Saturday, May 29, 2010
feminism revisited, um, again
I remembered where I was going with yesterday's post before it got hijacked by my little rant. (Can you hijack your own post? probably not. but anyway, read yesterday's post first.) With another day's perspective, I'm thinking maybe I should save this until we've gotten to the part of the semester where we're actually reading feminist and cultural studies stuff, so that I don't end up reacting to what I think they're saying instead of what they actually said. But here's the gist of it. I certainly don't disagree with either field (feminism or cultural studies). But I resent that they've marginalized (*borrows their terminology with a glare*) what I loved about the study of literature. I'm --of course-- more aware of this than the other students because the last time I was in the classroom, 25 years ago, we were still doing it the old way. The professor would assign us something to read, and we would read it. And then he/she would give us the historical, biographical, and critical ideas that he/she felt were relevant to understanding the text. And then we would talk about our reaction to it and how the historical / bio / critical ideas changed or didn't change what we thought. It was fascinating and wonderful and I loved it. There were problems with it, of course. You could start with what got assigned to read. It was late enough in the twentieth century that we were no longer just reading "dead white males" as they say, but we were still either reading the traditional canon or reading something different in reaction to it.
But apparently this is no longer allowed. Or if you do it, you have to be somewhat sheepish about it, acknowledging that you know you aren't doing it right. It seems that anything that you can come up with to say about how you want to discuss literature is going to get shot down as unacceptable. You want to talk about the historical contexts? New Critics say no. You want to talk about Pope and Dryden? feminists say that you're accepting patriarchal ideas about what is worth reading. You want to talk about what Hemingway meant in "Hills Like White Elephants"? well, there's any number of reasons you can't do that. So at the end of the day, if you're going to keep all these theorists happy, you're just going to sit and glare at each other and not talk about literature at all.
I do understand that if we don't question our assumptions, we end up supporting classist, racist, sexist, homophobic, commodity-frenzied ideas that we don't really mean to support. but good grief. the pendulum swing seems to have gone a little too far the other way.