Tips for "Working With Feminism"
From: Student, Perplexed
Sent: Fri 4/18/2003 9:29 PM
To: Sanders, Arnie
Subject: A few quick questions about the feminist paper
hi arnie- I wanted to ask these now before I get started on part one.
1) On your Feminist Terms page, you list the white background terms as general...are they like "categories" for the red and the other white background terms beneath them (like columns)?
2) And from the terms with the white backgrounds--this may be a question with an obvious answer, but are they the "flavors" of feminist criticism? Like, could I just write about "gender vs. sex" and then underneath write about the effects of it (identifying "masculine" women and "feminine" men)?
Or do you want something broader than that? I was thinking I could just summarize the terms Tyson lists that she thinks applies to most types of feminism, then do a paragraph describing one of the terms with a red background. I only need to cover one of those terms, right? Not like a sentence mentioning each of them?
I also know that the critical method and its' results that I describe in part one should be used in part two in my brief analysis of "Rappaccini's Daughter." I assume that's still the case?
-----------Arnie's Answers Follow------------
1) "More generalized feminist theoretical concepts have white backgrounds. Terms describing critical methods and discoveries they produce have red backgrounds." That's really the most I can say about table organization on that page--sorry! The vertical organization of the tables is very haphazard. Sometimes I was able to construct a relationship among terms in the same column, but usually the horizontal row is the one that has the most coherence. Don't presume that the verticals have to be addressed every time or you'll go absolutely nuts trying to explain relationships that don't exist. The main thing is that you don't want to just pick one grounding theoretical term (e.g., gender vs. sex) and think that accounts for the existence and practice of feminist theory! The theory is a cluster of related assumptions arising from certain scholars' works, and together they can be used to create a "critical method" that develops new insights about literature.
2) I found this one harder to understand, but I'll give it a whack. because I think you are at a "teachable moment " The "flavors" of feminist criticism in the bottom row of the Tyson table. The grounding theoretical terms, and generalized critical stances that arise from them, are in the white background, but your reading of Tyson, Byam and Fetterley should tell you that. You have to explain enough of the grounding theory to establish that you know what generally is true of any feminist approach to interpretation, and perhaps a bit more (if you want to do well!) to define the "flavor" of feminism that you will be attempting to practice in part 2. The method terms (in red) similarly have to be defined and explained (a "for instance" helps) in sufficient quantities and with sufficient coherence that I can tell what you will be doing as a feminist critic, even as the theoretical explanation has told me why and generally how you will do it.
Some of these terms are kind of hard to distinguish. In Tyson's discussion, she treats Fetterley's "resisting reader" as a theoretical position but doesn't fully develop how the reader resists. When we get to Fetterley's article, however, she gives us a full-blown "reading program" that says "when the text tells us to do this, don't do this, but rather do that and notice what new things you see." I'm asking people to consider doing feminism like Fetterley does it because she's building on Reader-Response methodology harnessed to feminist theoretical insights. I just thought it would be easier to make the transition from last week's assignment to this week's. However, I certainly would accept a "Working With" paper that was using feminism in one of its "Queer Theory" or "Marxist-Feminist" or "Lesbian-Feminist" or "Feminist Deconstructivist" approaches. The student who does any of those probably will have a slightly different "part one" from those who do "Reader-Response Feminism." As I see feminist criticism maturing, I encounter ingenious combinations of several approaches can be created when the text being analyzed offers appropriate data. So much depends on what you know you will find when you take your theory and method to revisit "Rappaccini's Daughter." Does that help?
If you want an extended model of the kind of rhetorical strategy I'm hoping to see "in miniature" in the WW papers, just look Mailloux's and Fetterly's introductory paragraphs. Their rhetorical strategy says, in effect, "here are my formative influences among theorists and practicing critics and this is what they say about how to do business and why to do it; and here are the kinds of critical methods they'd use because of the theoretical positions they have taken." That is a good model for introducing a theory-aware paper about a work of literature.
And yes, do apply the feminist theory and method you describe in part one to "Rappaccini's Daughter" in part two.
I'll "anonymize" this and put it on the web site for those who might have similar questions about how to "shop for a feminism that they can use." We're finally getting to the place in the course that I promised you all would reach, a point at which you will begin to see all the theories as potentially combinable in certain theoretically coherent ways (and not in others, of course!) that give the reader-analysts of literature enormous opportunities to show us new things even about old texts that previous eras' scholars have tromped over for decades and even centuries.