The Book Of The City Of Ladies Essay

The Book Of The City Of Ladies Essay-61
Written in the throws of feminism’s so-called second wave and set in 2040, this sardonic novella tells the tale of a doomed space colony from the perspective of the woman who destroys it.Opening with the classic SF trope of a spaceship crashed on a distant planet, leaving a small group of survivors abandoned somewhere in the far reaches of the universe, and unfolding between discontinuous fragments of action and reflection recorded by our unreliable narrator on a vocoder, this story systematically dismantles the brittle myth of glorious colonisation.The question of how to break with dominant narratives, and build a world on different terms, is an enduring concern for feminist practice.

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Even the murderous figure of Medea is welcomed to the City—generously celebrated for her knowledge of science and art, as well as her enduring love for the undeserving Jason.

As Marina Warner notes, the story of Medea is told in this context, ‘without mention of the demented dimension of her despair, with the murder of her children overlooked.’[17] Writing her counter-history, Pizan makes space for female intelligence and achievement in a world that has been historically both ruled and narrated by men.

As such, the book itself performs as a textual sanctuary for vilified women—a feminist fortress in which future readers are invited to dwell.

In order to clear the ground and build this storyworld, it is necessary for Pizan to approach the received wisdom of her age with a suspicious attitude and a speculative imagination.

Indeed, as Elaine slowly prepares for her own much-desired death, her thoughts drift from hallucinations of the dead and memories of life on Earth to musings on the future beings that her story addresses: ‘I’ve printed out most of this and put it in the tin box; I’m wearing the rest of it around my neck.

[…] And I have to be near the box or you won’t find it.

While Aliette de Bodard rightly asserts that colonialism is ‘embedded’ in the history of the genre,[2] in more recent times feminist fans and writers have challenged the norms of what Helen Merrick calls ‘malestream’[3] SF.

Subverting images of extra-terrestrial invasion, intergalactic warfare and sprawling space settlements that define a genre dominated by straight white men, these feminist fictions make other perspectives the subject of the story.

In the text, she speaks through each of the four characters to question the logic of patriarchal laws and misogynistic rhetoric that embody the assumption of man’s mastery over every dimension of the medieval world—from natural to cultural, material to spiritual.

As the character of Christine describes, construction begins by clearing the fertile plains of the ‘Field of Letters’[8] with the help of Reason—excavating the ground of misogynistic discourse and carrying this ‘dirt’ away by the ‘basketful’.[9] Having been instructed by Rectitude to ‘mix the mortar in your ink,’ [10] Christine then proceeds to lay down the stories of the many brave, brilliant and virtuous women of history—from the noble warrior Queen Semiramis to the redeemed sinner Saint Afra [Fig. Tales of women from ancient civilizations form the foundations and stones that fortify the walls and towers, while accounts of various Christian saints adorn the high, gilded roofs above.


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