Feminist Amnesia: The Wake of Women's Liberation

By Jean Curthoys | Go to book overview

3

Feminist theory as ‘power/knowledge’

The ‘two sciences’ thesis revisited

The history of Lysenko is finished. The history of the causes of Lysenkoism continues. One history is at an end. Is the other endless?

(Louis Althusser)

Liberation ideas did not completely disappear from feminist thought in the mid-1970s. Instead, they went underground. They are tacitly expressed in what is possibly the most popular theme in the feminism of ‘difference’, namely the criticism of binary oppositions, dichotomies, or dualisms as they are variously described. 1 The function of the underground presence of liberation ideas is to confer moral credibility on the later ideas which are, I shall show, more appropriate to an authoritarian exercise of power than to any confrontation with it. There is, then, an ambivalence about power behind the interest in this theme. While both sides of this ambivalence need to be shown, I shall begin by demonstrating the connections the theme of binary oppositions has with unjustified power for it is such connections which explain the repression of liberation ideas rather than vice versa. The continued presence of liberation theory and its direct oppositional stance will be demonstrated in the next chapter once the reason why it must remain covert has been established.

It is clear that the contradictory stance towards power must not become obvious if the ideas in question are to find acceptance. But it is not the oppositional stance which is concealed—rather, this is exaggerated. The critique of binary oppositions is presented as a radical way of thinking which is in opposition to the most entrenched power structures of Western civilisation. What is concealed, therefore, is the fact that this theme so readily lends itself to authoritarian uses that it can only be understood as a function of an aspiration for power. In arguing this I will, then, necessarily be exposing some of the conceptual slides and built-in incoherencies which are the means of its concealment. I will be revealing the ‘surrationalist’ character of this kind of feminist thinking. (To remind the reader: ‘surrational’ is a term I borrowed from David Joravsky, who defined it as ‘a show of rational discourse, camouflaging a basic refusal to meet the tests of genuine reason’ (see Introduction: p. 10).)

-68-

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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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