Liberating Literature: Feminist Fiction in America

By Maria Lauret | Go to book overview
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The future of feminist fiction, or, is there a feminist aesthetic?

Feminist endings are open endings, and this book therefore cannot end on the dystopian note of its final chapter. I have sketched a trajectory for feminist fiction, which moves from feminist realism as a critique of existing gender relations to fictions of subjectivity, which chart a real process of change in American women’s lives over the past four decades. From there I have proceeded to discuss a Utopian realism envisioning a revolutionised feminist future and contrasted it with dystopian projections in women’s writing, which are at the same time nostalgic for a pre-feminist past.

Any such historical narrative is also inevitably an account of what is left out, what refuses to be forced into the categories that feminist critics like me set up to capture cultural and political practices. Yet these practices are, of course, continually in flux, subject to change and revision. So, neat as the story of Liberating Literature is, it obscures the fact that the values and representational strategies of Women’s Movement writing continue to flourish, especially in non-mainstream genres such as science fiction, fantasy, lesbian writing and crime fiction. The vitality of women’s political writing as a counter-hegemonic practice is, furthermore, evident in the recent proliferation of African-American and ethnic literatures in the United States (Chicana, Mexican American, Native American, Chinese American), which continue to interrogate white feminism and the universalist assumptions of Anglo-American culture generally. 1

Feminist fiction, like feminism itself, has diversified into a multiplicity of textual practices and political concerns to the point where, as a designation of an oppositional literary movement, it has probably outlived its usefulness. As a generic label, feminist fiction can conceal a multiplicity of sins, as I argued in the last chapter, or virtues, as I showed in the chapters preceding it. From a purely literary perspective (if there is such a thing), there is no reason to mourn the passing of an oppositional writing whose condition of possibility was that of an identifiable Women’s Movement and a masculinist literary culture. For, even if we can mourn the passing of that movement as a political loss, its achievements in transforming the social


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