Feminist Amnesia: The Wake of Women's Liberation

By Jean Curthoys | Go to book overview

Introduction

The losing of wisdom

The most dreadful condemnation stray feminists have to fear here is dismissal with the last dinosaurs of the late sixties.

(Meaghan Morris)

Gentlemen of Athens, I got this name through nothing but a kind of wisdom. What kind? The kind which is perhaps peculiarly human, for it may be that I am really wise in that. And perhaps the men I just mentioned now are wise with a wisdom greater than human—either that or I cannot say what.

(Plato)

In the late 1960s and early 1970s the Women’s Liberation movement took over from the Black Power movement and adapted to its own needs a set of ideas about the psychological dynamics of oppression which, for want of a better name, I shall call ‘liberation theory’. Liberation theory was less concerned with the virtues of oppressed groups than were the subsequent radical theories which soon displaced it. Its focus was on the deforming effects of oppression, the most central of which were identified as the psychological dependence of oppressed people and their intense mutual antagonism, the characteristic ‘division of the oppressed’. This emphasis was partly due to the fact that the theory understood itself as a ‘critical theory’ where the point of explanation is more to change the world than to interpret (or to represent) it. 1 For the aim of liberation theory was to demonstrate the possibility of a psychological transformation, namely the transformation of the distortions due to oppression into the virtues of personal autonomy and loyalty to one’s fellow oppressed.

Liberation theory fused psychology with politics in so far as the conditions of the desired transformation were understood to be intimately bound up with the workings of power. Here, too, its stance was in sharp contrast with that of the theories which replaced it. 2 The effects of oppression, it was maintained, could not be eliminated from the psyche by way of the oppressed seeking power, although this was understood to be a likely, if not necessary, transient development. Ultimately a stand would have to be taken against

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Feminist Amnesia: The Wake of Women's Liberation
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgements xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Liberation Theory 13
  • 1 - The Psychology of Power 15
  • 2 - The Getting of Wisdom 30
  • Postscript to Part I 56
  • Part II - Dualisms and Confusions 59
  • Flashback 61
  • 3 - Feminist Theory as ‘power/Knowledge’ 68
  • 4 - Radical Pretensions 100
  • 5 - The Mystery of Speculative Feminist Deconstruction 109
  • Part III - Feminism, Deconstruction and the Divided Self 119
  • 6 - Deconstruction 121
  • 7 - A Different Divided Subject 138
  • Conclusion 157
  • Notes 161
  • Bibliography 188
  • Index 195
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