Embattled and belittled, demonized and deemed passé, feminism today seems becalmed without being calm. This is as true in literary criticism as elsewhere in the culture--yet it is in literary criticism that these essays locate the renewed promises, possibilities, and applications of feminist thought. In fresh readings of a wide array of texts--legal, literary, cinematic, philosophical, and psychoanalytical--renowned literary theorist Barbara Johnson demonstrates that the conflicts and uncertainties that beset feminism are signs not of a dead end, but of a creative turning-point.
Employing surprising juxtapositions, The Feminist Difference looks at fiction by black writers from a feminist/psychoanalytic perspective; at poetry from Phillis Wheatley to Baudelaire and Marceline Desbordes-Valmore; and at feminism and law, particularly in the work of Patricia Williams and the late Mary Joe Frug. Toni Morrison and Sigmund Freud, John Keats and Jane Campion, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Nella Larson and Heinz Kohut are among the many occasions for Johnson's rich, stimulating, unfailingly close reading of moments at which feminism seems to founder in its own contradictions--moments that re-emerge here as sources of a revitalized critical awareness.
In the final analysis, Johnson argues, literature is essential for feminism because it is the place where impasses can be kept and opened for examination, where questions can be guarded and not forced into a premature validation of the available paradigms. In her book literature appears not as a predetermined set of works but as a mode of cultural work, the work of making readable those impossible and necessary things that cannot yet be spoken.
The Feminist Differenceis testimony that the dialogues between difference feminists and psychoanalysis is ongoing and vigorous. In this marvelous collection of essays, Johnson...demonstrates that the interrogation of difference is crucial to dialogue. Moreover, the difference/equality binary is exposed as a device for forestalling dialogue. For Johnson, difference is not a symptom but the very soul of feminism. She reads the contradictions, ambivalences, and impasses within feminism as indications of a revitalizing transformative process...[Her] exquisite meditations on literature, psychoanalysis, race, and gender offer compelling evidence that literary discourse is not merely theoretical nor indifferent to social and cultural inequalities. Literature is the place where the impasses of feminist theory and thought can be guarded from the anxieties that lead to theraputic closure.
The Feminist Difference contains first-rate essays on the Romantic poet Marceline Desbordes-Valmore and on female muteness as a poetic ideal; Johnson raises good questions, too, on Petrarch and the Petrarchan tradition.
[These] ten essays make fascinating bedfellows of Toni Morrison, Sigmund Freud, John Keats and Jane Campion, Rene Descartes and Patricia Williams, each demonstrating and interrogating how differences across texts, histories, and cultures enable critical reading of 'more than one story at a time.'
This acute and brilliant interrogation of feminism, race, and psychoanalysis turns each term back upon the other, producing illuminations that are, in their own way, quietly spectacular. Insisting on the productive moments of ambivalence and perplexity within the field, she single-handedly expands our capacity for critical thinking in directions we did not know we could move.
The place where other theories of difference end is the point where Barbara Johnson's work typically begins. While most cultural commentaries tend either to censor or to celebrate the fact of difference, this brilliant new book takes difference itself as the enabling contradiction of feminism. One of the most original and influential thinkers in the academy today, Johnson suggests that it is time to stop simply discovering difference and time to start rigorously analyzing it.
The Feminist Difference is an exhilarating, energizing experience which moves like a complex, and melodic musical composition. I was so caught up in the fun of it, the accessibility of it, that I barely realized its feat. Barbara Johnson's intellect is like water on a mountain--changing the shape of rock, subtly, patiently, persistently, inevitably, giving us alternate routes. She shifts around dynamics of power and representation, looking at them from underneath and from all sides, reorganizing the pieces into an unforgettable and new image. It would be impossible for me to understand contemporary race-gender identity issues in art and life without her help. She sits in the corners and the shadows of what sometimes seems overbearing, entrenched, monumental, with her vigilant sense of humor and light. She brings visibility to so much of what we don't see, even when we are in the business of enlarging the population of who is seeing and being seen.
From Baudelaire to Beloved, from Freud to de Beauvoir, there is no more deft reader than Barbara Johnson, with her resonant insight, observant ear, and her linguist's taste for the complexities of the chosen word. This brilliant book is a work of art and grammatical intrigue, of translation and diplomacy.
- 224 pages
- 5-1/16 x 7-15/16 inches
- Harvard University Press
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