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Two Critical Papers on Barnes and Her Work


"Ever-Shifting Artforms as Performance in the Work of Djuna Barnes" by Darcy L. Brandel, Case Western Reserve University

  The 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.  

"Fatal Attraction: Djuna Barnes's Child Vamp" by Jamie L. McDaniel, Case Western Reserve University

  In 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.  

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