Negotiating Postmodernism and Feminisms
It was conservative, it was subversive politics, it was the return of tradition, it was the final revolt of tradition; it was the unmooring of patriarchy, it was the reassertion of patrairchy . . .
-- Anne Friedberg, Window Shopping
When Jean-François Lyotard defined the postmodern condition as a state of incredulity toward metanarratives, he helped set the stage for a series of ongoing debates about the various narrative systems by which human society orders and gives meaning, unity, and "universality" to its experience. Lyotard himself, in debate with the defender of the "unfinished project" of modernity, Jürgen Habermas, took on what he saw as the dominant metanarratives of legitimation and emancipation, arguing that postmodernity is characterized by no grand totalizing master narrative but by smaller and multiple narratives which do not seek (or obtain) any universalizing stabilization or legitimation (3-15). Fredric Jameson has pointed out that both Lyotard and Habermas are really, in fact, working from "master narrative" positions--one French and ( 1789) revolutionary in inspiration and the other Germanic and Hegelian; one valuing commitment, the other consensus ( Jameson, vii-xxi). 1 Richard Rorty, in turn, has offered a trenchant critique of both positions, ironically noting that what they share is an almost overblown sense of the role of philosophy today (181-97).
Overblown or not, this issue of the role and function of metanarratives in the discourses of knowledge is one that has demanded attention. Various forms of feminist theory and criticism have come at it from a particular angle: the metanarrative that has been their primary concern is obviously patriarchy, especially at its point of imbrication with other major master narratives of our day--capitalism, imperialism, and liberal humanism. In