Lit. Crit. (was: Re: More than you ever wanted to know (was Re: answers from Diana))

Philip.Belben at Philip.Belben at
Tue Jun 5 13:17:53 EDT 2001

Nat, quoting me:

>>At the risk of getting into a major argument here, though, I have little time
>>for this idea that it is necessary to study things from a "feminist" point of
>>view.  I have every sympathy for the cause of Women's Liberation,
>>but this idea that there must be "feminist" criticism, "feminist" this that
>>and the other, makes me want to sign up for Men's Lib at the next opportunity.
>>What happened to balanced viewpoints (even assuming that objectivity is
>>impossible)?  Sorry.  End of rant.


>>One important upshot of this is that no two people ever have exactly the same
>>internal definition of a word, since no two people have the same
>>experiences to relate to it.  It occurs to me only now that this may be one
>>reason why languages evolve...
> It seems to me you have answered your own objection to feminist
> criticism: Feminism requires a fracturing of the concept of Objective
> Truth, the idea that there is a Platonically balanced view (e.g. the
> views of Plato). This sort of relativism (which I wholeheartedly
> believe in myself) seems to me to be exactly what you are saying abut
> word definitions: instead of nailing down the commonalities and
> focusing on those, you note that we all have differences. One of

Yes and no.  But I am not a relativist.  Relativism is definitely not
objectively true! :-)

> those differences, at least as far as humans are concerned, is sex.
> The core of the movement seems to me to have consisted in pointing
> out assumed commonalities that aren't necessarily common across the
> gender divide (or in more recent scholarly developments, the
> gender-preference divide).
> Am I off base here? Tell me if I am...

So far so good.

> To me feminism breaks down when it insists that noting the divide
> between sexes is where discussion should end, setting up a new double
> monolithic truth-- men are from Mars, women from Venus and there are

This is something I've always associated more with male chauvinism than with
feminism.  It occurs in both, but in different forms.

Male chauvinism seems to say, "Man's viewpoint is the only valid one.  Women's
viewpoint can be ignored"

Feminism seems to say, "All traditional viewpoints are male.  We introduce a
female viewpoint."  They don't notice the sweeping generalisation of the first
half of this; nor do they give men the right of reply, since in their view all
that has been said from the traditional viewpoint _was_ the men's reply.
Finally, in the more extreme cases, they introduce their own chauvinism:
feminist viewpoint good, traditional viewpoint bad.

> If you read the comic CEREBUS, this is where I think
> Dave Sim lost it. He's focusing so much on that duality, he's lost
> the point of a lot of the other joys in life (his gay-bashing doesn't
> help). I still find him an amazing read in the same way I find 1984:
> I really have to work to find the holes in his arguments.

Sorry, never heard of Sim or Cerebus.

> And there IS Men's lib. All kinds of men's lib. Ever read Robert Bly?
> Ever listen to Fred Small? Personally, give me a morris team any
> day...

I never said, or implied, that there wasn't, although I've never met it in

> Whatever happened to balanced viewpoints? It seems to me one of the
> major intellectual developments of the last few decades is the idea
> that individual humans are incapable of truly balanced viewpoints...
> it doesn't mean we can't try, just that like avoiding ALL sin, it
> simply isn't possible. We all have subjective viewpoints, and we all
> have biases, and the best we can do is try and realize what they are,
> and get over whatever the most destructive of them are.

In a sense this brings me back to your point.  When I was asking for a balanced
view, I meant, Why do Feminists insist that everyone take a stance at one or
other end?  Why can we not try and form a view that sees the good in both sides?

I agree totally that we should try and take balanced viewpoints.  My experience
of feminism is that it tends to try and take an extreme viewpoint in order to
restore some nebulous overall balance.

JOdel also quoted me:

> << I have every sympathy for the cause of Women's Liberation, but this
> idea that there must be "feminist" criticism, "feminist" this that and
> the other, makes me want to sign up for Men's Lib at the next
> opportunity.  >>
> A natural and unsurprising reaction, and one which even knee-jerk feminists
> can sometimes sympathise with. But taking a close look at familiar works with
> the "gender-aware" lens engaged is also a valid exercise, even if it
> sometimes gets taken to excess.

I feel like shouting at this point, and I know there is no need.


I have no objection to gender awareness.  In fact I agree wholeheartedly that
gender-aware analysis, criticism or whatever is desirable.  But I do not agree
that the only valid gender awareness is feminist in outlook.

To take an example - I observed the other day that I was finding fewer
interesting female characters in books than interesting male ones.  I hope I was
being gender aware.  I was certainly not taking a feminist perspective.

Interestingly enough, I was re-reading Charles de Lint's The Little Country last
week.  This is one of the few books that don't suffer a dearth of interesting
female characters.  In fact, it was quite balanced.  But feminist?  Get away!

This is the sort of balance I am looking for in women's - and men's -
liberation.  Stop polarising our views and let's each aim somewhere in the
middle.  OK, we'll never get there exactly - and it would be pretty boring if we
even all agreed where the middle was - but don't aim for an extreme in order to
redress an overall balance.  It doesn't work - even if the sum of all views
becomes balanced, the individual views remain anything but.

And Jennifer Rowland:

> The reason that feminist criticism evolved in the first place, though, *was*
> to provide a balancing viewpoint- ie, the work that had been done up till
> then was, in their opinion, from a masculine point of view- masquerading as
> the One True Objective View. The canon of great authors that had been set up

I've been through this in response to Nat.

> was mostly DWEMs, and the people who were analysing them were also WEMs, and

Please expand the's abbreviations!  M is presumably Male.  W might be White.  D?
Dead?  E?  No idea...

> womens'/foreigners'/Others' literature was being defined as Not Great,
> because it did not meet the criteria found in the Great Works, and trying to
> look at the Great Works with different criteria in mind was not encouraged.

This is general, rather than male, chauvinism.  I hope we all agree that it was
not only wrong, but also stupid!

My objection was more to the manner of dealing with this than the philosophies
behind it.

> (I think one idea at the time was to read books as standalone icons, and not
> consider the mindset of the society that produced them).

I'm not going to reply to that, because it'll start me on a very off-topic

> NB- proceding is IMO, I have never studied literature.
> Feminist analysis has been very useful- it has brought out new things to
> look for in books and new ways to look for things. One good thing about
> postmodernism (which I normally think is just silly) is the idea that there
> is no fixed meaning to the text and no one right way to read it. Given that,


> I think having many different schools of analysis is a good thing, as each
> brings out different shades of meaning which can enrich one's own reading.
> (I don't know much about Marxist criticism, and I suspect "doctrinaire"
> Marxism applied to books- how is the class struggle evidenced in "The Time
> Of The Ghost"?- would not add much to my enjoyment- but the idea of looking
> at the class systems in books seems like a good enough idea.)

Nice, humorous example!  In that sense, yes, and I agree that having different
schools of analysis helps.  But my own interpretation of the postmodern is that
there should be NO schools of analysis.  I mean this in the sense that, while
each school adds to the picture that an enlightened reader can build up, to
those being taught in the school, as it were, the school is as restrictive as
ever.  Everyone should be taught school-independent analysis.

Looking at it another way, I would say that any analysis that is sufficiently
doctrinaire that it can be pigeonholed into a "school" - feminist, marxist,
authenticist [*], whatever - is unbalanced and therefore not good.

[*]  I don't know the -ist word for the Authenticity Movement.  It's more
related to performance and things than to analysis, but it could find its way
over - would this really have rhymed the way they spoke? for example - but it's
one of my pet gripes in Music at the moment.

Anyway, this debate looks like it's going to run and run...


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