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Inheriting Identity and Practicing Transformation: The Time of Feminist Politics
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A human life unfolds over time. No moment of it can be considered apart from the others, independently of the fact that the human being was and will be, and so no moment is sufficient on its own to tell us of the nature of that identity. Each moment is insufficient as an expression of who we are, as an answer to the question of what we want to be, or as a point at which a full account of our identity could be given. And we live each moment as if afflicted by a dual blindness with regard to the past and future that lend it significance; while exercising pervasive influence in the present, this past and future are relatively inaccessible to our reflective insight. We are always “growing up,” so to speak, from out of a childhood that can never be the purely transparent object of reflection, to an adulthood or “accomplishment” of identity that is always in the mysterious future, unimaginable in the terms of the adolescence in which we find ourselves.

My purpose here is to show how this issue resonates in the context of feminist philosophy, feminist critique, and feminist practice—that is, how a consideration of time and its impact on human experience allows us to highlight the accomplishments of various avenues of feminist thought, to elaborate their shortcomings in relation to each other, to perceive the reasons behind the tensions among them, and to understand the way in which they are (and should be understood as) connected. I will work through the issue of what it means to live in the temporal dimensions of past, present, and future—what it means to inherit an already meaningful world, to be an individual in the present, and to be propelled into an uncertain future—so as to provide a general framework by which to interpret the history of feminist thought. I will explain these different temporal dimensions in terms of the (respective) ideas of cultivation, universality, and transformation, identifying the positive and negative significance of each and also the demand that the tensions among them be negotiated. Finally, I will show that feminist justice is in fact found here, as answerability to all three—to communities of cultivation, to the demands of universality, and to the inconclusiveness and transformability of human identity. While much feminist thinking has been committed to exploring these elements singly, in abstraction from the others, and while such work is important, it is also valuable to explicitly explore the relationships and tensions among these different aspects, to articulate how to act and think in light of this underlying conceptual context, and to do so in a more explicit and self-conscious way.

There is, of course, a disadvantage to not exploring these elements on their own terms: namely, that one handles their subtleties roughly. A further and related danger is that involved in trying to draw a broad picture of a tradition with complex and conflicting elements, one that does not count itself as a tradition at times—as a “we,” a feminism, or a feminist thought.1 While I will talk about “feminism” or “feminist thought,” I do not presume that these differences do not exist; my goal is simply to explore what is involved in an elaboration of a critical interpretation of society, when the society one critically interprets is an agent in one’s formation. The description of the dynamics of human becoming, agency, and critique I develop below has the purpose of showing that it is possible to understand differences between feminist positions as complementary, a process that will lead me to underemphasize stringent divisions and charged oppositions and to focus on drawing connections. Let us turn now to a preliminary description of the conceptual framework I seek to construct.

Feminism and Time

To advance feminist purposes is, one might presume, to hope for and work toward a new and transformed reality in the future. It would seem, however, that this reality cannot be clearly envisioned in the present, since that would require the transformation of the very people envisioning it. In a sense, the goal at which one aims can only be known in its achievement...

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