Feminist Theory, Women's Writing

By Laurie A. Finke | Go to book overview

1 A Powerful Infidel Heteroglossia: Toward a Feminist Theory of Complexity

As a concept "woman" is too fragile to bear the weight of all the contents and meanings now ascribed to it.

--Rosalind Delmar

The real political task in a society such as ours is to criticize the working of institutions which appear to be both neutral and independent; to criticize them in such a manner that the political violence which has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight them.

--Michel Foucault

During the 1980s, feminist literary criticism was marked by an often contentious split between those pragmatically committed to the recovery of the woman writer and, with her, something usually called women's experience,1 and those concerned to explore the implications for feminism of postmodern theories that question the legitimacy of such constructs as the author and experience. This book explores feminist contributions to poststructuralist debates about language, texts, the status of the real, and the nature of political oppression and resistance; it locates both the "woman writer" and "feminist theory" within a series of cultural and historical matrices to reveal the complexities of these critical formulations. Finally, it offers a dialogical materialism through which to understand the ways in which traditionally marginalized women writers challenge notions of what constitutes the institutions of literature and criticism.

The increasing prominence of theory within feminism is evident from the sheer proliferation of hybrid labels during the 1980s: Marxist feminism, feminist reader-response criticism, feminist new historicism, and feminist psychoanalysis, to name just a few. This

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1
Elaine Showalter called this activity "gynocritics" ( 1981).

-1-

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