Tuesday, May 01, 2012

JPRS 2.2: Special Forum on Jennifer Crusie

As Eric writes, "This feature was first imagined, many years ago, as a book of critical essays, to be edited by Laura Vivanco and myself." We sent out the first call for papers in July 2006 and a subsequent one, for additional papers, in January 2008. In the end, we never did get enough essays to fill a whole volume. Perhaps it was all for the best; now these six essays (and a detailed introduction) are freely available to everyone with an internet connection.

"Nothing But Good Times Ahead" -  an introduction, by Eric Selinger
I would not be editor of this journal—in fact, the journal itself might not exist—had I not encountered Crusie’s novels and essays in the early 2000s.  They made me want to be a romance scholar, and since 2006, when I began to teach courses on popular romance, a novel and / or essay by Crusie has appeared on every one of my twenty-plus syllabi. [...]  To hear Crusie’s characters debate the nature of stories or watch them read the material world around them, from clothing to china to paintings to home decor, is to learn how to read, better and deeper, in the broadest sense of the verb.

"Jennifer Crusie's Literary Lingerie" - by Laura Vivanco
in Crusie’s fiction even the flimsiest piece of lingerie can be “heavy with meaning” (“Romancing” 86). This meaning is only partially encoded in the fabrics, styles and colours chosen: it is also dependent on the context in which a particular item is worn or discarded. In one situation, therefore, lingerie can function as an instrument of patriarchal oppression while in another it may serve as a weapon in the feminist struggle; it can be used to signal sexual interest and boost a woman’s confidence but may also reinforce her feelings of inadequacy about her body; it can cause her physical discomfort or give sensual pleasure; although it can indicate a lack of openness and truth, female intimacy is promoted as women discuss their lingerie and via such discussions give each other emotional support that complements the physical uplift of underwiring and padding. Crusie’s literary lingerie reflects the complexity of women’s relationships with their bodies, their desires, their sexual partners and their friends.

"Crusie and the Con" - by Christina A. Valeo

My consideration of the con in Crusie’s work, and my argument that the exchange between romance writer and romance reader itself resembles a con, focuses on the agency of the reader in the exchange, on her willing participation in this literary shell game. If we extend the conversation beyond the moral debate, the author’s intent, or the text’s effect, we can consider more completely the reader’s role in constructing the meaning and negotiating the impact of the text.

"Tell Me Lies: Lying, Storytelling and the Romance Novel as Feminist Fiction" - by Patricia Zakreski
In discussions concerning lying, many contemporary philosophers, psychologists, and sociologists agree that different cultures, and even individuals within the same culture, have varying ideas about what does and does not count as a lie. Opinion over the social impact of lying is also divided. Whether seen as immoral and self-serving or as a necessary social skill, lying is a difficult concept to define. Crusie, however, offers her own definition in The Cinderella Deal that highlights the transformative potential of fictions of romance. While Linc thinks that telling the faculty at Prescott that he is engaged is a lie, Daisy offers a different perspective [...]. Daisy’s idea of a lie is something that attempts to alter the facts of the past, while a story presents a vision of a desired present and future—something Linc wants rather than something he’s done. Presenting a version of reality as he would like it to be is therefore not a lie, but is instead a possible preview of coming truths, a story he created, which, though fictional, can be made real.

"Getting Laid, Getting Old, and Getting Fed: The Cultural Resistance of Jennifer Crusie's Romance Heroines" - by Kyra Kramer
One of the ways in which Crusie contests “a lot of the ‘truths’ that the different societal ideologies have foisted on” her heroines is through her depiction of their bodies. In several of her novels, her heroines find a satisfying romance in spite of the fact they transgress in some way the modern cultural conceptualisation of what is a “desirable” or “beautiful” woman, thereby contesting the cultural ideal of “feminine beauty.” Although there are several other areas in which the bodies of her heroines are consistent with culturally ascribed definition of what is normal or what is beautiful—in that they are white, middle-class heroines who are not transgendered, homosexual, disabled, or disfigured, among other variables—there is at least an attempt by Crusie to stretch the narrow definition of what kind of woman is ‘allowed’ to live happily ever after within the cultural narrative.

"The Heroine as Reader, the Reader as Heroine: Jennifer Crusie's Welcome to Temptation" - by Kate Moore and Eric Selinger
Crusie does not deny that individuals can confuse fantasy and reality, but rather suggests that confusion about boundaries between the two realms is not specific to women or to one form of fantasy, the romance, but rather arises in the vanity and egocentrism of the person experiencing the fantasy. To make her case, Crusie opens the novel by locating her heroine’s imaginative experience as a reader and writer in the larger context of accepted imaginative experience in American popular culture. She then juxtaposes her heroine’s fantasy experience against the experiences of a cast of secondary characters, both male and female, whose participation in popularly accepted forms of fantasy, those not subject to critical derision for association with women, leads them into moral error.

"Gossip, Liminality, and Erotic Display: Jennifer Crusie's Links to Eighteenth-Century Amatory Fiction" - by Kimberly Baldus
Tell Me Lies and the novels that followed in the next two years, Crazy for You and Welcome to Temptation, increasingly linger on moments where eroticism develops in the liminal space between private intimacy and public exposure. Crusie constructs scenes where her female characters explore the liberating possibilities of turning their private sexual encounters into public spectacles, offering themselves as objects of a voyeuristic gaze which readers are invited to share. [...] In the links she develops between liminality, gossip and erotic display, Crusie’s modern romance draws upon territory first developed in the genre of the novel designated as “amatory fiction” (Ballaster). These texts, appearing in the early eighteenth century in England, played a crucial role in shaping the emerging genre of the novel. [...] The notion of the liminal as a realm that inspires creativity and invites new possibilities underpins a model of authorship that playfully invites readers to participate in the communal act of making meaning from the textual details of their novels.

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