Po-Mo critiques and feminism

Jon Beasley-Murray jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu
Sun Feb 26 08:02:11 MST 1995

On Sat, 25 Feb 1995, Ralph Dumain wrote of Jane Flax:

> There is an agenda here; it is to trash any conception of rational
> understanding of the world and to replace the hard-won
> intellectual achievements of the modern world with her
> self-indulgent, obscurantist philosophy.


> [feminism and postmodernism] do indeed attempt to subvert
> a proper understanding of class society as a whole and a rational
> understanding of anything.  This is indeed harmful to the
> interests of the working class.

I find these claims bizarre.  For a start, this ignores the different
array of feminisms, and of feminist writers, who are engaged in debate
as to what feminism means and what its relations might be to the
political, to class, to conceptions of rationality.  _Feminists Theorize
the Political_ is engaged therefore as much in a critique of feminism,
and traditions of feminism indebted to Marx and Marxism, in an attempt
better to understand a society that is not only a class society but that
is also patriarchal or sexist.

> The key problem here is the obvious
> social differentiation of the working class.  In the absence of
> unity, certain groupings have to go it alone and take the lead.
> The lack of solidarity in overthrowing ALL forms of oppression (as
> Marx had claimed the proletariat would do) increases social
> fragmentation, creates new social movements, encourages identity
> politics, places certain groups in the vanguard of change (Blacks
> in the USA), and ultimately makes it difficult for revolutionary
> change to be accomplished.

I find it quite hard to understand this paragraph.  Is "social
differentiation" (which is not merely class-specific) also a result of a
"lack of solidarity"?  If a group is admitted to be "in the vanguard of
change" should they still be attacked by other groups for their
apparently counter-revolutionary activity?

I think it has been feminists' disillusion with the idea that the left
(let alone the "proletariat") might be even receptive to questions of
gender (let alone "overthrowing ALL forms of oppression") which has been a
significant factor in the current general distance between the left and
feminism.  I simply can't see how Ralph is allowing any form of dialogue
here... and this intransigent refusal to engage in such dialogue, or to
think through the terms of feminist (and other) critiques damages
prospects for solidarity and damages us all.

> However, my ultimate question for the
> partisans of identity politics: do you have what it takes to take
> on corporate America

I don't think a sexist, racist, homophobic, dogmatically intransigent
left has a hope in Hell.

Oh, and a point on terminology: are feminists by definition petty
bourgeois?  Or are you making a particular point about Jane Flax?  And
are feminist professors by defnition dim-witted and narcissistic, or are
you speaking again from particular knowledge about Jane Flax?

Take care


Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu

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