Is Feminism a Historicism?

Jennifer L. FleissnerUniversity of California, Los Angeles
Vol. 21, No. 1 (Spring 2002), 45-66

This essay argues not—as recent feminist literary historians have been doing—that feminism’s chief merit is to historicize better than other new historicists, but rather that constant emphasis on social historicism results in omitting some of what is most radical and important about feminism as a method of reading, a method that involves a self-differing temporality. In other words, feminism has often been especially attuned to the way it is brought in to being by the same formations it seeks to critique, as Butler’s notion of “repeating with a difference” suggests. The essay argues that orienting feminist texts in a specific historical framework threatens to diminish their capacity to talk back to various modes of discourse, something of chief importance for feminist works, and also risks turning both the literary texts that feminist historicists read and feminism’s own critical predecessors into fossils to be examined and labeled.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]