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DIANA FUSS Getting Into History The problem may be not how to get into history, but how to get out of it. —Hayden White, "Getting Out of History" hile historians like Hayden White have busily been trying to get out of history, feminist literary critics have been just as energetically trying to get into it.1 Since women as historical subjects are rarely included in "History" to begin with, the strong feminist interest in forging a new historicity that moves across and against "his story" is not surprising. What is more surprising perhaps is the particular form these new feminist approaches to historicism are taking: feminism enacts its engagement with history through a fetishistic fascination with its own historical roots both as a theory and as a practice. But this may be precisely the problem: histories offeminist theory have come to stand in for more rigorous feminist theories ofhistory. Feminism's vexed relation to historicism is not so much alleviated as exacerbated by these recent attempts to deal with the category of history by tracing feminism's own genealogical roots. The exercise is not a pointless one (far from it) ; it is simply insufficient to answer the still serious charges of "ahistoricism" that seem to plague feminist theorists at every turn, even and especially those self-professed materialist literary critics who have made the most impassioned and most persuasive pleas for a historicist feminism. Toril Moi's Sexuaí/Textuaí Politics: Feminist Literary Theory (1985) is arguably the first systematic investigation offeminist literary criticism's theoretical presuppositions, and it has already received the serious and sustained attention such innovative critical work deserves.2 My interest Arizona Quarterly Volume 45 Number 4, Winter 1989 Copyright © 1989 by Arizona Board of Regents issn 004-1610 96Diana Fuss in this early survey is motivated less by the book's central discussion of French "theoreticism" versus American "empiricism" and more by Moi's own somewhat oblique endorsement of literary "historicism." Sexual /Textual Politics offers materialist historicism as a corrective and a counterbalance to a metaphysical essentialism which Moi believes compromises , and ultimately depoliticizes, the work of many of America's best known and most widely read feminist literary critics (Elaine Showalter , Annette Kolodny, Sandra Gilbert, Susan Gubar). This lucidly written and eminently readable book makes some valuable points on the subject of feminism's relation to historicism, not the least among them the useful distinction between "the historical" and "historicism." Luce Irigaray's Speculum de l'autre femme, for example, follows a certain historical continuum (an inverse trajectory from Freud to Plato) but stops short of practicing a more radical historicism by persistently refusing to engage with the particular modalities ofpatriarchal logic and the changing specificities of phallocentric economies that would prevent any simple conflation of classical and contemporary discourses. It is not that a text like Irigaray's Speculum is unhistorical, Moi believes; it is simply that this kind of work "signally fails to study the historically changing impact of patriarchal discourses on women" (148). Moreover, history without historicism precludes the recognition that "all forms of radical thought inevitably remain mortgaged to the very historical categories they seek to transcend" (88). A more ambitious understanding of historiography is needed in order to resist the steady pull toward a sedimentation of women into Woman, an understanding that can only be secured through a more direct interfacing with materialist thought. It is difficult not to wonder, along with Moi, why feminist literary critics have been reluctant to take up the work of materialist theorists (Moi names Gramsci, Benjamin, and Adorno, to which I would add Althusser, White, Jameson, Hindess, and Hirst)—a resistance all the more curious in light of the careful, usually rigorous, and often exhaustive attention paid to their psychoanalytic and deconstructionist colleagues (Derrida, Freud, Lacan). But Moi's compact and precise argument against essentialism and for historicism is not, in fact, free of the very pitfalls she detects in the "patriarchal humanism" of Anglo-American critics. Moi uncovers traces of essentialist thinking in every Anglo-American feminist critic she addresses, wedding the category irreducibly to a certain nationalist Getting Into History97 identity and coming dangerously close in the process to positing a naturalized...


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