- Feminist Literacies 1968–75
The preface to Kathryn Flannery's Feminist Literacies 1968–75 contains a photograph of a flyer generated in a 1973 New York Women's Political Caucus workshop. The flyer's six statements are directives to the larger caucus that, if followed, might elicit participation in the caucus by a larger, more diverse group of women. I studied the flyer and Flannery's discourse analysis of it and thought, I could use this. Flannery's analysis is designed to help readers get or recover a sense of the importance of the context in which a text was produced, since it is her contention that "no text is [End Page 241] ever readable independent of a complex rhetorical matrix" (xi), some aspects of which may have been ephemeral. Flannery not only recovered some of the original context of the document, she also made me mindful of the context in which I was reading and my own desire to make the text mean something, be of use in that particular rhetorical context. By the end of the preface, I was hooked.
Feminist Literacies 1968–75 is organized into five chapters preceded by an introduction that presents information about the social context of the period under consideration. Flannery's method is to study the "material traces" (2) of the period's feminist literacy practices (now contained, for the most part, in an archive at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor) as feminist "literacy events," a concept the author attributes to Shirley Brice Heath. The method guides Flannery to an understanding of these events as liberatory, but also leads her to draw on bell hooks and Charlotte Bunch to speculate that this flurry of feminist literacy activity did not continue at the same rate after the mid-1970s because the feminist movement of the time had "a class blindness that takes literacy for granted" and saw literacy as "inevitably tainted" by patriarchy, thus leading to "an anti-intellectualism" (5–6) that would not catalyze a spread of liberatory literacy. In each of the five chapters that follow, Flannery examines the traces of kinds of feminist literacy events: feminist periodicals, polemic, poetry, performance work, and the "Do-It-Yourself Classroom."
Chapter One, "Going Public With Pandora's Box: Feminist Periodicals," focuses on how certain cultural occurrences catalyzed an increase in feminist reading, writing, and publishing. Flannery contends that "The failure of the radical underground press to take seriously women's issues was experienced as the betrayal of allies who should have known better" (27). This betrayal led feminist readers to become writer/editor/publishers. Often edited collectively, periodicals of the time are characterized by the author as "radically compensatory . . . a necessary antidote . . . counterinstitutions of central importance to the women's movement. They legitimated women's collective knowledge production" (50). This characterization effectively prepares us for the work of Flannery's second chapter, "Reclaiming Feminist Polemic." The author reminds us that although "polemic has been used as a term of opprobrium . . . it has also been used historically to signal a passionate commitment to a cause that generates assertions of truth" (65). As style, polemic is a set of culturally determined "discursive processes or movements that threaten the regularizing bounds of rhetoric" (65). That definition characterizes much of the poetry of the time, which Flannery discusses in chapter three, as well as the feminist performance work examined in chapter four.
The publication of so much poetry in so many different contexts by poets who were not members of the literary establishment was, Flannery observes, "itself pedagogical in the sense of modeling formal possibilities and opening up a public space for a kind of poetic expression that had not seemed possible before" (99). As a poet myself, I was interested in Flannery's conclusion that, rather than discovering new forms, poets were "recombining available elements" (102), searching for " . . .
Fit Form for the Matter" (103). This practice persisted in feminist performance as well, where creator/performers "experienced a lack of fit between the familiar cultural [End Page 242] materials, forms, and practices and women's...