Feminism and Postmodernism: Theory and Practice
This course will examine the complex and controversial relationship between feminism and postmodernism, as this encounter is staged in both theoretical and fictional writings. While many of the «canonical» theoretical texts on postmodernism were penned by male scholars (Lyotard, Baudrillard, Vattimo, Hassan, Scarpetta, etc.), who largely ignored questions of feminism, gender, and women’s artistic practices, feminist critics (Jardine, Butler, Suleiman, Nicholson, Yeatman, and others) soon intervened in the debate. As these latter theoreticians demonstrated, many of the notions characterizing postmodern theories and literary texts were in fact concerns common to feminist thought : the crisis of patriarchal master narratives and the ensuing emphasis on localized, small narratives; the criticism of binary, hierarchical oppositions (center/margin, life /art, culture /nature, mind/body, masculine/feminine); the endeavour to privilege the heterogeneous, the plural, and the hybrid; and the problematization of the subject, of representation, and of language. Doubtful as to whether disseminated subjects are capable of agency and effective political action, other feminist scholars (di Stefano, Hartsock) still question the possibilities of constructive intersections between feminism and postmodernism. Drawing on the principal feminist theories in the postmodern debate, we will study the contentious theoretical issues outlined above, before turning to an analysis of an international corpus of postmodern literary narratives written by women, which construct « strategic subjectivities » (Kaplan) and « forms of common action » (Mouffe), combining ethical perspectives and aesthetic experimentation. Our close readings of these texts will pay careful attention to textual devices typical of postmodern texts (see Hutcheon), such as the extensive use of intertextuality, the recycling and rewriting of mythological, religious, and historical figures and events, the questioning of major binary oppositions underpinning Western thought, genre hybridity, the representation of the author in the text, and so on.
Since this course will deal with feminist theories of postmodernism, as well as with feminist supplements to and criticisms of postmodern thought, it would be most helpful for students to have some prior knowledge of « male » theories of postmodernism (see certain references listed below) before beginning the course, although this is not a prerequisite.
Primary Texts :
Blais, Marie-Claire. Soifs. Montréal : Boréal, 1995. (English translation if required : These Festive Nights, Concord, Ont. : House of Anansi Press, 1997).
Brossard, Nicole. Baroque d’aube. Montréal: l’Hexagone, 1995. (English translation if required: Baroque at Dawn, Toronto : McClelland and Stewart, 1997).
Carter, Angela. The Passion of New Eve. London: Gollanczy, 1977. Cixous, Hélène. Le livre de Promethea. Paris: Gallimard, 1983. (English translation if required : The Book of Promethea, Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, 1991).
Wolf, Christa. « Selbstversuch: Traktat zu einem Protokoll », in C. Wolf, Drei unwahrscheinliche Geschichten. Berlin: Aufbau Verlag, 1974. (The English translation, « Self-Experiment: Appendix to a Report », will be provided.)
Theoretical Readings :
The complete list of theoretical texts, as well as extensive bibliographies on feminism and postmodernism, will be distributed at the first meeting of the seminar. Students are advised to prepare for the course by doing some preliminary readings:
Bertens, Hans. The Idea of Postmodernism: A History. London/New York : Routledge, 1995.
Boisvert, Yves. Le Postmodernisme. Montréal : Boréal, 1995.
Butler, Judith. « Contingent Foundations: Feminism and the Question of ‘Postmodernism’ », in J. Butler and Joan Scott (eds.), Feminists Theorize the Political. New York : Routledge, 1992, pp. 3-21.
Jardine, Alice A. Gynesis : Configurations of Woman and Modernity. Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 1985.
Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction. New York : Routledge, 1988.
Lyotard, Jean-François. La condition postmoderne. Paris : Minuit, 1979.
Lyotard, Jean-François. Le postmoderne expliqué aux enfants. Paris : Galilée, 1988.
Michael, Magali Cormier. Feminism and the Postmodern Impulse: Post-World War II Fiction. Albany : SUNY Press, 1996.
Nicholson, Linda (ed.). Feminism/Postmodernism. New York : Routledge, 1990.
Paterson, Janet. Moments postmodernes dans le roman québécois. Ottawa : Les Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa, 2e édition, 1993.
Waugh, Patricia. Feminine Fictions: Revisiting the Postmodern. London/New York: Routledge, 1989.
Oral presentation : 30%
Research paper : 60%
Participation : 10%