L. Timmel Duchamp on 2 Early Stories by Carol Emshwiller

When I saw Carol Emshwiller's Joy in Our Cause in the dealer's room at WisCon 25, I took no notice of its 1974 publication date. My tastes in reading might shift over the years, and certainly writers' styles do as well, but already familiar with early Emshwiller, I did not doubt that I would be in every way delighted with the collection. And indeed when I at last sat down to read it, my pleasure exceeded expectations. Interestingly, however, I found my enjoyment mediated by my awareness of the stories' (and the collection's) historical context. The historical context in this case included my personal as well as intellectual history. In story after story I picked up cultural resonances that I had not realized were still accessible to me. Repeatedly I wished I had known of Carol Emshwiller's existence in the late '60s and early '70s when, struggling to compose music while being told that women could only be mediocre and derivative creators, I was starved for the experimental work of other women.

Most surprising was my realization that I had undergone a significant shift in the way in which I constructed gender in the 1970s from the way in which I do now. Although I have changed greatly as an individual, it is more to the point that the gendering of narrative conventions that govern how we read has changed, also. The difference in our ideas, for instance, of what is plausible behavior or affect in female characters in some cases renders us unable to read the same story we read in years past. It is this particular difference in context that I would like to consider in reading "Sex and/or Mr. Morrison."


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