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Reading Ourselves

Notes for Day 3 of Critical Feminist Studies

 "Reading Ourselves"

I. Welcome everyone into the dinner party

with a few lines from Audre Lorde:

When you are hungry
learn to eat
whatever sustains you...
everything can be used...

---what feeds you in the classroom?
--what structures would enable you to feed the rest of us?
(not a dinner party: a potluck!)

go 'round, name selves and alternative metaphor for the classroom...
when a classroom is "working," what's it look/smell/taste/touch/sound like?

II. Introduce Nydia/her project of tracking alums' experiences in course

III. New folks: packets, review course details on-line;
can't stay after class, have csem in taylor...

IV. Everyone: collect $$ for packets
reading for Thursday: second essay in course pack,
by James Sosnoski,
about the professionalization of reading
everybody on-line? post responses Wed. night

V. Last Thursday, worked our way through 3Guineas;
those who were here review for those who were not
what was important? what was disturbing? what was useful?
"difference" feminism/the "outsiders' society"
(for "the daughters of educated men")

V. Shifting today from feminism writ large/feminist politics
to praxis of feminist writing/reading/criticizing/theorizing

My understanding of age-old theory/practice divide in feminist work is as a time-course issue,
as per Mike Tratner, "Anatomy of Cultural Studies," 11/02, who argued that it is not

"a mistake to conflate literary interpretation with doing politics....certain problems are not soluable over short periods of time, but involve deeper issues. Consider the distinction as one of short vs. long term. What has been valorized as political action is actually work on short term solutions for existing problems; what has been dismissed as interpretation might also (or better?) be understood as working on issues for which no short term solution presents itself."

Kind of reading/interpreting that Patrocinio Schweickart advocates:

"feminist criticism is a mode of praxis: the point is to change the world"

"literature acts on the world by acting on its readers...interpret world to change it"

(Social Justice weekend workshop: more experiential than theoretical... )

Born in Manila in 1942, Scheweickart received degrees in chemistry and chemical engineering from the University of the Philippines and the University of Virginia before switching to literature. Since receiving her Ph.D. in English in 1980, Schweickart taught Women's Studies and English at the University of New Hampshire, then Purdue. This essay first appeared in Gender and Reading: Essays on Readers, Texts and Context (1986), which she co-edited. In 2004 she co-edited Reading Sites: Social Difference and Reader Response.

What is Reader Response Theory (Ingrid, Tamarinda?)

  • meaning is not pre-determined
  • it comes into existence when a text is read & responded to
  • focus on the transaction readers make with texts,
    ways they actualize them in their own experience
  • meaning persistently revised as readers compare, collate their readings
  • searching for common patterns, recognizing when the patterns break down
  • how it works: Louise Rosenblatt's 1938 Literature as Exploration
    Jane Tompkins's 1980 anthology, Reader-Response Criticism
  • why it works depends on the encounter between the "crack," the heterogeneous personalities of readers
  • and the indeterminacy/ambiguity of language (=the space for making meaning).
  • Reader-Response under review: art, game, or science
  • Why Words Arise--and Wherefore: Literature and Literary Theory as Forms of Exploration (by A Dalke)


Jane Tompkins, BMC '61, "An Introduction to Reader-Response Criticism" (1980):
  • a poem cannot be understood apart from its results

  • meaning has no effective existence outside of its realization in the mind

So--let's run the test.

(inspired by Adrienne Rich's "Vesuvius @ Home": witnessing, visiting, "insect"-ing ED)

How do we read Emily Dickinson's "Wild Nights"?

Wild Nights--Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile--the Winds--
To a Heart in port--
Done with the Compass--
Done with the Chart!
Rowing in Eden

Ah, the Sea!
Might I but moor--Tonight--
In Thee!

--what's the story here?
--what's your theory about it?
--what's the difference between a story and a theory?
--how does/might it work as a response to Schweikart's claims?

  • why are sexist texts appealing? (liberatory desires roused, then harnessed)
  • therapeutic analysis: take control of your reactions, inclinations
  • feminist readings motivated by a need to "connect" (with community of readers)
  • feminist reading/writing --> produce a community
  • distinctively female model: Miller, Chodorow, Gilligan,
    re: women's flexible ego boundaries, defined by affiliations, relations
  • central issue: managing contradictory implications of
    desire for relationship and intimacy
    intimacy threat to integrity (vs. drive to get it right)

Discussion continues in the Course Forum Area....
go there and add your thoughts!