Feminist Theory, Women's Writing

By Laurie A. Finke | Go to book overview

5 Theories of Value and the Dialogics of Culture

To describe what you mean by a cultural taste you have to describe a culture. What belongs to a language game is a whole culture.

--L. Wittgenstein

Wollstonecraft's rejection of the cultural and religious authority of Paradise Lost returns me to the questions with which I began in Chapter 1 about the complex mechanisms by which societies historically reproduce and refashion themselves and their structures of authority. All the texts I have examined in the previous chapters have, at one time or another, been excluded from the "canons" of literature, religion, and philosophy; they have been devalued as cultural noise, as information that has not been a part of the "messages" about our culture "we" wish to preserve. In this final chapter, I would like to examine the processes by which cultures distinguish between those kinds of knowledge that are valued and those that are excluded as irrelevant noise, looking at the largely invisible network of social relations and institutions that create and deploy cultural value. These processes, I argue, are not static and unchanging but dynamic and shifting.

I would like to begin to describe these dynamics with an allegory of enculturation and resistance drawn from one of my own classes. A few years ago, two students (both women) in my Introduction to Shakespeare class chose to write final papers on a subject that had been of concern to them throughout the term--Shakespeare's representations of gender and sexuality. After "sophisticated and insightful" analyses that demonstrated they had internalized the appropriate critical discourse (mine), both students arrived at strikingly negative conclusions about their responses to Shakespeare's plays. The first student wrote:

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