Literature Research Theory

Beyond Feminist Aesthetics: Feminist Literature and Social Change

Beyond Feminist Aesthetics: Feminist
Literature and Social Change
Rita FelskiHardvard University Press1989

This book has a dual focus. First, Rita Felski gives a critical account of current American and European feminist literary theory, and second, she offers an analysis of contemporary fiction by women in order to show that this literature raises questions for feminism that cannot be answered in terms of a purely gender-based analysis. Felski argues that the idea of a feminist aesthetic is a nonissue that feminists have needlessly pursued: she suggests, in contrast, that it is impossible to speak of “masculine” and “feminine”, “subversive” and “reactionary” literary forms in isolation from the social conditions of their production and reception. The political value of such works of literature from the standpoint of feminism can be determined only by an investigation of their social functions and effects in relation to the interests of women in a particular historical context. This leads her to argue for an interdisciplinary approach to the analysis of literature which can integrate literary and social theory, and to develop such an approach by drawing upon the model of a feminist counter-public sphere.

A feminist textual theory cannot simply move from text to world; it must be able to account for the levels of mediation between literary and social domains, in particular the diverse and often contradictory ideological and cultural forces which shape processes of literary production and reception. In other words, a feminist literary theory is dependent upon a feminist social theory, which can relate texts to changing ideological structures as they affect women as social subjects.

Beyond Feminist Aesthetics / page 8.

Table of Contents:

…Sexual and Textual Politics
…Literature, Ideology, and the Feminist Public Sphere
…Defining Feminist Literature
…Feminist Literature and Theory in Comparative Perspective

Part One: Against Feminist Aesthetics
…American Feminist Criticism: Achievements and Limitations
…From the Female Self to the Feminine Text
…Writing as Subversion
…Is Language Phallocentric?
…The Limits of Negativity
…Recontextualizing Women’s Writing

Part Two: Subjectivity and Feminism
…Subject and Structure
…Feminism and Language
…The End of Reason, the Death of the Subject?
…Feminism as a Social Movement
…Essentialism and Apoliticism
…Realism in Feminist Fiction
…Subjectivity and Genre

Part Three: On Confession
…Autobiography: Problems of Definition
…Individual and Communal Identity in Feminist Confession
…The Forms of Confession
…The Eighteenth-Century Precedent
…The Dialectic of Confession
…The Critique of Narcissism
…Intimacy and Alienation
…The Politics of Confession

Part Four: The Novel of Self-Discovery: Integration and Quest
…Emancipation Narratives in Feminist Literature and Ideology
…The Self-Discovery Narrative
…The Feminist Bildungsroman
…Community and Society
…The Novel of Awakening
…Recovering the Lost Paradise: Romantic Topoi in Feminist Literature
…The Status of Female Identity

Part Five: Politics, Aesthetics, and the Feminist Public Sphere
…Realism, Modernism, and the “Death of the Avant-Garde”
…The Feminist Counter-Public Sphere
…The Dialectic of “Feminism” and “Aesthetics”