Clearly the association of femininity and overidentification creates problems for feminist theorists who wish to locate the pleasure and resistance of female spectatorship. However, aspects of this definition are useful in thinking through both the feminine reception of forcible-feeding narratives and images as well as Barnes's revision of those forms.

Now, the image of the forcibly fed woman does not promote "conventional feminine values." But for contemporary critics of the suffrage movement, such as suffrage activist Teresa Billington-Greig, the production of images and narratives of the martyred woman manufactured new activists through a kind of hero worship: "The militant suffrage organisation decided upon a policy of making victims - of creating them specially to meet the need.... They made it a policy of the society to train women to seek martyrdom in order that they might pose later to waken enthusiasm among other women and to stir the sympathy and admiration of the multitude."(17) Djuna Barnes too, as we shall see, objected to the ways in which activists produced themselves as sensations and attempted to reproduce themselves in other women through an identification with a "fashionable" image.

Narratives and images of forcible feeding provide, if not a collapse of distance between spectator and spectacle, then a passage that takes spectator to spectacularity; and this passage is achieved through an intense (and perhaps masochistic) identification with the feminine martyr. Through a scenario that is something like, yet unlike, female overidentification, the narrative of forcible feeding works to enable a movement from sympathy to action. But, of course, having said that, the differences become apparent. What is reproduced in suffrage discourse is a disruptive, not a dominant, femininity. And the discourse of forcible feeding works not just to manufacture new activists, but to structure an invasion of the body that defies both conventional structures of femininity and embodiment.

Before the event, this discourse allows the activist to envision herself as martyr; after the event, this discourse provides a story of collective experience which makes sense of individual action: the space of activism is already mapped out, the experience of the body already described. These mappings turn isolated and vulnerable voices and experiences into documentary reportage that organizes and masters a collective experience of oppression. These mappings also serve an educative function, preparing each activist for the experience that awaits her, providing a context within which the invasion of the female body can make sense. For example, consider Lady Constance Lytton's response to a manuscript sent to her by Miss Daisy Solomon: "Your letter and manuscript came tonight. I can't thank you enough for sending it to me. I think it is quite admirably done and it has come in the nick of time to help me, for on Wednesday I am trying to tell my experiences to my friends in the village here. My mind is a series of very vivid blotches about Holloway but I have no sense of sequence, of time and place with regard to events there: your paper is such a great help for this."(18) The narratives of forcible feeding are thus self-reproducing - each text engenders a new subject who will engender a new text. The act of identification encourages a repositioning that places individual voices and actions within a matrix of collective struggle and collective voice. Thus, these narratives depend not on a loss of distinctions but on a movement, a shift, from one position to another; not on a loss of critical distance but the acquisition of an experience that demands a new discourse.(19)

But, for Djuna Barnes, the discourse of suffrage that endeavors to produce new activists is deeply flawed, in part because it insists that activists position themselves as exhibitions. The attempt of activists to educate women into the arena of performative activism is precisely what Barnes mocked in another essay published a year before her own encounter with forcible feeding, titled "Seventy Trained Suffragists Turned Loose on City." In this essay, the New York suffragist Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt educates her students into activism by encouraging them to manage their appearance: "first, never wear a dress that shows your feet in front. Never let the audience carry away a mental picture of a pair of silhouetted pedal extremities. [[para.]] Second, never hold a militant pose; don't strike out at your audience with a fist that has done duty as a biscuit molder" (NY 66). Barnes's hesitation here about suffrage activism must be weighed against her performative piece "How It Feels" before we can comfortably charge her with antifeminism. As different as the two pieces are, they both suggest that the methods of collective activism that depend upon the display of the feminist body should be subject to a rigorous feminist critique. This emphasis on the woman's body not only parodies antifeminist discourse which insists that women are incapable of managing the public sphere (that is, women cannot get past the body and its adornments), but also points in a different direction by marking out the near impossibility of collective female resistance within patriarchal culture (that is to say, woman is her representation, femininity is constructed as to-be-looked-at-ness in a commodity culture, and individual performances cannot be translated into a collective redefinition of femininity). Barnes's charge is that performative activism becomes a kind of fashion statement when women are asked to speak with the body. Yet Barnes herself is a pen performer who continually performs femininity within the public sphere - hugged by a gorilla, carried from a building by firemen, Barnes made her living by staging scenes of feminine frailty.

Marking both her connection to and her difference from British suffragettes, Barnes's narrative of forcible feeding transforms the WSPU's discourse of forcible feeding that pins itself to "an authority of experience" into a discourse that emphasizes performance. Inviting comparisons with the British suffragettes, Barnes wrote:

I shall be strictly professional, I assured myself. If it be an ordeal, it is familiar to my sex at this time; other women have suffered it in acute reality. Surely I have as much nerve as my English sisters? ... If I, playacting, felt my being burning with revolt at this brutal usurpation of my own functions, how they who actually suffered the ordeal in its acutest horror must have flamed at the violation of the sanctuaries of their spirits. (NY 175, 178)

This discourse that blends the professional and the theatrical opens up a space where we can ask questions about the ways in which narratives of forcible feeding produced new activists and the ways in which Barnes's essay invites a critique of female spectacularity and spectatorship.

Barnes's performative rhetoric, "If I, playacting," is a rhetoric of masquerade. The conflation of performance and occupation reveals Barnes's profession as the profession of playacting; as an interviewer she continually has to work at and work out the intersections between femininity and performance by contemplating woman's difficult attempts to command the gaze or to speak from a position of spectacularity. Femininity presented as masquerade, as Doane has suggested, troubles the association of femininity with overidentification.(20) And feminine spectatorship as a form of masquerade allows for a kind of critical distance unavailable to woman in conventional theories of spectatorship.(21) What gets interrupted by Barnes's conflicted rhetoric of play and work is the discourse of "experience" that marks an essentialized femininity; what gets short-circuited as well is the cycle of identification that repositions the female spectator as activist. Instead Barnes's masquerade creates a space for critique, a space where the female spectator can recognize the contradictions at work in the representations of femininity and the difficulty of feminist performance. Barnes's spectacular confession refuses to answer the question it posits: "How does it feel?" gets turned back on itself so that the performance of the feminine body is exposed and becomes part of the answer to the question. As we have seen, "How does it feel?" is inseparable from the perilous question "How do I look?" Both questions get answered on the level of the performative, not the "actual" or "authentic."

"How It Feels to Be Forcibly Fed" was first published alongside essays that position the feminine reader as consumer ("Ladies! Beads Like Yours Adorned Prehistoric Belles") and, through its masquerade of a disorderly femininity, worked to interrupt the inscription of feminine spectators into fashion culture. The essay also restaged the performative journalism and celebrity interviews that positioned the feminine subject as spectacular and denied her an authoritative gaze; that is, the masquerade of masochistic femininity presented in "How It Feels" mimics female exhibitionism and mimes cliches of femininity (a miming at work in Barnes's encounters with gorillas and firemen as well).(21) This mimicry disrupts the activity of overidentification demanded of the woman who looks, and inserts critical distance into the reception of images of femininity.

But "How It Feels to Be Forcibly Fed" also, I have argued, interrupts the inscription of feminine spectators into feminist activism. One way of thinking about this interruption would be to suggest that Barnes's essay is organized around a different object in the field of feminist speculation: the issue of representation itself. Barnes's critique of collective activism as she sees it working itself out in New York's suffrage organizations is that the discourse of rebellion depends upon the exposure of the female body: "do not dress in spots; yes, I mean spots. If you look |giggery' to the audience in front of you, they are liable to go wobbling home down the middle of the street" says Barnes's suffragette Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt (NY 66). This critique, however, is subject to a rereading enabled by England's militant suffragettes themselves. Though many of the autobiographies that emerged from the militant suffrage movement in England trace an initiation into performative activism that turns on the disruptive display of the private female body in public and masculine spaces (the street, the government office), and though militant activism is certainly engaged with consumer culture, the performance of femininity staged by militant activism does not insist that the female spectator take up a dominant notion of femininity nor does that performance deny the feminist spectator an active and discerning gaze. What I am elaborating here as Barnes's "misreading" of performative activism is more than a mistake; Barnes's reading is essential to a critical examination of the role of the body as exhibit in suffrage activism. Barnes's essay brings together issues of spectacularity, feminist authority, feminist spectatorship, masquerade, and the commodification of the feminist body in a way that allows us to understand more completely the complex work of advertising feminism undertaken by British suffragettes.

The narratives of British suffragettes and the performance of Djuna Barnes thus take us in two directions-barnes cannot produce activists with her essay and the suffragettes cannot abandon a rhetoric of "experience" for one of "performance," which is not to say that the suffragettes were not savvy about performative politics. Barnes's performance is a radical act of self-representation that does double duty. First, this performance responds to and reworks the difficult conjunction of gender, desire, and spectacle exhibited in her interviews. Second, this performance recontextualizes the suffragettes' protest within a larger frame of sensationalizing representations of female exhibitionism. Both suffrage narratives of forcible feeding and Barnes's performance work in complex ways, and it would be a mistake to suggest that suffrage narratives are the problem to which Barnes's essay provides the cure. Through the masquerade of forcible feeding, that both is and is not an expression of the feminine body, Barnes's text creates a space for a critical reading of activism that turns on the display of the body. But we must remember that the British suffragettes' narratives of forcible feeding also enable a critique of Barnes's rejection of collective experience, action, and discourse.


(1) I wish to thank Alison Booth, Jay Dobrutsky, Holly Laird, and Janet Lyon for their insightful comments and conversations. David Doughan at the Fawcett Library located testimonies of forcible feeding. This research is made possible in part by support from the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, College of Arts and Letters, University of Notre Dame. (2) Djuna Barnes, "How It Feels to Be Forcibly Fed," in New York, ed. Alyce Barry (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1989), 174-79, abbreviated in text as NY. All references to photographs refer to the original publication: the New York World Magazine, 6 September 1914. Barnes's interviews can be found also in Interviews, ed. Alyce Barry (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1985), abbreviated in text as I. (3) For examinations of the journalism, see Nancy J. Levine, "|Bringing Milkshakes to Bulldogs': The Early Journalism of Djuna Barnes," in Silence and Power: A Reevaluation of Djuna Barnes, ed. Mary Lynn Broe (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991), 27-34; and the same author's " |I've Always Suffered from Sirens': The Cinema Vamp and Djuna Barnes's Night-wood," Women's Studies 16 (1989): 271-81. During the production of this essay, there appeared Maud Ellmann, The Hunger Artists: Starving, Writing, and imprisonment (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), pp. 34-35 of which refer to Barnes's article on force-feeding. (4) See Andrew Rosen, Rise Up, Women! The Militant Campaign of the Women's Social and Political Union 1903-1914 (London: Routledge, 1974); Susan Kingsley Kent, Sex and Suffrage in Britain, 1860-1914 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987). (5) Tickner's book was published by the University of Chicago Press in 1988; Jane Marcus's essay appears in The New Historicism, ed. H. Aram Veeser (New York: Routledge, 1989), 132-51. (6) This is part of a London Times quotation Tickner cites: "London will have a new experience; and if it be true that who wins the eye wins all, the Artists' Suffrage League will not have laboured in vain" (80). Tickner elaborates: "With elegant sleight of hand, women responded to the accusation that they were |making a spectacle of themselves' by doing precisely that, in full self-consciousness and with great skill and ingenuity. They were indeed part of the spectacle, but they also produced and controlled it; as active agents they need not passively endure the gaze of onlookers who were curious or perhaps indifferent. They could invite it, respond to it, work with it and then move on. Their bodies were organized collectively and invested politically and therefore resistant to any simply voyeuristic appropriation" (81). (7) See, in contrast, Helena Michie who sees the image of the female body framed by narrative: "I use the term spectacle in conjunction with story here because the term suggests the interdependence of narrative and visual elements. The term also outlines a place for the watcher, the audience, the voyeur in a way that story and narrative do not; spectacle also introduces into the picture the gender dynamics of the gaze about which feminists have so compellingly written: although both men and women can be turned into spectacle, the position of gazer is aligned with the male eye and |I' and the position of the gazed-at with the female subject/object. In the sense in which I am using it, spectacle translates the traditionally private into the public by amplifying and rendering visual the interiority of the body and its experiences. Narrative frames and contextualizes spectacle, giving it a meaning, an order, and a teleology" ("The Greatest Story [N]ever Told: The Spectacle of Recantation," Genders 9 [1990], 20). (8) For Mulvey, woman is positioned as "to-be-looked-at-ness" and produces both anxiety (as an image of castration) and pleasure (through the two avenues of escape: voyeurism and fetishism) in the male spectator. Though this narrative has been troubled by feminist film theorists searching to disrupt such a rigid dichotomy, what has remained persuasive (though held in suspense) is the notion that the woman who looks is a problem in popular culture and that femininity is aligned with a certain kind of visual pleasure that depends on woman's "to-be-looked-at-ness." See Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," in Visual and Other Pleasures (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989), 14-26. (9) For these revisions, see Laura Mulvey, "Afterthoughts on |Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema' Inspired by King Vidor's Duel in the Sun," in Visual and Other Pleasures, 29-38; Tania Modleski, The Women Who Knew Too Much (New York: Methuen, 1988); E. Ann Kaplan, Women and Film: Both Sides of the Camera (New York: Methuen, 1983); Judith Mayne, The Woman at the Keyhole: Feminism and Women's Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990). (10) Orichard Dyer, Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986), 8. (11) Of course, in this separation of active and passive, masculine and feminine, we are returning to Mulvey's description of spectatorship and spectacle in film. The female spectator there is split between transvestism and masochism, between active, masculine identification with the gaze and passive, feminine identification with the image. Linda Williams notices the difficulty the woman who looks poses in horror films (and for film theory): "When the Woman Looks," in ReVision: Essays in Feminist Film Criticism, ed. Mary Ann Doane, Patricia Mellencamp, and Linda Williams (Frederick, MD: University Publications of America, 1984), 83-99. (12) I am influenced here by Mary Ann Doane's reading of the films of medical discourse: "When the female body is represented within mainstream classical cinema as spectacle, as the object of an erotic gaze, signification is spread out over a surface - a surface which refers only to itself and does not simultaneously conceal and reveal an interior.... In films of the medical discourse, on the other hand, the female body functions in a slightly different way. It is not spectacular but symptomatic, and the visible becomes fully a signifier, pointing to an invisible signified. The medical discourse films, acceding to the force of the logic of the symptom, attribute to the woman both a surface and a depth, the specificity of the depth being first and foremost that it is not immediately perceptible" (The Desire to Desire: The Woman's Film of the 1940s [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987], 39). (13) There is another referent as well: the original text of "How It Feels to Be Forcibly Fed" tells us that "there was talk in New York recently of |forcible feeding' the mutinous I.W.W. agitator Becky Edelson, who in protest against what she called the injustice of her imprisonment, went on a hunger strike." (14) For example, accounts in newspapers and in pamphlets narrated in detail the physical trauma of the event: "the wardresses forced me on the bed and the two doctors came in with them, and while I was held down a nasal tube was inserted. It is two yards long, with a funnel at the end - there is a glass junction in the middle to see if the liquid is passing. The end is put up the nostril, one one day, and the other nostril the other. Great pain is experienced during the process, both mental and physical.... The sensation is most painful - the drums of the ear seem to be bursting, a horrible pain in the throat and the breast. The tube is pushed down 20 inches.... The after effects are a feeling of faintness, a sense of great pain in the diaphragm or breast bone, in the nose and the ears. The tube must go below the breast bone, though I can't feel it below there" (Mary Leigh, Fed by Force, pamphlet, Fawcett Library, City of London Polytechnic Library). (15) Doane complicates Mulvey's binary opposition between active gaze and passive image with another opposition between proximity and distance: "for the female spectator there is a certain overpresence of the image-she is the image." Woman is associated with an overwhelming presence to itself of the female body, and within a psychoanalytic paradigm, woman cannot achieve the distance from the image necessary for the masculine scoptic strategies of voyeurism or fetishism. Femininity's overidentification collapses the distance between spectacle and spectator, repositions the woman who looks as the object of her gaze, erases critical distance. See Doane's "Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator," in Femmes Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalysis (New York: Routledge, 1991), 22. (16) Silvia Kolbowski, "Playing with Dolls," in The Critical Image: Essays on Contemporary Photography, ed. Carol Squiers (Seattle: Bay Press, 1990), 145. (17) Teresa Billington-Greig, "The Feminist Revolt: An Alternate Policy," in The Non-Violent Militant: Selected Writings of Teresa Billington-Greig, ed. Carol McPhee and Ann Fitzgerald (New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987), 242. (18) Fawcett Library Autograph collection, vol. 21. (19) For a brilliant reading of what those new discourses look like, see Janet Lyon, "Militant Discourse, Strange Bedfellows: Suffragettes and Vorticists before the War," Differences 4.2 (1992): 100-133. (2O) That is to say, masquerade marks a contradiction at the heart of psychoanalytic discourse of femininity (masquerade defines both the "norm" of femininity and its pathology; masquerade suggests distance where femininity's overwhelming presence to itself suggests a lack of distance). However, we must be careful in looking to masquerade for a description of Barnes's disruptive techniques. In retelling Joan Riviere's famous story of the female intellectual who masquerades an excessive, flirtatious femininity each time she steps off the podium, Doane insists that masquerade appears to be "the very antithesis of spectatorship/ subjectivity" (Femmes Fatales 33). Masquerade is not a subversive strategy, but a "glitch" in the discourse of femininity that points to its internal contradictions. Doane would not recognize her masquerade in my retelling of Barnes's story, but what I would like to suggest is that "How it Feels to Be Forcibly Fed" reveals not femininity as masquerade but the activity of retelling the body's experience as a masquerade. See Doane's "Masquerade Reconsidered: Further Thoughts on the Female Spectator," in Femmes Fatales, 33-43.

See Kolbowski on this: "Doane raises questions about, but stops short of defining the female spectator's distancing masquerade, or of specifying what its relation would be to the masquerade of femininity that the cinema itself makes use of. Perhaps these issues should remain questions. . . . A consideration of masquerade in regard to fashion photography of/for women indicates several things. One is that a fascination with the image of feminine perfection can be seen as drawing on an identification with a masquerade" (146-47). (22) This notion of miming femininity is described in more detail in Elizabeth Lyon, "Unspeakable Images, Unspeakable Bodies," Camera Obscura 24 (1991): 168-93; Judith Williamson, "Images of |Woman,'" Screen 24 (1983): 102-6.
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Author:Green, Barbara
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Biography
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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