Feminism and Postmodernism: An Uneasy Alliance
http://www.marxists.org/subject/women/authors/benhabib-seyla/uneasy-alliance.htm Source: Feminist Contentions. A Philosophical Exchange, Seyla Benhabib, Judith Butler, Drucilla Cornell, Nancy Fraser, with an introduction by Linda Nicholson. Published by Routledge., pp. 1-16.
1. The Feminist Alliance With Postmodernism
A decade ago a question haunted feminist theorists who had participated in the experiences of the New Left and who had come to feminism after an initial engagement with varieties of twentieth-century, Marxist theory: whether Marxism and feminism were reconcilable, or whether their alliance could end only in an “unhappy marriage”? Today with Marxist theory world-wide on the retreat, feminists are no longer preoccupied with saving their unhappy union. Instead it is a new alliance, or misalliance – depending on one’s perspective – that has proved more seductive. Viewed from within the intellectual and academic Culture of western capitalist democracies, feminism and postmodernism have emerged as two leading currents Of our time. They, have discovered their affinities in the struggle against the grand narratives of Western Enlightenment and modernity. Feminism and postmodernism are thus often mentioned as if their current union was a foregone conclusion., yet certain characterizations of postmodernism should make us rather ask “feminism or postmodernism?” At issue, of course, are not merely terminological quibbles. Both feminism and postmodernism are not merely, descriptive categories: they. are constitutive and evaluative terms, informing and helping define the very practices which they attempt to describe. As categories of the present, they project modes of thinking about the future and evaluating the past. Let us begin then by considering one of the recent more comprehensive characterizations of the “postmodern moment” provided by a feminist theorist. In her recent book, Thinking Fragments: Psychoanalysis, Feminism and Postmodernism in the Contemporary West, Jane Flax characterizes the postmodern position as subscription to the theses of the death of Man, of History and of Metaphysics. – The Death of Man. “Postmodernists wish to destroy,” she writes,” all essentialist conceptions of human being or nature.... In fact Man is a social, historical, or linguistic artifact, not a noumenal or transcendental Being.... Man is forever caught in the web of fictive meaning, in chains of signification, in which the subject is merely another position in language.” – The Death of History. “The idea that History exists for or is his Being is more than just another precondition and justification for the fiction of Man. This idea also supports and underlies the concept of Progress, which is itself such an important part of Man’s story.... Such an idea of Man and History privileges and presupposes the value of units’, homogeneity, totality, closure, and identity.” – The Death of Metaphysics. According to postmodernists, “Western metaphysics has been under the spell of the ‘metaphysics of presence’ at least since Plato.... For postmodernists this quest for the Real conceals most Western philosophers’ desire, which is to master the world once and for all by enclosing it within an illusory, but absolute system they, believe represents or corresponds to a unitary Being beyond history, particularity and change.... just as the Real is the ground of Truth, so too philosophy, as the privileged representative of the Real and interrogator of truth claims must play a ‘foundational’ role in all ‘positive knowledge’.” This clear and cogent characterization of the postmodernist position enables us to see why feminists find in this critique of the ideals of Western rationalism and the Enlightenment more than a congenial ally. Feminist versions of the three theses concerning the Death of Man, History, and Metaphysics can be articulated. – The feminist counterpoint to the postmodernist theme of...
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