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Cynthia A. Freeland REVEALING GENDERED TEXTS I'll begin from the negative. In the past twenty years or so feminism has created some confusion in our personal lives and philosophical identities (if I may be allowed to posit such an internal split). When sex roles were clearly differentiated, men and women could develop appropriate skills and enjoy the resulting dramas of their intimate relationships . "Philosophy in Literature" classes had the luxury of an oldfashioned approach to literary texts that was pretty unabashedly aggressive : philosophy entered literature seeking satisfying solutions to predetermined philosophical questions. Literature helpfully responded by laying out answers in the form of examples and the imaginative working out of problems. Teachers of"Philosophy in Literature" classes assigned authors like Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, whose novels obligingly opened up to chapters on the meaning of life or the problem of evil— excisable bits that could be perused for the philosopher's analytic pleasure ("The Grand Inquisitor"). Role reassessment is an obvious first move now that the direct frontal approach to both texts and women has become déclassé. Feminist philosophers1 can seek direction, notjust response, from literary texts— perhaps especially from works by women. How should feminists assess a view of personal identity like Derek Parfit's; what might a feminist account of personal identity look like? Read Virginia Woolf's The Waves on vagaries of personal identity and human interconnectedness, or her Orlando, to consider what a narrative depiction of person-stages might look like. What roles do anatomical sex and socially constructed gender play in personal identity? Survey the rewirings/recombinings imagined in the science fiction of authors Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. LeGuin, Philosophy and Literature, © 1991, 15: 40-58 Cynthia A. Freeland41 Justin Leiber, orJoanna Russ. In what way might a woman's approach to a social issue like terrorism be distinctive? Robin Morgan cites the Brontë sisters, Mary Shelley, and other female gothic novelists in sketching her account ofthe role sexuality, male violence, and erotic attraction have played in the history of terrorism.2 What insights can feminists offer on problems of race, self-respect, and equality in relation to patriarchy ? Angela Davis describes how stereotypical marital/maternal roles of white middle-class women were extended to Black women in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, effectively stirring up abolitionist sentiments.3 The best of these feminist readings, like the best philosophical reflections on literature in general, grope for a certain mutuality as they uncover the philosophy "in" the literature.4 But even sophisticated and self-conscious philosophical readings, those committed to the pleasures of a genuinely shared endeavor, often exhibit naivete or coyness when it comes to gender. I would now like to show this by spinning a brief narrative history of philosophers on literature, one that stretches from the Stone Age of Male Chauvinism, through the Dawn of Feminism, to the present Era of Enlightenment. Aristotle's Poetics is one of the first attempts to bring philosophical notions—action, voluntariness, goodness, happiness—to bear on the study of literary texts. Not only the founder of literary theory, but also a primary architect of the western essentialist view of women's "defective " nature, Aristotle has become a favorite—and important—target of feminist criticism. Implications of his biological prejudices for his accounts of rationality, science, ethics, and politics have been explored.5 But since these views are relevant to his account of character and action in the Poetics, and since male chauvinism is visible as well in this work's comments about female characters, we can also ask whether sexism has infiltrated Aristotle's conception of that complex interrelation among the hero, his goodness, hamartia, and downfall which constitutes tragedy. Perhaps the ethico-literary category of tragedy as originally articulated by Aristotle is itselfan artifact of patriarchal culture. (The question goes beyond noting the culture-bound conceptions of sex roles that figure into analyses like Hegel's famous treatment of Antigone.) Ancient tragedies were composed and performed by men and probably figured in specifically male initiation rites.6 We may assume that tragedy is universal to the human condition simply because many great tragedies from the ancient world depict female characters. But Nicole...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 40-58
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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