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Revolution and Assimilation:
The Cultural Work of U.S. 1970s Lesbian Fiction

Yvonne Keller

Teresa de Lauretis argues that pro-lesbian critics and artists must "redefin[e] the conditions of vision" to make lesbians representable, and insists that this is a quite difficult endeavour. This paper takes up and specifies her argument by looking at U.S. (and U.S.-published) lesbian experimental fiction of the 1970s-the blossoming of a radical and prolific fiction of liberation within the context of the women's and gay liberation movements-to unpack the complicated issues of autonomy, resistance, and assimilation by contrasting formally experimental with non-experimental novels on the multiperspectival theme of vision.

I argue that autonomous, inassimilable lesbian representation, that which Bertha Harris calls "great," is both impossible and necessary. In the end, I show how the bold strangeness and disorienting qualities of works such as those by Monique Wittig and Bertha Harris combined with the high sales of "positive" images such as that of Rita Mae Brown and Isabel Miller helped create a cultural politics of difference that allowed the culture and lesbians to "see" lesbians differently. I argue that, while still caught inescapably in dominant ways of representing the Other (invisibility, spectacularization), the work of the 1970s uses, rejects, and improves on the lesbian pulp novels of the 1950s and early sixties that preceded it, specifically in terms of the structures of looking, thereby broadening immeasurably the possible modes of lesbian representation.

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