Today I read a fascinating post on HASTAC about Clare Hemmings’ new book, Why Stories Matter: The Political Grammar of Feminist Theory by Amanda Phillips. The fact that my less than 5 minutes spent reading her post got me to think about a major problem in my book highlights why Twitter matters. It is highly unlikely that a mid career East Coast prof would run across a graduate student at UCSB (although I attended my first year of college at UCSB).
A recap, Hemmings offers a sweeping look at the writings about feminism in key journals over the past four decades focusing on narratives of progress, loss, and return and a historical narrative that proceeds
radical/socialist —-> identity politics —-> post-structuralism
In many ways, my work right now is bringing down to the grassroots level the narrative and discursive transformations Hemmings traces at theoretical academic levels to explore “what storytelling reveals about the present” in many different presents.
Like Hemmings I seek to unmoor individuals from their “assignment” to a specific “era” in which they stand as key spokesperson, frozen in time. In particular in pulling apart the discourse of cultural feminism, I shift back to earlier periods to look at Susan Griffin, Mary Daly, Robin Morgan, and Adrienne Rich, and draw in other writers, particularly Audre Lorde, to explore how feminist poets and authors used culture in the early 1970s.
Similarly, her notion of focusing on larger discourses produced by feminist journals, rather than “temporally separating strands of thought that could easily be cited as co-existesive”by relying on individual citation is extremely valuable for me since the narrative of cultural feminism rests so heavily on parsing “good” and “bad’ feminists, and as I argue, “cultural feminism” is basically a pejorative label put on individuals rather than self claimed.
After reading Phillips’ post, however, in which she notes that Hemmings’ strategies
1) to stick to conversations occurring in and through journals and 2) to cite the journal rather than the author of a text
in effect focuses on
the collaborative authorship process and the community as the site of knowledge production
I realized that Hemmings’ could help me move the groups I’m writing about activists/historians and activist/artists to more parallel positions. The sad fact is that historians have had the “last word” so to speak in the Women’s Culture Wars because they write the histories. By working collaboratively and artistically it has been hard to give artist/activists the same kind of “voice” in tracing their contributions to thinking about women’s history. I’m not sure if I can go all the way with Hemmings, part of my story is the telling of how influential historians like Ellen DuBois, Linda Gordon, Joan Wallach Scott etc moved from writing in places like Radical America to places like Signs.