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  • Introduction:Contemporary Feminist Philosophy in German
  • Gertrude Postl (bio)

Editing a Hypatia Special Issue of translated texts by feminist philosophers from German-speaking countries felt like a contradictory undertaking from the outset. In spite of my fondness for translation, I have been uncomfortable about pursuing a serious research project on the basis of linguistic identity and national borders. The concept of a language-based, national identity has been challenged from many sides. In times of globalization, multiculturalism, worldwide migration movements, and European unification, invocations of national homogeneity and unity seem to be not only anachronistic but politically more than questionable. To further increase the discomfort, feminists working in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland today—although writing in German—do not seem to place themselves within the context of a "German tradition" or limit their reference texts to their national heritage. Rather, their research is internationally oriented with no obvious preference for any particular, nationally based philosophical canon. The differences in topic, method, and style of the texts collected in the present volume will attest to the impossibility of finding—at least among feminist philosophers—something like a "German" mode of thinking and writing.

Nevertheless, there are very good reasons for publishing an issue on feminist philosophy in German. This particular area of feminist research, although booming and quite visible within the countries in question, is for the most part unknown on the Anglophone scene. My personal situation of living in ongoing transition between the United States and Europe made me realize the obvious: the topics, the names, and the titles regularly debated in Vienna were strikingly absent from any feminist discussion in the United States. Knowing many German and Austrian feminist philosophers personally and having read their work for many years produced a certain feeling of disappointment with the situation in the United States. Over the years, this initial disappointment became [End Page viii] one of increasing annoyance without any particular focus for my dissatisfaction. What are the reasons for this seemingly erratic, obscure misdirection in the exchange of ideas at an international level? Academic feminists themselves? Publishing houses? University curricula? Developments within a "male" tradition of philosophy? Intellectual fashions? It is obviously difficult to pinpoint any particular culprit. Maybe the inability to clearly identify one is itself part of the problem and attests to the fact that texts do have a life of their own.

Whatever the reasons, one thing is certain: the international or transcontinental traffic of texts does not flow freely in all directions. It moves along regulated, guarded, and most often one-way streets. While texts by French authors are easily available and widely read within the English-speaking world, the reception of works by feminists from other countries not only lags behind but even its absence often goes unnoticed (German-speaking countries are not alone in this respect—Scandinavian or Eastern European feminist theory, for example, is hardly known). This invisibility, however, is not repeated in the other direction: German-speaking feminists are thoroughly familiar with the Anglo-American debate, whether due to available translations1 or their ability to read English texts. As a result, while the Anglo-American discussion centers around itself (with the exception of a French intervention in selected areas), the rest of the Western feminist world has already incorporated this discussion into their various own contexts. This imbalance does not bode well for the demand for a global sisterhood, philosophical or otherwise, and it unnecessarily limits the debate to the very linguistic boundaries that feminists were the first to challenge. In short, a volume on feminist philosophy in German is long overdue.

Strangely enough, while the concept of national identity is currently under scrutiny as never before and has come under heavy attack, a closer look at the patterns of translation and the international movements of texts reveals and confirms the ongoing impact of national and linguistic barriers. This state of affairs is particularly worrisome for a field such as feminist philosophy for which the notion of difference—whether contested or embraced—is at the center of theoretical concerns. Along with the situation of women in general, one might say that acknowledging difference means making visible what so far has been...


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pp. viii-xvi
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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