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ANDREW LAKRITZ The Equalizer and the Essentializers, or Man-Handling Feminism on the Academic Literary Left All criticism should be professedly personal criticism.' —Ezra Pound In this essay I intend to describe a characteristic turn in the recent history of literary criticism, but implicit in the argument is the connection between the semi-autonomous sphere of academic literary criticism and developments in a wider sphere, that of popular culture. Examples in that wider culture abound: One could refer, for instance, to a series ofbooks and essays by Herb Goldberg, a popular psychologist in Los Angeles who writes about the need for men to receive equal attention to their emotional needs, the kind of attention that the women's movement has given to women and focused on women. According to Goldberg, "on the deepest archetypal kvel the feminist movement is partially fuekd by an intuitive sensing of the decay and demise of the male" (20).2 While this kind of male hysteria concerning feminism is hardly unique, what is truly alarming about it is the equation "feminism = death of the male." Feminist women, in Goldberg's metaphor, are the intuitive scavengers of contemporary culture, with cormorant noses keenly poised for the day old road-kill of masculinity. This equation gives the embattled old boys fuel for their fires. And in television and movies this same point is allegorized over and over again. For instance, in the baseball movie Field of Dreams the Arizona Quarterly Volume 46 Number 1, Spring 1990 Copyright © 1990 by Arizona Board of Regents issn 004-1610 78Andre«; Lakritz protagonist, with a name cannily similar to the novelist's and screen writer's own name, W P. Kinsella, goes on a baseball journey to exhume his dead father and play catch with him, an activity he now regrets having rejected during those "bad" days of the sixties. As with all kitsch, the smell of carrion is washed away in the blue light of the theater; we don't get the young man's father as he knew him—old, alcoholic, problematically human. Instead we get the father as young man, younger than his son even, with a gleam of hope and fresh prospect in his eyes. And this narrative would not be so remarkable were it not for the stories the press made of the event of this movie after its release: not a dry male eye in the house, so the stories went. This was a movie, apparently, at which men could begin to feel, could be vulnerable , could open up that side of themselves usually coded as feminine. The feminized male is born! But this figure was not born with this movie certainly. In an episode of "The Equalizer," a show about which I will have more to say later, McCaIl, the tough lone wolfwho, rejected by a massive, secret organization called the Company—the little guy fighting back against the monstrous monolith of modernity!—fights for the common man, conjures his dead father from the grave in a Manhattan nighttime bar. Again, the father returns not as elder man with whom McCaIl had had so many difficult father/son battles but rather as the younger man, all dressed up, like Kinsella senior, in uniform (French Foreign Legion) and presenting a youthful, erect, male optimism . In both narratives the sons get what they want—a revisionist view of the patriarchy so that they might have guidance in these dark, post-feminist days. I. THE ESSENTIALIZERS I chose to begin this essay (as well as end it) with these popular narratives because they seem to capture, for me, something of the rear guard action avant-garde academic literary criticism presents, particularly in relation to feminism. In the summer of 1987, Critical Inquiry published an article by Frank Lentricchia entitled "Patriarchy Against Itself—The Young Manhood of Wallace Stevems" (742-86). In that piece Lentricchia offers a new reading of an often read early modernist poem, "Sunday Morning," as well as a strong attack on Sandra Gilbert The Equalizer and the Essentializers79 and Susan Gubar's Madwoman in the Attic. Two more issues down the road Gilbert and Gubar published a response to Lentricchia's attack, to which...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 77-103
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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