Crossing the Double-Cross: The Practice of Feminist Criticism

Crossing the Double-Cross: The Practice of Feminist Criticism

Crossing the Double-Cross: The Practice of Feminist Criticism

Crossing the Double-Cross: The Practice of Feminist Criticism


Exploring the controversial question of feminist criticism's relationship to recent critical theory, Elizabeth Meese resists the impulse to encompass women's diverse experiences within a single theory. Instead, she attempts to make American critical theory more radically political and American feminist criticism more self-consciously polyvocal and de-centering.

Meese reads writers of the past--Mary Wilkins Freeman, Kate Chopin, and Zora Neale Hurston--in relation to writers of the present--Marilynne Robinson, Tillie Olsen, Margaret Atwood, and Alice Walker. Demonstrating how theory grounds itself in reading practice, just as the demands of the practice reveal the structuring force of theory, this book can be read as dialogues with critical theorists and practitioners, among them Virginia Woolf, Stanley Fish, Jacques Derrida, and Terry Eagleton.

Meese affirms a feminist tradition of defiance, suggesting ways in which women's deconstructive strategies of the past are applicable today as feminists continue to transgress the boundaries of gender, race, and class by crossing the double-cross of difference.


The chapters of this book have been written during a period of turmoil and excitement in both critical theory and feminist scholarship. The book charts a journey that, perhaps more than anything else, maps a difference within. This development shows itself plainly in the distance between the first chapter, "Sexual Politics and Critical Judgment," which reviews the problem of the feminist critic and writer within literary criticism, and later ones, "Crossing the Double-Cross: The Concept of 'Difference' and Feminist Literary Criticism" and "In/Conclusion: Feminism and Critical Theory," which explore the question of a direction for the feminist project in relation to contemporary critical theory. While we expect books, like journeys, to begin and to end, this text refuses to realize its own conclusion.

Feminist criticism can be represented in the figure standing at an intersection grown complex because the paths through the territory and the obstacles on the way have been more clearly specified. The critical wilderness of Geoffrey Hartman is already civilized and homo-geneous, without the entangling snares of different voices, whereas feminist criticism's wild complexity supplements Virginia Woolf's imprisonment as the daughter of an educated man with Audre Lorde's prisons of racial oppression, Adrienne Rich's jungle of heterosexism, and Tillie Olsen's silenced ghettos of the poor. This book, therefore, refuses to compress the problematics of feminist criticism into a single theory, not because these kinds of arguments cannot be or are not being made, but out of the belief that such constructions prematurely delimit the possibilities of our intellectual and social projects. At present, the variety of women's experiences that would have to be comprehended in a single theory cannot be reduced to simplicity without encoding in that theory the terms of its own undoing. Indeed, these mistakes of identity, where a part is taken for the whole, have been the problem with much feminist theorizing to date.

I begin here in indecision because I cannot reconcile the terms, the differences within myself, feminist criticism, and critical theory. My text makes only tentative explorations of the territory, forays out and back, displaying in that process--without doubt unwittingly--my complicity as a white academic feminist. I have no reason to believe that what I do here does not also ask for its own undoing, especially since, in the act of writing, I totalize feminist criticism and critical theory. In fact, if what I say is true, what I say is not true. Because of the arbitrary inevitability of who I am, I share the sense of value Spivak finds in deconstruction: "The aspect that interests me most is . . . the . . .

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