Arms and the Woman: War, Gender, and Literary Representation

By Helen M. Cooper; Adrienne Auslander Munich et al. | Go to book overview

the feminine in nurturing the imagination of the new or the otherwise. In the convergence of feminism, individualism, and survivalism I have traced in the domestic imagery and rhetoric of the nuclear peril, we can see that it is both the strength and limitation of feminism to bear this reproductive role. While feminism might engender and implement different forms of the self, these, too, become conventions of the individualistic narrative. It may be the particular plight--and potential--of feminism in our time to disenfranchise the individual from the traditions of self-perpetuity.

The arsenals of self-erasure and self-projection by which the self persists protect the logic of sequence, which is the logic both sides of the nuclear debate--all of us in the nuclear predicament--share. The durability of this procedure of self-ratification should alert us to the unreassuring familiarity bred so far by deployments of disappearance and deferral. As long as our concerns about nuclear holocaust maintain the logic of sequence, they retain this scenario of the wagered self. Thinking about the nuclear poses (as it exposes) a crucial difficulty for feminism: how to disjoin women from the domestic narrative and yet prevent a reprise of their disappearance from general view. The difficulty in which feminism is placed, the predicament which we all face, implies that perhaps we should be less concerned with what the nuclear annihilates than with what nuclear rhetoric reproduces. What makes the rehearsals of sequence in chain letters so threatening, finally, is not the dangers of breaking the chain but the spectre of rampant self-proliferation.


Notes

Portions of this essay appeared in the Yale Journal of Criticism (Fall 1988).

1.
My thinking on nuclear catastrophe and individualism is much indebted to the invaluable essay by Ferguson, The Nuclear Sublime. I have also benefited from discussions with Miriam Hansen, Howard Horwitz, George Levine, and, especially, Barbara Freeman, with whom this work began when we cochaired an MLA special session on feminist nuclear criticism in 1986.
2.
Syracuse Cultural Workers Project, The Ribbon--August 1985.
3.
Schell, The Fate of the Earth, 182-84.
4.
Dyson, Weapons and Hope. I take the phrase "smothered by invention" from the title of the feminist anthology of essays Smothered by Invention: Technology in Women's Life, edited by Wendy Faulkner and Eric Arnold .

-299-

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