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(s): Source: Cultural Critique, No. 9 (Spring, 1988), pp. 3-22 Published by: University of Minnesota Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1354232 . Accessed: 26/02/2013 05:44
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Feminism, Postmodernism, and Style: Recent Feminist Criticism in the United States
Politics'has been critin the United States, my book Sexual/Textual cized on two major accounts. First, it has been accused of simply identifying with "French" positions in order to hammer traditional American feminist criticism. In my opinion such criticisms tend to overlook my own materialistfeminist position, influenced by the British "New Left" tradition, which structures my critique of bothcamps. But I have also been taken to task for simply leaving out French-inspired American feminism. Now I can at least make up for this omission by criticizing that too. More seriously: in this paper I want to discuss some of the problems raised by recent French-inspired American feminist theory and criticism. I have chosen to organize my arguments mainly around two feminist texts, both published in 1985: first, a pioneering book which explores the uneasy relationship between postmodernism and femiand and nism, AliceJardine's Gynesis: ConfigurationsWoman Modernity,2 of
1. Toril Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Theory Literary (London: Methuen, 1985). 2. Alice Jardine, Gynesis: and Configurations Woman Modernity of (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985). Subsequent references will appear in the text.
? 1988 0882-4371 (Spring 1988). All rights reserved. by Cultural Critique.
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then a brilliant and subtle effort to claim Lacanian style for feminism, Lacan.3 Jane Gallop's Reading Before turning to these texts, however, I would like to make the position from which I speak somewhat more explicit. I do not simply speak from a "European" or "British,"as opposed to an "American," position; I also speak out of a current of socialist feminism which in Europe, or at least in Britainand Scandinaviawhere I live and work, is much moremainstream than in the U.S. I think it is correct to say that since the 1960s, socialist feminism in its various forms has been the dominant trend in British and Scandinavianfeminism, both inside and outside academic institutions. When addressing a U.S. audience, then, I see my attempt to assess recent trends in U.S. feminist theory as the most valuable contribution I can make towards the development of a feminist dialogue across narrow national preoccupations. Drawing on recognizably "British" readings of recent French theories in order to question current "American" readings of the very same material will further help to illuminate and enact the differences between us. This is not, of course, to advocate some kind of comfortable cultural relativism or to reduce my own views to an unsurprising reflection of my own cultural background: I firmly believe that some positions are not only preferable but simply more rational than others. In general, I would characterize my project, both here and in SexualTextual Politics, as an effort to argue for apoliticized of feminism, as opunderstanding one. posed to a depoliticized My aim, then, is not first and foremost to demonstrate my difference, but to convince. At first glance, feminism and postmodernism would seem to be strange bedfellows indeed. If postmodernism, at least in Lyotard's sense of the term,4 sees all metanarratives,including feminism, as repressive enactments of metaphysical authority, what then can it mean to declare oneself a feminist postmodernist or, perhaps more accurately, a postmoder feminist? Does it mean anything at all? I once saw a large piece of graffiti in the ladies' room in my Oxford library. It simply read, "Catholic feminists." A few days later a different hand had
3. Jane Gallop, Reading Lacan(Ithaca: Conell University Press, 1985). Subsequent references will appear in the text. 4. Jean-Francois Lyotard,La condition postmoderne (Paris:Minuit, 1979). Translated by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi as The Postmodern Condition: Report Knowledge, A on foreword by FredricJameson (Manchester:Manchester University Press, 1984).
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Feminism, Postmodernism, and Style
added, "sure have problems." Is "postmodern feminism" simply another oxymoron, a new quagmire of contradictions for feminists to sink in? Or is it a uniquely enabling theoretical development which will permit us finally to escape the patriarchalparadigms of Western thought? Or do we-in an ironically liberal gesture-have to declare that the truth probably lies somewhere in between? In this paper I will use the term "postfeminism" to cover the different configurations of feminism and postmodernism around today.
TheImpossibility Feminism of
Before I turn to the problems of postfeminism, I want briefly to outline my own position on feminism. I now hold that feminism is strictly speaking an impossible position. I'll expand on this point. Like Alison I Politics HumanNature,5 start and Jaggar in her excellent book Feminist from an agonistic definition of feminism, which I see as the struggle against all forms of patriarchaland sexist oppression. Such an opposito tional definition posits feminism as the necessary resistance patriarchal power. Logically, then, the aim of feminism, like that of any emancipatory theory, is to abolish itself along with its opponent. In a non-sexist, non-patriarchal society, feminism will no longer exist. I would now like to argue that feminism as defined above is an impossible undertaking. First, feminism is committed to the struggle for equality for women, a struggle which has often been seen simply as the effort to make women become like men. But the struggle for equal rights historically and politically commits feminists to emphasize the valueof women as theyare (i.e., before equal rights have been won). For the very case for equal rights rests precisely on the argument that women are alreadyas valuable as men. But given women's lack of equal not rights, this value must be located as difference, as equality: women ownway. This logic, which avoids takare of equal human value in their ing the male as the norm, has been evident in Western feminism since its inception. My point is that under patriarchyeven equal rights feminism has to assert the value of women as women, since it is the only way efficiently to counterthe systematic devaluation of women and
and 5. Alison M. Jaggar, Feminist Politics Human Nature(Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Allanheld, 1983).
women's work under patriarchy. Equality and difference are not in this senseantitheses. But a discourse of female difference, even so, is not readily compatible with one of female equality. Articulated in isolation, the emphasis on female difference comes disturbingly to echo the very patriarchal prejudices against which the champions of women's equality are struggling. And in fact, when it comes to taking sides in specific political struggles, these two feminisms often seem to be poles apart. This is indeed how Julia Kristeva describes them in "Women's Time"-as two different and opposing stages of the feminist movement.6 But such a straightforward division of these two feminisms will not do, since the one (that of difference) is a necessary effect of the discourse of the other. There is crucially both a potential contradiction and a productive dialectical tension between them. Given this logic, a feminist cannot settle for either equality or difference. Both struggles must be aporetically fought out. But we also know that both approaches are caught in the end in a constraining logic of sameness and difference. Julia Kristeva therefore suggests that feminism from now on must operate in a third space: that which deconstructs all identity, all binary oppositions, all phallogocentric logic. I agree that it is urgently necessary for feminists to deconstruct sexualized binary thought. But in deconstructing patriarchal metaphysics, we also risk deconstructing the very logic that sustains the two forms of feminism outlined above. These three "spaces" of feminism, in other words, are logically and often strategically incompatible.
6. In "Women's Time" (trans.AliceJardine and Harry Blake, TheKristeva ed. Reader, Toril Moi [Oxford: Blackwell, 1986], 187-213), Kristevasees the feminism of difference as a simple reaction against that of equality. Her third space, essentially deconstructive, however, is one in which the three "generations" or "spaces" exist together: Kristeva writes about the "parallel existence of all three in the same historical time, or even that they be interwoven one with the other" (209). Although I am obviously deeply indebted to Kristeva'svision of the three "spaces" or "generations" of feminism, there are some differencesbetween her positions and mine: I see the feminism of differenceas the necessaryimplication of that of equality, not simply as its opposing mirror-image;I see the third space as a painfullycontradictory necessaryone, not as one where the three yet "generations"unproblematically"interweave"with each other in what sounds a little like a cosy version of Lacan's imaginary; and, finally, I stress the social and material conditions which oblige us always to cut through and open up what I take to be the impossible space of the third generation if we are to take up recognizably political positions (Kristevadoes not, presumably, because her essay was written in 1979, at a time when she had long since decided to relinquish her active interest in politics).
Feminism, Postmodernism, and Style
Unlike Kristeva,however, I believe that feminists today have to hold all three positions simultaneously. Simply to take up Kristeva's"third position" of deconstructed identities, as she herself advocates, is clearly impossible. For, if we still live in metaphysical space, our necessary utopian wish to deconstruct sexual identities always runs up against the fact that patriarchy itself persists in oppressing women as women. We must, then, at once live out the contradictions of all three feminisms and agonisticallytake sides: simply sitting on the fence will never demolish patriarchy.As feminists we will have to make hard and often unpalatable political choices in the full knowledge of what we are giving up. Since every choice is an act of exclusion, to take up a political position means accepting the pain of loss, sacrifice,and closure, evenif our choice entails following the free-wheeling paths of Derridean deconstruction. A final point: I am not, of course, suggesting that we are entirely free to choose our own political positions-or our own style. With Freud and Lacan I believe that what we say is never quite what we think we say. Drawing on the same logic, Derrida has shown that every discourse engenders its own blind spots and contradictions. And, like Marx, I believe that our specific material position in society and history crucially limits the range of ideological and political options available to us. This is, nevertheless, not to say that we have no choice at all: my discourse of political strategies and choice places itself withinthe constraintsoutlined by these sobering reminders of the limits of analytical self-reflection.
So far, postfeminism remains a relativelyparochial concern, the offfor spring of a purely Franco-Americanaffair. Alice Jardine's Gynesis, makes much play of its own transatlanticposition, deliberateinstance, ly hovering between Parisand New York,only truly at home in a space Jardine discreetly alludes to as "that in-between state" (13). But there is, perhaps, in her text also a feeling of unease about this lofty location-for is she not in danger of drowning in the Atlantic?This at least is how I read her sudden need to affirm that she is "neither 'above it all' nor somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic" (18). Literal-minded
readers will conclude that she must be in Iceland. For, in spite of the odd reference to "Anglo-American" feminism, Britain remains firmly excluded from her discourse: there is, unfortunately, no trace at all in of Gynesis the rich and varied socialist feminist work carried out by British women over the past two decades. "England" does make a few puzzling appearances inJardine's text, as, for instance, towards the end of her introduction, where she emphasizes the need for "feminist theoreticians in France, England, the United States, and (especially) elsewhere" (26) to rethink feminism in the light of postmodernism. "England" is listed here on a par with France and the United States. But this is not to say that there is an equal exchange of ideas in this triangle:Jardine's impressive bibliography lists only one item of contemporary British theory and that is Stephen Heath's famous 1977 essay on differenceaccordingto the French.7 is deux,not a Gynesis the staging of an intimate Franco-Americanpas-derehearsal of the narrativeplots of triangulated desire. Occupying centre-stage,this couple neatly block out Britishmaterialistfeminism. And what are we to make of the half-repressed,parenthetical "(especially) elsewhere"? Are Scandinavian, German, or Welsh feminists in particularly dire straits at the moment? Or is the uneasy parenthetical reference aimed at Third World women? Perhaps this passage is simply another attempt to claim global relevance for postmodern strategies? However that may be, it is the repression of the British and not of the Third World which returns to disrupt and unsettle Jardine's text. For how else am I to read her reference to that famous Englishmodernist, James Joyce? (91). Posfeminist Feminism As might be expected, postmodern feminists are reluctant to espouse labels or definitions of any kind. Alice Jardine, for one, rejects them out of hand. The word "feminism" is particularlytroublesome to her: Who and what,then, do we mean by "feminist"? Thatword ... poses some seriousproblems.Not thatwe would wantto end up
7. Stephen Heath, "Difference," Screen19, no. 3 (Fall 1978): 51-112.
and Feminism,Postmodernism, Style of by demandinga definitionof whatfeminismis, and therefore, what one must do, say, and be, if one is to acquirethat epithet; to dictionary meaningsare suffocating, say the least. (20)
I take this to be a defeatist position for feminists. Definitions may well be constraining: they are also enabling. Why else would women struggle for so long for their right to name the world? To name is to exercise power. The notion that closure, or conceptuallyrigourous definitions, is such a merely constrainingis a fashionable dogma of poststructuralism: simplisticview is not only utterlyundialectical,but also a travestyof the thought of Jacques Derrida himself. In the end Jardine nevertheless ventures a definition of feminism. "'Feminism,' " she writes, "is generally understood as a 'movement from the point of view of, by, and for women' " (15). Her copious use of quotes makes it exceptionally difficult to tell whether she actually agreeswith this "general understanding." Jardine may not be saying this, but neither, apparently, is anybody else. I will, nevertheless, take the risk of attributingthis reluctant definition to Jardine herself. Stresswithin "very ing as she does the necessity of locating feminist criticism precise political struggles and practices" (15), Jardine does try to provide some specificity to this general position. But given the absence of any effort to outline a specific political or social context for these "precise struggles," they remain paradoxically abstract and general,an observation which also holds true for Gynesis a whole. On the whole, as feminism is presented as a movement by women which takes though, on very different and very specific forms in different contexts. To my mind this understanding of feminism smacks of the French "Psych et Po" group's emphasis on "moving women" (desfemmes mouvements), en characteristicof much Parisianfeminism in the 1970s. But this is surely not a sufficient understanding of feminism. Is any political struggle involving a movement of women working for their own good automatically feminist? The British Tory Women's Conference, for example? Jardine's definition empties feminism of any agonistic content, suppressing its resistance to patriarchalpower. My general agonistic definition won't, of course, allow us to prescribe universally a correct feminist practice, but it has the merit of implying that feminists have to take sides. Sometimes, of course, we will be wrong our politiin cal decisions: some postfeminism seems to me not even specific enough to be that, and consequently, in its endless self-qualifying openness,
it comes to display its own kind of closure. Traditionally,the deconstruction of theory has alwaysbeen the practice which it generates. But there is a sense in which Jardine's postmodernism pushes her into a kind of theoreticism: no specific practice is ever allowed to deconstruct her theory. In fact, it would be inaccurate even to claim that she has a theory. Instead, she tries to deconstruct theory from the other, postmodernist side, as it were, denouncing it as another reactionary Enlightenment narrative. The effect of these yet discursive moves is to leave her in a kind of untheorizable theoreticism prone precisely to the idealist abstraction and generalisation she is eager to avoid. Lacking any conflictive element, Jardine's infinitely flexible concept of feminism as a ceaselessly gyrating movement of women makes her reluctant to criticize even plainly anti-feminist theory formations. On the one hand, she argues, the French theories with which she is concerned have "posited themselves as profoundly, that is to say conceptually and in praxis, anti- and/or post-feminist" (20). But she is not about to take issue with this alarming trend: "In this study," she continues, "one of the things I have tried to accomplish is to clarify the 'anti- and/or post-feminism' of contemporary French thinking as exemplary of modernity, without getting overly caught up in explicit value judgments or polemics" (21). But can feminist intellectuals in fact avoid polemics and value judgments without ending up, more or less unwittingly,on the wrong side? And ifJardine is simply saying that she wants to give a "scholarly"and "objective" account of the "anti- and/or post-feminism" of recent French theory, the implication is that objective research somehow precludes political commitment. To me, Jardine's steadfast refusal of what Elaine Showalter has called "feminist critique"8 represents a symbolic rejection of what I take to be a recognisably French caricatureof American feminism, perceived as strident, loud, unsubte, and unsophisticated. Instead, Jardine prefers the suave choreography of her transatlanticpas-de-deux with French theory. But to me, as to a whole tradition of American feminism, a feminist intellectual is one who seeks to stress her own politics, not one who seeks to replace it with geography.
8. Elaine Showalter, "Towards a Feminist Politics," Women and about Writing Writing ed. Women, MaryJacobus (London: Croom Helm, 1979), 22-41.
and Feminism,Postmodernism, Style
I want now to turn to Jardine's central neologism: gynesis.There is, incidentally, an interesting contradiction between Jardine's rejection of labels and definitions and her obvious-and understandable-pleasure in being able to nameher own textual discovery. Gynesis, then, is the name for a textual which she describes as follows: process, the puttinginto discourseof "woman" thatprocess as diagnosedin Franceas intrinsicto the condition of modernity;indeed, the valorization the feminine,woman, and her obligatory, of that is, as to historical connotations, somehowintrinsic new and necessary modes of thinking,writing,speaking.(25) Focusing on the necessary blind spot, the repressed contradictions and paradoxical self-deconstruction of every discourse, Jardine labels this own 'nonknowledge' " (25). "This other-thanthe "master-narratives' themselves," she continues, "is almost always a 'space' of some kind (over which the narrative has lost control), and this space has been as coded asfeminine, woman" then, is the process of putting (25). Gynesis, woman or the feminine into discourse as the unknown other of every text. This has traditionally been represented as a negativeprocess, a process of patriarchalrepression of the feminine. ButJardine is not ofInstead, in a fering us simply another version of Irigaray'sSpeculum.9 brave and original move, she focuses on what one might call positive of gynesis,the deliberate valorization repressed femininity. This, she argues, can be found first and foremost in French postmodernist theory produced by men, and this is why she chooses to focus on the process whereby theorists such as Lacan ("la femme"), Derrida ("double chiasmic invagination," "hymen," etc.), and Deleuze ("becoming woman") become "participantsin the process of gynesis in France" (27). The process of gynesis theorized by Jardine gives rise to a series of as Is gynesis discourse? Or questions. possible within an explicitlyfeminist should we rather look for the silent excusion or explicit circulationof the masculine in such texts? and is there not a danger that the process of gynesis, however positivelyvalorized,might simply repeat the patriarchal
9. Luce Irigaray,Speculum l'autrefemme de (Paris:Minuit, 1974).
exclusion of woman? Here I want particularlyto focus on the crucial point about gynesisand, par extension-of postmodern feminism: the easy move in which the "Other" and its fashionable quasi-synonyms (unreadability, undecidability, the semiotic processes, the unconscious, and so on) is simply equatedwith "woman," "women," or, even more frequently, "the feminine." The next, equally unargued move is to assume that any discourse which speaks of this "femininity" is afeministdiscourse. But just as any "Other" is not a woman, simply to speak of femininity has never been sufficient to turn patriarchal ideology into feminism. The naming of woman, or the textualization of femininity, can only produce emancipatory effects if they are placed in an anti-patriarchal context. If they are not, they will simply coincide with traditional sexism. Since Jardine chooses not to discuss the political and theoretiof cal limitsand limitations her own neologism, it remains a disappointnebulous, abstract concept, apparently striving for global validiingly ty. But simply to equate woman with otherness deprives the feminist but struggle of any kind of specificity.What is repressed is not otherness, constructed agents. Women under patriarchyare specific, historically oppressed because they are women,not because they are irredeemably Other. Anti-semitism is directed against Jews, and South-African racism against blacks, not simply against abstract Otherness. The promotion and valorization of Otherness will never liberate the oppressed. It is, of course, hopelessly idealist to assume that Otherness somehow causes oppression. The fact that the oppressors tend to equate the oppressed group with ontological Otherness, perceived as a threatening,disruptive,alien force, is preciselyan ideological maneouvre designed to mask the concrete material grounds for oppression and exploitation. Only a materialist analysis can provide a credible explanation of whythe burden of Otherness has been placed on this or that particulargroup in a given society at a given time. This tendency always and everywhereto "put into discourse" general Otherness reveals the profoundly abstractand universalizing effects of postfeminist discourse. But if postfeminism sees feminism as an endless choreography of women, or rather, of ontological Otherness, such feminism firmly places itself outsidetime. In this sense, postfeminism can never bepost-feminist. Feminism defined as an agonistic
and Feminism,Postmodernism, Style
struggle, on the other hand, sees postfeminism as the meaningful end of its efforts: if true postfeminism presupposes postpatriarchy,only a feminist can be a postfeminist.
as Jane Gallop:Feminism Style
I want to turn now to a different configuration of feminism and Lacan.Unlike her previous book, postmodernism,Jane Gallop'sReading The which I see as a brilliantlycreativeand incisive Seduction,'? Daughter's analysis of the intricate intertextual relationships between femininity, LacanGallop quite feminism, and Lacanian psychoanalysis, in Reading sets out not to "address Lacan's relation to feminism or deliberately women" (18). In fact,Jane Gallop writes, originally she simply wanted to write a " 'straight'book on Lacan" (18). However, after receiving a negative reader's report which spurred her to further thought, Gallop decided that her book was deeply and crucially feminist after all. Its feminism, Gallop argues, stems not from any specific thematic concerns, but from two different but convergent textual practices. First, Gallop claims, she has decided to "alternate between 'she' and 'he' in the hope of resexualizing the neuter 'he,' of contaminating it with the sexual difference that seems to reside in the 'she' " (21). But at the same time she has also decided openly to "relinquish the usual position of command, and thus [write]from a more subjective, vulnerable position" (19). This, she argues, may more accuratelybe described as the desire to write from the position of castration. These two gestures, Gallop claims, are in fact theoretically one and the same, and both intrinsicallyfeminist. At one level there is nothing new here: this is the standard feminist critique of monological and domineering intellectual styles. What is striking, however, is Gallop's effort to present this strategy as intrinsicallyLacanian. This is how she describes her project:
only to consolidate the oppressive mystification of the Lacanian institution. Lacan talks insightfully about the analyst as the illusion
I believe that the pretenseof a masterfulgrasp of Lacanserves
10. Jane Gallop, TheDaughter's Seduction: Feminism Psychoanalysis and (Ithaca: Cornell
of the "subject presumedto know."I am tryingto undo thatilluthanshoreit up and therefore wishto writefrom some sion rather feminist.It involvescallotherposition.Thisprojectis profoundly (20) ing into questionthe phallicillusionsof authority. To speak from one's position of castration, Gallop reminds us, is not the same thing as to speak from a position of abject powerlessness: One can effectively undo authority only from the positionof auin a waythatexposesthe illusionsof thatpositionwithout thority, the it, renouncing so as to permeate positionitselfwiththe connotationsof its illusoriness,so as to show that everyone,including the "subjectpresumedto know,"is castrated. (21) But if "everyone" is castrated, what then does it meanto claim castration as a particularlyfeminist virtue? Does it not rather become a general stylistic move, a project which in its very universality cannot but repress sexual difference? In her eagerness to claim Lacanian style for feminism without actually having to abandon her transference onto the master, Gallop ends up emphasizing precisely a general concept of castrationthat she herself rightly rejected in her previous book. In The Seduction Daughter's Gallop denounced the "liberal humanist tradition which ... makes the recognition of 'castration,'of a certain unfair distribution between men and women, subject to revision in the direction of complementarity and symmetry."1'In Reading Lacan,she goes to the other extreme, not claiming complementarity or symmetry, but equality before castration.Whereas in 1982 she firmly stated that "the man is 'castrated' by not being total, just as the woman is 'castrated' by not being a man,"'2 in 1985 she is too intent on undoing the phallus to remember this "unfair" imbalance. By thus embracing a generalized concept of castration, Gallop finds herself unable to account for the real differences in male and female positions in relation to phallic power. On the stylisticlevel, her efforts to "resexualize" the generic "he" are paradoxically undermined by her determination to speak from the position of universal castration. Her unwitting repression of sexual difference, however, is also an effect of her apparent lack of interest in the material and ideological
11. Ibid., 21. 12. Ibid., 22.
Feminism, Postmodernism, and Style
bases for women's oppression. Gallop well understands that, under patriarchy, material and ideological power structures are stacked against women. But this means that, evenwhentheysay thesamethings, women are not speaking from the same position as men, and consequently are not in fact saying the same things after all. In her eagerness to write likeLacan, Gallop has overlooked the fact that she is, after all, not like him. The strength of the Freudian concept of castration that Lacan (and previously Gallop too) also draws on is that it steadily remindsus of this imbalance in power. Paradoxically,then, Gallop's project strikesme as more subversive if used by men. If menin patriarchalsociety were to try deliberatelyto exhibit their intellectualcastration,it might well have some emancipatory effects. Unlike men, however, women are alwaysalreadycast as lacking: simply exhibiting our castrationwill not exactly subvert that belief. Nor do I believe that we can or indeed ought to recommend one general, speaking position as feminist. Only a concrete, historical, and political analysis of a specific situation can tell us what kind of effects our interventions are likely to have. What dogmatism says that it is neverfeminist to speak with authority? The problem with Gallop's strategyin Reading Lacan,then, is that in the name of a general writing project, feminism is emptied of any recognizable content. It is not a coincidence that Gallop soon stops talking about feminism and starts celebrating femininity instead, or more precisely, "a new, feminine metonymic reading" in an effort to go beyond the "phallocentric interpretivetradition"which focuses on metaphor (132). The problem with this is not primarily the temptation to set up an easy binary opposition between metaphor and metonymy: Gallop herself is well aware of that danger. It is ratherthe way in which Gallop's feminine metonymies in the end can only speak of the phallus-metonymically, of course: "either sort of reading," Gallop writes, "inevitably locates the phallus in its own narcissistic reflection in the text" (131). In other words, Gallop's efforts to launch feminism as pure Lacanian style necessarily end up reenacting the narcissisticclosure of the phallus. The fact that she admits to being unsettled by this discovery simply reinforces my feeling that, far from deliberately enacting of lack, her text strivesto protect itself against the accusation lack. Setting out to embrace the gaps and lacunae of castration, Gallop ends up reinforcing the closure of the imaginary phallus. Or, to put it differently,
there is a sense in which her relentlessly self-subversive strategies of writing unwittingly come to reproduce the very monological monotony they set out to deconstruct. In its unflinching attention to style, Lacancomes across as a marvellously shrewd, brilliant, and witReading text which somehow has nothing to say. ty Lacanneverthelessexhibits some fascinatingstylisticmaneouReading vres. I am particularlystruck by the way in which Gallop's text unwittingly breaks out of its narcissistic closures precisely in the moments where it would seem to be at its most affirmative. Her own speaking position turns out to be split: on the one hand, as we have already seen, there is Gallop miming Lacan's style, embracing his castration; these are the passages in which she deliberately, elegantly, and with great "mastery" displays precisely as much "castration"as she wants. These, precisely, are notmoments of vulnerability. On the other hand, there are the moments in which she is speaking-not as Lacan-but as a woman. Here are a few examples: text ThoughI haveworkedlong and hardat Lacan's and with the variouscommentaries upon it, ratherthan presentmy masteryI in am interested gettingat those placeswheresomeonewho generallyknowsthe textwell stillfindsherselfin a positionof difficulty. (19-20) Afteryearsof study,I have come to believeLacan's impossitext ble to understand to master-and thusa particufully,impossible of inevitable in "castration" lanlarlygood illustration everyone's (20) guage. I must have read page 690 [of Ecrits] some twentytimes over ten beforeI noticedthe "La,"firstword of the page. ... (137) years Jane Gallop repeatedly assures us that she has read Lacan, that her display of uncertaintyis based on solid research, that she reallydoes know it as well as anybody. It is only because Lacan in fact is impossible to master that she cannot do it: her position is reassuringly not morecastrated than anyone else's. In Reading Lacanit is these moments of real that truly bear the mark of female castration. But-and this is anxiety moments in the text. crucial-they are not particularlyfeminist At one level, then, I want to agree with Gallop: when castrationdoes
and Feminism,Postmodernism, Style
speak through our texts, the texts become less narcissistic,less phallic, more vulnerable. But unlike her I don't think we can ever master our own castration, reducing it to a mere effect of style. Deliberately miming castrationin language is precisely to reinscribe it in the realm of the transcendental signifier. This is why the phallus-and not castrationcrops up at every turn in Gallop's text. I don't believe, either, that vulnerability per se is enough to make a text feminist: feminism is, of course, much morethan a commitment to a certain style, and any male academic liberal can make a parade of his bemusement. I see Reading Lacanas postfeminist precisely because it seeks to replace feminist politics with feminine stylistics, a project that rests on an obvious distaste for such traditional metaphysical concepts as rationality, objectivity, substance, and meaning. UnlikeJardine, however, Gallop still sees feminism as in some vague sense agonistic: her, feminism is still a quesfor tion of undoing and not simply a matter of celebrating the phallic power metonymies of eternal femininity.
and Postfeminism Enlightenment Thought
Present-dayfeminism is a historically specific movement, rooted in French Enlightenment thought (Mary Wollstonecraft) and in British liberalism John StuartMill), and consequently wedded, in deeply critical style, to notions of truth, justice, freedom, and equality. The Enlightenment we seek to dismantle in the name of our political values is preciselya major source of such values. On this point, at least, I am happy to register the support of that staunch defender of Enlightenment thought, Jacques Derrida. Speaking at the ICA in London in May 1985, he summarizes his own position as follows: We ... have to deconstruct, take the time to deconstruct to EnButwhen I saywe haveto deconstruct thing, I do a lightenment. not saywe areagainst or thatin anysituation willfightit, be on I it, the otherside. I thinkwe shouldbe on the side of Enlightenment withoutbeing too naive,and on some occasionsbe able to question its philosophy.13
13. Jacques Derrida, in conversation with Geoff Bennington, "On Colleges and Phi4 losophy," in ICA Documents und 5, ed. Lisa Appignanesi (London: ICA, 1985), 69.
But if Derrida is prepared to declare himself "on the side of Enlightenment," he will not do as much for feminism. In the same interview he declares:"I am not against feminism, but I am not simply for feminism."'4But who says that it is a matterof being "simply for feminism"? What I am objecting to here is the easy reduction of feminism to simplistic dogmatism: I don't know of a single feminist who, in a touching display of blind faith, is content with being "simply for feminism." This is neither deconstruction, nor postmodernism, but simply an enactment of traditionalliberalismwhich unfailinglypresents recognizable political positions as simplistic ideological dogmatisms, quite unable to face the complexities of the real, empirical world. Unlike Derrida here, as feminists we need to situateour deconstructive gestures in specific political contexts. And this means deliberatelyimposing certain kinds of closure on our own texts. After Derridawe know that no text is without some form of closure. Our texts will not thereforebe more metaphysour ical than others. On the contrary,the need to work through materialin order to increase our awarenessof our own limitationsand the necessity of defining certainlimits for our discourse recallsa properlyanalytical (as not simply a reenactment of metaphysical in psychoanalytical) stance, authority. If I am here alluding to a certain reading of Freudian psychoanalysis, it is precisely because such psychoanalysis to me represents an attempt at producing an emancipatory discourse which at once enacts and disruptsthe conventionalrules of Enlightenmentrationality. Alice Jardine's radical rejection of Enlightenment thought makes her look for a feminism which will allow us to "give up the quest for truth" (63). For the truth that women are oppressed? Or is truth here merely the old metaphysical bugbear, which all of us now, happily, agree to disclaim? And if this is so, what exactly does such a position achieve? As I have argued above, to take up a position-to claim the truth of one's own analysis-means deliberately running the risk of bethat is to say, we make ourselves more-not less-vulnerable ing wrong: by revealingour own hand in this way. The choice here is not primarily between open-ended deconstructiveor Lacaniandiscourses presenting themselves as feminine, unaggressive,and non- authoritative, the one on hand, and arrogantmetaphysicaltruth enactingmasculinistassumptions
14. Ibid., 71.
Postmoderism,and Style Feminism,
of power and submission, on the other, but rather between a sophisticated, but self-protective narcissism, on the one hand, and a sometimes blunt, but also more exposed and vulnerable discourse, on the other. My critique of postfeminism, then, is primarily that it avoids taking sides, and moreover, that given its abstract,ontological feminization of Otherness, it cannot do otherwise. In this way, postfeminism represents a particulardevelopment of one of the three conflicting discourses of feminism. In its eagerness to please the high priests of poststructuralism and postmodernism, postfeminism takes little or no account of other forms of feminism, and thus unwittingly enacts a scenario of exclusion and delimitation as rigorous as any Enlightenment taxonomy. My own view is that it is only by attempting the impossible wager of constructthe ing a materialist feminist theory that includes three feminisms outlined in this paper that we will manage to push feminist criticism and of theory past the political impasse postfeminism. It should be obvious now that such a project cannot succeed if it simply rejects postfemiby nism altogether.
GayatriSpivakand the Stylesof Feminism
The project outlined in this paper may be complex, but it is not entirely utopian. My own position has not developed in a vacuum: on the contrary, it is inspired and sustained by current debates in Britain, where much feminist work in such fields as cultural studies, film studies, history, and sociology draws at once on post-Althusserian Marxism, debates on the British Left concerning race, class, and gender, and recent developments in French theory. In literary criticism and/or theory I see myself as contributing to a project already launched in the outstanding work of such feminists as Juliet Mitchell,Jacqueline Rose, Rosalind Coward, Kate Belsey, Cora Kaplan, Terry Lovell, and Michele Barrett.15
15. See, for example, Michele Barrett,ed., Virginia and Women Writing Woolf: (London: The Women's Press, 1979); Catherine Belsey, Critical Practice (London: Methuen, 1980); Rosalind Coward, PatriarchalPrecedents:Sexuality and Social Relations (London: Sexuality Today Routledge, 1983), FemaleDesire:Women's (London: Paladin, 1984), and and with John Ellis, Language Materialism (London: Routledge, 1977); Cora Kaplan, Sea Culture and Feminism Fictions Changes: (London: Verso, 1986); Terry Lovell, Consuming
In the United States, the feminist essays of GayatriSpivak, now collected under the title In Other Worlds, may be read as an effort precisely to develop a materialist, anti-imperialistfeminism which draws on the insights of recent poststructuralistand postmodern theory.16The fact that this project is launched by an Indian woman working in the socalled FirstWorld is not a coincidence. Spivak'srecommended textual strategy, for instance, is to make different discourses "critically'interrupt' each other [in order to] bring each other to crisis."'7To my mind, such a strategy is not only a lesson drawn from the work of Jacques Derrida;it is also an enactment of the violent cash of discourses experienced by the subject in exile. As Spivak's texts show, the crisis that ensues can provoke quite exceptionally stimulating insights. But the conflict of discourses experienced in exile can also produce unbearable tension and even complete breakdown. Deliberately courting crisis, Spivak'stextual and theoretical project takes the risks of the tightrope walker without a net: it is miraculous that she so often not only lands on her feet, but that she does so with elegance and panache. Any reader of Spivak will be struck by the extraordinaryscope and ambition of her texts: here, for once, is a woman who is not content to leave "high theory" to the men, but who, on the contrary,clearlywants
and (London: Verso, 1987); Juliet Mitchell, Psychoanalysis Feminism(London: Allen in Lane, 1974); and Jacqueline Rose, Sexuality theFieldof Vision (London: Verso, 1986), and edited with Juliet Mitchell, Feminine Lacanand theEcoleFreudienne, Sexuality: Jacques (London: Macmillan, 1982). 16. I am not suggesting that GayatriSpivak is the only feminist in the United States to develop such a project. In 1985 Judith Newton and Deborah Rosenfelt, for instance, published a whole anthology devoted to the problems of a materialist feminism (Feminist Criticism SocialChange: Classand Racein Literature Culture and and Sex, [N.Y.: Methuen, 1985]). Their lucid introduction to that book provides a useful guide to some of the problems of such an undertaking. The early work of MaryJacobus (written while she was still living in Britain)also exemplifies a similar commitment (see her collection of essays, Reading Woman: Criticism Essaysin Feminist [N.Y.: Columbia University Press, 1986]). The collection of essays Feminism,Cultureand Politics,edited by Rosalind Brunt and Caroline Rowan (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1982), gives a good overview of socialist feminist cultural criticism in Britain, including Michele Barrett'sincisive discussion of the cultural politics of Judy Chicago's TheDinnerParty ("Feminism and the Definition of Cultural Politics," 37-58). In the area of social and and edited by Anne Phillips (who political theory, the recent reader Feminism Equality, works in Britain), contains essays by both American and British women (N.Y.: New York University Press, 1987), and Alison Jaggar's Feminist Politics HumanNatureis and written entirely from a socialist feminist standpoint. 17. GayatriChakravortySpivak, In OtherWorlds: Politics Essaysin Cultural (New York: Methuen, 1987), 241.
and Feminism,Postmodernism, Style
to takeit over for her own feministand anti-imperialist purposes.In a theoryof surplusvalue, typicalSpivakessay,for instance,the Marxist and feminist debateson reproduction the domesticmode of production, theories Indian critiquesof imperialist ideology,and poststructuralist of the colonialsubjectwill all be brought the concerning construction into conflictat the same time. The Spivak style,then, is not at all an effort to writein a vulnerableor unauthoritative way. On the contrary, and unambiguouspoher texts are packedwith trenchantstatements liticaland theoretical positions.Whatlends them theirunique flavour is the way in which she will stackslabsof discoursenext to each other A withwhatseems to be calculated inconsequentiality. dogmatictheois often left to standon its own, without for reticalstatement, instance, a of Thereis rarely sustained arguments." development any"supporting one singleidea at a time, and "hightheory"is impudently interrupted unrelatedpersonaland pedagogicalanecdotes. by apparently of a effort explodelineto Thereis in thesestrategies writing courageous desireto enactthe decentring the subject of a ar sequentiality,deliberate This its anditsdiscourses. styleis notwithout dangers: whenSpivak's crafty is it of But engineering crises successful, is uniquely illuminating. whenher one lateral goes into overdrive, is leftwitha textwhere thinking strikingly are a the connections so elusiveas to becomeprivate, textwhichmoves in and backwards an exhausting-andimpossible-effort say to sideways in At everythingone single,discursive operation. thesemoments,her text than lessas illuminating as obfuscating excessively and self-conemerges scious.Theseare the pointswhere,as a reader,I end up feelingintimidatedand overwhelmed such a deluge of decentreddiscourse. by But if the Spivak so stylehas its drawbacks, does everyotherform of textual Therecanneverbe onecorrect feminist thinkof the practice. style: contrast betweenthe elegantironyof a MaryEllmannand the weighty of In authority a Simonede Beauvoir. 1968,Ellmann's wittysend-upof sexistdouble-think and efficiently the pompous hucleverly exploited of mourlessness the staunch defenders patriarchy. 1949,on the othof In er hand,Simonede Beauvoir withall the authority the French of spoke tradition when she launchedher epochalattack patrion philosophical Sex.18 the time, her deliberate assumption At archy in TheSecond
18. Mary Ellmann, Thinking aboutWomen (N.Y.: Harcourt, 1968), and Simone de Beauvoir,LeDeuxieme sexe,2 vols. (Paris:Gallimard, 1949), translatedby H.M. Parshley Sex as TheSecond (N.Y.: Knopf, 1952).
of traditional discursive authority represented a massive invasion of previously patriarchaldiscursive terrain for subversive purposes. Her tone and style not only irked the patriarchs, who would cearly have liked to keep high philosophy to themselves, but also forced them to take her arguments seriously. Had Simone de Beauvoir written in the Sex style of, say, Colette, TheSecond would simply have been laughed out of court. Jane Gallop is right to claim that to take up a style is to take up a position, but she is wrong to recommend a single stylisticmove as uniquely feminist, just as she is wrong to assume that style can be analyzed without regard to contents and the specific historical space where it makes its intervention. I have already argued that to take up a political position is to risk being wrong. In the same way we may find ourselves lumbered with the wrong style in the wrong place. The risks of style are also the risks of political commitment.
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