Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Reconstructing Consciousness

Notes towards Day 11 of
Critical Feminist Studies

Reconstructing Consciousness,
Unsealing the "Clean room"

--with assistance from both
Paul Lauter, "Caste, Class and Canon,"
and Flora Shepherd, "Musing on the Limits of the Course..."

"feminist criticism...needs always be asking
how its project is changing the world,
reconstructing history as well as consciousness...."


is the grand old man of American literary criticism/canon renovation;
central to my own awakening/expansion (Heath Anthology...)

his central critique:
  • our standards of judgment are shaped by class
  • canon selection is related to the function of critical technique
the tradition of close analysis emerged from one set of values & screened out others
formalism was generated by a particular reactionary set of social and political values

the intellect displayed in stylistic brilliance displaces all other criteria
when the center of literary value becomes imaginative complexity, surface brilliance,
it legitimates certain form of textual analysis & reinforces structures of academic elitism
any criticism that makes the special language of critics & poets important is
a defense of special privilege

when the dominant procedure is explication of texts,
the form of teaching emphasizes a "specialized vocabulary" and "paralyzing erudition,"
which makes readers feel excluded from the enterprise
Lauter argues for an egalitarian alternative that
legitimizes and helps students develop their responses

In Lauter's hands, feminist criticism challenges assumptions about what is significant
decentering male texts, but also reexamining hierarchies of taste
in subject matter, genre, language, imagery
(not dissimilar from Methods of Cultural Studies)

applying principles and standards from one group to another will obscure what is created by others
for ex, working class art--highly traditional, suspicious of newness--
won't be appreciated in any traditional definition of art as a fine elaboration of complex language
critics as priests/explicators express a particular set of class values
representing diverse experience requires diverse cultural forms

An Axial Transformation:
seeking multiple axes of valuation

this course (like the discussed mestiza) is straddling many identities. It's online, it's new, it includes alums, its students have a variety of class years and academic backgrounds, it's an intro to feminist studies that does not require texts from the mainstream, historical feminist "cannon"... the hardest contradiction...for an "intro to critical feminist studies" in the English Department....I expect...the interdisciplinary mode of study of feminist issues ....BUT- will the curriculum committee sanction such an indiscretion in a specifically departmental course?...I find the potential limits of an English department categorization frustrating....find myself yearning for multiple disciplinary perspectives...I am a third generation artist who desperately does not want art sealed off on its theoretical pedestal/clean room.

Can/how/shall we (do we want to) do this...
"enacting life instead of studying sentient life"?

Let's begin by putting together some possible menus,
and selecting among them:

  • From Anne
    • initial offering: 19th/early 20th century writing by U.S. women
      (Margaret Fuller's The Great Lawsuit; Sojourner Truth's speeches; Rebecca Harding Davis's Life in the Iron Mills; Linda Brent's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland; Nella Larsen's Passing...)
    • late-breaking offer: "Age of Arousal" @ the Wilma, 12/13
      (and its source, George Gissing's The Odd Women?)
    • new possibilities arising from class discussion:
      • Jane Eyre --> Wide Sargasso Sea
      • Frankenstein --> Technolust
      • feminist film (Conceiving Ada, etc.)
      • feminist science fiction (Ursula Leguin, The Left Hand of Darkness; Joanna Russ, The Female Man; James Tiptree/Alice Sheldon, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever)
      • Native American texts (Ella DeLoria, Waterlily; Leslie Silko, Ceremony; Louise Erdrich, The Antelope Wife; Paul Gunn Allen, Spider Women's Granddaughters)
      • feminist poetry (Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich and descendents)
      • Intersex (Herculine Barbin, Orlando, Middlesex) and/or Transgender
      • in search of l'ecriture feminine (Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body,
        Marguerite Duras, The Lover)
      • Classic Theoretical Texts (Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex)
      • class (Alexandra Kollantai, "The Labour of Women in the Evolution of the Economy," "Sexual Relations and the Class Struggle," "Communism and the Family," etc; Charlotte Gilman, Woman and Economics; Dorothy Allison, Skin: Talking About Sex, Class and Literature)
      • politics of sexuality (Gail Rubin, "Sexual Traffic" and "Thinking Sex"; Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet; Judith Butler, "Against Proper Objects," and with Gail Rubin, "Sexual Traffic"; Diana Fuss. "Inside/Out"; Samuel Delany, "Aversion/Perversion/Diversion"; Jennie Livingston, Paris Is Burning; Judith Butler, "Gender is Burning"; bell hooks, "Is Paris Burning?")
      • Latina feminisms (Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, La Respuesta; Cherrie Moraga. "The Breakdown of the Bicultural Mind")
      • womanism (Alice Walker et. al.)
      • abortion rights (Linda McClain, "Equality, Oppression, and Abortion: Women Who Oppose Abortion Rights in the Name of Feminism"; Iris Young, "Pregnant Embodiment")
      • philosophy? political theory? art history?

Take the quiz to determine Which Western Feminist Icon You Are,
then go to the Course Forum Area and add your own menu items....

Where we had gotten by 1 a.m....

Jess: class went too far/went overboard? The Second Sex, Cixous-types

matos: Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea, Latina texts

EMaciolek: American Psycho Middlesex, femnist films, Cioux-esque

Jessy: non-fiction, recent theory, bel hooks, Cherrie Moraga, science fiction
(LeGuin, Butler, Orlando, Russ, Atwood)

Jessica: Beauvoir, Cixous, feminist lit & sexist lit (DH Lawrence?)

Anon: Emily Dickson, intersex

ndegeorge De Beauvoir. Va Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton, Brontes, Jane Austen

smigliori: Judith Butler, new and contemporary work

Ann: Deirdre McCloskey

llauher: sexuality, intersex/transgender: Stryker, Butler, Anzaldua

hslavitt: The Second Sex, Germaine Greer, Handmaid's Tale, Manifesta, Adrienne Rich, Vindication of the Rights of Women, Christine de Pizan, Austen novel

kwheeler08: Gilman's Herland, Larson's Passing, Judith Butler, Brison on Violence

Rhapsodica: Cixous-style, feminist canon (Jane Eyre), feminist poetry and art (Cindy Sherman, Linda Nochlin)

sarahcollins: more contemporary essays, gender as social construct, difference question, feminist poetry, Wide Sargasso Sea, Handmaid's Tale

where are we going @ 10 a.m.?
what are our needs and desires? themes & presumptions?
what is the best process for realizing them?

a proposal: using "the unsayable" as our guiding rubric--

“…difference has opened up and brought into view the energies of contradiction hidden inside the unsayability of what feminism has now given voice to. Once women begin to speak, we begin to differ with each other….literature is important for feminism…as the place where impasses can be kept and opened for examination, questions can be guarded and not forced into a premature validation of the available paradigms. Literature…is…a mode of cultural work, the work of giving-to-read those impossible contradictions that cannot yet be spoken. (Barbara Johnson: The Feminist Difference: Literature, Psychoanalysis, Race and Gender)

break into groups of four to design 13 more class sessions.
Come back in twenty minutes ready to describe the logic of your design....
Try to think on behalf of the group, not your individual self!

The Menus We Came Up With...
and the consensus we moved toward...