Feminism, the Public and the Private

By Joan B. Landes | Go to book overview

a model for those feminisms that seek to put 'woman' into question rather than take that figure to signify an identity that is always already known. By theorizing an action in concert that is riven by differences (both within and among the agents of action), Arendt invites us to think of concerted action as a practice of (re-)founding, augmentation, and amendment that involves us in relations not only 'with but also always simultaneously 'against' others. In short, once we stop thinking of agonism and associationism as mutually exclusive alternatives, we are empowered to develop, 'with Arendt against Arendt' an (augmented and amended) vision of agonistic, feminist political action that is well positioned to engage rather than simply redeploy the dominant sex/gender binaries that feminists have always sought to decentre, resist, or transcend.61


Notes
1.
Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewish Woman, rev. edn., trans. Richard and Clara Winston ( New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974), p. xviii.
2.
The most hostile charges are in Adrienne Rich On Lies, Secrets and Silence: Selected Prose, 1966-1978 ( New York: Norton, 1979) and Mary O'Brien The Politics of Reproduction ( Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981). I discuss Rich's charges briefly below, and take up the issues surrounding feminist rejections of agonism in the final section of this essay.
3.
The Human Condition ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 155, 200; hereafter cited as HC.
4.
On Revolution ( New York: Penguin Books, 1963), 130; hereafter cited as OR.
5.
Henceforth, I allow J. L. Austin's terms 'performative' and 'constative' to play an integral role in my reading of Arendt. As I have argued elsewhere, Austin's distinction usefully and aptly adumbrates arguments that Arendt herself makes about the illicit tension between two moments in the founding document: the 'we hold' versus the 'self-evident truths'. That tension, which is ultimately ineliminable (in spite of Arendt's effort to resolve it in favour of the performative 'we hold') makes it impossible for institutions to legitimate themselves 'all the way down'. Arendt effectively affirms that impossibility when she responds to it by brilliantly theorizing authority as a nonfoundational, political practice of augmentation and amendment. I argue here that that practice also covers the engagements and interruptions of identity that I identify with an agonistic feminism.

My use of Austin's distinction is not, as Seyla Benhabib argues, an attempt to use a 'linguistic' distinction to settle the problem of

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