Two Critical Papers on Barnes and Her Work
critical problem that my own project hopes to illuminate [is]: how
to begin to approach Barnes's eccentric work within a historical context
and how to make sense of the implications of such eccentricities given
that context. Her work, even within the diverse body of eccentric
modernist texts, stands apart in its uniqueness. Like many modernist
texts (i.e. Toomer's Cane, Joyce's Finnegan's Wake,
and much of Stein's work), Barnes's work is difficult to categorize.
Unlike other modernist texts, however, Barnes's work challenges genre
through its mixing of both linguistic and visual representation. For
example, in texts such as Ladies Almanack and The Book of
Repulsive Women, Barnes uses both text and drawings to depict
female sexuality. It is this shifting between modes of representation
that will be the emphasis of my project. Through an examination of
both her textual and visual art forms, I will argue that Barnes was
experimenting in different ways than her contemporaries, ways that
radically challenged understandings of gender, identity, and sexuality
by suggesting that these categories are unstable, ever-shifting entities.
One of the most important elements in this experimentation was her
performance: through her shifts between forms and genres, Barnes mimics
and performs the very instabilities that she represents in those art
forms. Much like the fin-de-siècle Decadents with whom she
is often linked, Barnes makes central the trope of transition in her
shifts between genres.
its mixture of the domestic (baby/child/adolescent) and the sensual
(vampire) and the dangerous appeal that fusion entails, the child
vampire in Barnes's writings and illustrations symbolizes the ambivalence
that American society of the Modernist period had about newly acquired
freedoms for women. This paper explores a kind of perilous yet unwavering
attraction that the child vampire epitomizes. In pursuing a contextual,
interpretive framework that provides a path into Barnes's use of the
child vampire and that could be used to explore other authors and
other texts, I turn to visual culture of the period, focusing upon
the tradition of the screen vamp and the use of children in early
American cinema as initial sources of these conflicting feelings.
The persona of the original screen vamp, Theda Bara, and her popular
reception as well as the "dangerous" roles that children
played in those early films reveal two sides of the same coin. The
viewing audience vicariously indulged in the vamp's wickedness and
then chastised the vamp for her "evil" ways. Likewise, the
audience acted as a vicarious heroic protector of the innocent child
on screen while ignoring the "dangers" that both the child
and its cinematic protectors were exposed to. Each of these instances
consists of a simultaneously positive attraction and negative repulsion.
For the viewers of the vamp, this ambivalence lies within their unwitting
draw towards yet moral repugnance by the vamp and her actions; for
the viewers of the child, this ambivalence lies within their "fearless"
protection of innocence by rescuing children from dangerous situations.
In Barnes's combination of these figures, the use of the child vamp
becomes a strategy that predisposes readers to the dangers of restricting
women to the domestic or the sexual, a position in this period just
as ambivalent as the positions of the aforementioned filmgoers.