- Literature and the Development of Feminist Theory ed. by Robin Truth Goodman
In Literature and the Development of Feminist Theory, editor Robin Truth Goodman attempts to bring together a wide range of scholars who collectively illustrate that “novels, poems, memoirs, and other fictive and non-fictive literary practices can be said to complete what is incomplete in theoretical critique and argument in feminism” (2). This collection of essays accounts for an extensive history of feminist literature and hinges on the claim that “feminist theory needs literature, and feminist literature gives rise to feminist theory” (3; original emphasis). Basically, we cannot have a full knowledge or understanding of feminist thought without looking to the literary. The contributing critics are writing in response to a more general attack on the value and worth of the humanities in a climate that privileges obtaining degrees in math, engineering, and the sciences. They aim to show that it is through literature that a call for change can happen because it is through literature that alternate worlds may be imagined. In her introduction, Goodman calls the collection an example of “feminism’s cosmopolitanism” and that “the essays participate in the feminist project of building an intergenerational and intercontextual field of influence, a type of lineage where a historical moment borrows, inserts, reflects on, cites, and manipulates the ideas that brought it into being” (7). The pieces move chronologically, beginning with Mary Wollstonecraft then moving onto Jane Eyre, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, the works of Charlotte Gilman Perkins, Olive Schreiner, Virginia Woolf and eventually move out of the English and American traditions of novel and poetic writing to include world theatre, theory, and film in work from Cherrie Moraga, Nawal el Saadwai, Assia Djebar, amongst others.
The volume begins with Laura Kirkley’s essay on “original spirit” and creative translation in Wollstonecraft’s work and other eighteenth-century texts with female translators. Wollstonecraft as a translator aligns herself closely with the male author of the work she translates, which subverts the notion of translator as inferior to the author. Through multiple examples [End Page 569] of Wollstonecraft’s oeuvre, Kirkley attempts to show that Wollstonecraft is actively rewriting [often patriarchal] source texts and “significantly alter[ing] their ideological freight” through her engagement with them (14). In the process of translation, she makes the work her own. Kirkley argues that “from her early translations to her final unfinished novel [Maria], Wollstonecraft’s writing practice is translational” (25). Even though Wollstonecraft continually draws from a multitude of different texts, she very consciously “resists their putative authority, appropriating and transforming material in the service of her feminine agenda” (25). Translation is not an act of subservience, but rather, the effort to critically engage and invite a conversation.
The turn to modernist feminist poetics in Linda A. Kinnahan’s essay theorizes and examines the importance of poetic language. Her definition of “feminist poetics” utilizes strictly active, almost aggressive, language: exploding, re-signifying, breaking, challenging. She states “what we can now term feminist poetics has existed at least since Sappho, whose fragments of lyric expression powerfully express bodily desire and emotional passion with a woman-identified voice” (55). Kinnahan’s explores the emergence of First-Wave Feminism in the early twentieth century, showing its distinct break from the “Woman Movement” as its own “more radical set of demands” that sought to reinscribe dominant gender ideology and specifically, for Kinnahan, poems not only “perform and activate feminist” but they also “produce theory” by their very “formal, structural, and linguistic architectures” (55). I think she illustrates this best through her analysis of Gertrude Stein’s language in her prose-poems, which “defies rules of logic and grammar and rearranges words from their customary functions, foregrounding the role of language in shaping perceptions of feminized spaces and heterofeminized identity” (57). In doing so, Stein dismantles the meaning of the referent and both challenges and requests that the reader see language just as “material” as other artistic pieces, like painting, and look towards the context of the work as such...