The first reason why feminist theory fell silent on the question of women and writing is the rise of poststructuralism. In the late 1970s, Roland Barthes’s (1977) essay “The Death of the Author” was beginning to be quoted everywhere. Equally influential was Jacques Derrida’s (1988) systematic attempt to show that literary texts are just texts, that is to say a system of signs where meaning (signification) arises through the play of the signifiers, without any reference to a speaking subject, and Michel Foucault’s (1977) radical anti-humanism. In the 1980s, such theories started to conflict seriously with the interest in women’s writing. Feminists who wanted to work on women writers at the same time as they were convinced that Barthes, Derrida and Foucault were right, began to wonder whether it really mattered whether the author was a woman. In the United States, the tensions involved in this position were expressed in a landmark debate between Peggy Kamuf and Nancy Miller about the status of the female author. This debate has two acts, the first consisting in two essays from 1981, the second in an exchange of letters from 1989. Read together, the two exchanges sharply register the evolution of the theoretical climate in the intervening decade.
*Art by Nick Bantock from The Canterbury Tales: A Retelling by Peter Ackroyd (Penguin Classics, Limited Edition)