The Emperor Redressed: Critiquing Critical Theory

By Dwight Eddins | Go to book overview

THE AGONY OF FEMINISM
Why Feminist Theory Is Necessary After All

NINA BAYM

NEW HISTORICISTS BELIEVE that everything is complicit with everything else; history is what had to happen. Old historicists like me believe that history is what didn't have to happen--but it did. Even an old historicist, however, should not have imagined that feminist criticism might escape the sweeping attack launched on traditional academic literary criticism by theory. Yet some of us doing feminist criticism in the 1970s did just that. We thought that since feminist criticism was already critical of traditional literary criticism, it would be exempted from theory's general dismissal of criticism as parochial, naive, and primitive. We also supposed that a specifically feminist theory would support rather than dismiss our work.

Alas. High theory in general paid little attention to feminist criticism, leaving the job to feminist theory, which did not address the false universalism, misogyny and gender asymmetry of mainstream literary criticism so much as it anatomized the shortcomings of a specifically feminist criticism. Feminist theory applied theory's general contempt for criticism to feminist criticism in particular: it was naive, parochial, primitive. Jane Gallop, belatedly reading the 1972 critical anthology Images of Women in Fiction, registers surprise at finding it "much more diverse, sophisticated, complex, and interesting than I had imagined." She continues, "Usually cited as the first phase of feminist literary study, considerations of Images of Women in literature are generally treated as juvenilia, of archival value at best," representations of what though perhaps a heroic time, was also a "simpler time, when we were bold but crude" (79).

To be sure, feminist theory might have been interpreted sympathetically as a well-meant albeit patronizing attempt to refashion feminist criticism for the increasingly high-toned ambiance of English, French, and comparative literature departments. But empirical feminist literary critics like myself were more distressed by the put-down than grateful for the help. Feminist theory's main point--that no coherent definition of that crucial feminist term "woman" underlay our diverse undertakings--was undoubtedly correct. But feminist theory's

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The Emperor Redressed: Critiquing Critical Theory
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction 1
  • What is a Humanistic Criticism? 13
  • Notes 38
  • The End Of The Poststructuralist Era 45
  • The Current Polarization Of Literary Studies 62
  • Notes 77
  • Time and the Intelligentsia - A Patchwork in Nine Parts, with Loopholes 81
  • Notes 99
  • The Agony of Feminism - Why Feminist Theory is Necessary After All 101
  • Works Cited 116
  • Confessions of a Reluctant Critic Or, the Resistance to Literature 118
  • Deconstruction After the Fall 132
  • Notes 147
  • The Poetic Fallacy 150
  • Works Cited 165
  • Literary Theory And Its Discontents 166
  • Notes 198
  • Panel Discussion 199
  • Contributors 221
  • Index 223
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