Contents of spoon-archives/french-feminism.archive/Syllabi/Ecriture_feminine
Feminist Rhetorical Theory:
Professor: Diane Davis
Rationale for and Aims of the Course:
Historically, thanks not only to Quintilian, rhetoric has been defined
as "the good man speaking well" and as "public/civil discourse."
Feminist in(ter)ventions into rhetorical theory, however, have
questioned its exclusion of women and have sought to construct/compose
an/other description of "rhetoric" by addressing what has been called
"the woman question." Feminist critiques of "man" as a gendered rather
than a generic subject and of what counts as "good" speech have
effected a crisis, not only in "The Rhetorical Tradition" (don't miss
the irony in that) but also in politics, pedagogy, and the evolution
of feminist theory itself. A focus on the "woman question," it seems,
has prompted a series of other questions, not the least of which
concern the issue of representation itself.
Representations of women (not only in "the history of rhetoric" but
also in the media, textbooks, and everyday conversations), for
instance, tend to be either non existent and/or overwhelmingly
reductive. This situation has sparked a heated and polyvocal debate
about the possibilities of women's representation and of
representation in general. What is at issue here is not merely
abstract theories about sexual difference but rather how sexual
difference will be represented in language, which has had and will
have an undeniable connection to "women's place" in society.
Overall, pragmatic American feminists tend to approach the issue with
an eye on a traditional notion of liberation: the goal is to create a
female subject position, to get women speaking so that the female
experience might be wholly represented. Cate Poynton's Language and
Gender: Making the Difference, for instance, spotlights the
ideological reasons for language practices that keep women alienated
from power. Because only what we can name can be discussed and because
what we say becomes what we see, obtaining the power to name one's own
reality is critical. Elaine Showalter echoes Poynton's appeal to a
universal female oppression, suggesting that (a phallocratic) language
structure is not the problem; the problem is getting the "full
resources of language" to women so that they might begin to alter
language usage as they speak themselves into it ("Wilderness").
Many French feminists, on the other hand, approach this problem very
differently. First, they do not view language as representational--it
cannot represent "women's" experience; and second, they suggest that
the very binary structure that American feminists uphold in their
struggle is a phallogocentric one that will continually misfire for
"women." The same linguistic structure that demands that one be either
male or female, active or passive, subject or object, for instance,
sets the stage for oppression and exclusion. These French feminisms
prefer to focus on finding a way to speak differently rather than on
working women into the grammatical structures as they stand. They are
interested in the radical, uncontrollable aspect of language that
continually breaks free and breaks up phallogocentric (binary) logic;
Kristeva calls it "desire in language," and others have referred to it
as the "feminine" in language, but this is a post-gendered feminine
that stands in as the excess, the overflow that can't be structured.
It is in this space, these French feminists suggest, that "women"
might be released from their binary bondage.
This course will introduce the problem of linguistic representation as
it affects and is affected by feminist thought; explore the (mostly)
American feminist efforts to write women into "the history of
rhetoric" and into public/civic discourse; and examine the rhetoric of
French feminism, specifically ecriture feminine's determination to
engage a writing that would be Other/Wise, to promote writing the body
as a political act. We will explore the ways in which ecriture
feminine challenges both traditional and feminist assumptions about
language and representation by pointing up the seductive force of a
non-linear writing, a writing that doesn't re/present so much as it
sets one in motion.
Course Pack and/or *Reserve Articles
Aristotle. Politics. Book I, pt. 5.
Ballif, Michelle. "Re/Dressing Histories." Rhetoric Society Quarterly.
Winter 1992 Vol. 22 (91-98).
Biesecker, Barbara. "Coming to Terms with Recent Attempts to Write
Women into the History of Rhetoric." Philosophy and Rhetoric. Vol. 25,
No. 2, 1992. (140-161).
Cixous, Helene. "Castration or Decapitation?" Trans. Annette Kuhn.
Signs 7:11 (1981): 41-55.
Davis, Diane. "Breaking Up [at] Phallocracy: Post-Feminisms Chortling
Hammer." Rhetoric Review (Fall 1995) 14.1. 126-140.
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. "Introduction: Rhizome." In A
Thousand Plateaus. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota,
Fausto-Sterling, Anne. "The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not
Enough." The Sciences (March-April 1993). 20-25.
Foucault, Michel. "Nietzsche Freud Marx." Transforming the Hermeneutic
Context: From Nietzsche to Nancy. Ed. Gayle L. Ormiston and Alan D.
Schrift. Albany: SUNY P, 1990. 59-67.
Gorgias. Fragments: An Encomium of Helen and On Nature. Both from
Rosamond Kent Sprague. The Older Sophists. Columbia, SC: U of South
Carolina P, 1972.
Haraway, Donna. "A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and
Socialist Feminism in the 1980s." Feminism/Postmodernism. Ed. Linda
Nicholson. New York: Routledge, 1990. (190-233).
Irigaray, Luce. "On the Index of Platos Works: Woman." From Speculum
of the Other Woman. Trans. Gillian C. Gill. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985.
Juno, Andrea. "Interview with Avital Ronell." Re/Search: Angry Women
13. San Francisco: Research Publications, 1991. 127-153.
Lyotard, Jean-Francois. "Economy of This Writing." Libidinal Economy.
Trans. Iain Hamilton Grant. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993. 241-262.
Marsden, Jill. "Virtual Sexes and Feminist Futures." Radical
Philosophy 78 (July-August 1996).
Murphy, James, ed. "Introduction." Quintilian: On the Teaching of
Speaking and Writing. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1987.
Vitanza, Victor. "A Feminist Sophistic?" JAC 1995 (15.2) 321-349.
Required Books (from the bookstore)
Braidotti, Rosi. Nomadic Subjects.
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble.
Cixous, Helene. Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing.
Cixous, Helene. and Catherine Clement. The Newly Born Woman.
Jardine, Alice. Gynesis: Configurations of Woman and Modernity.
Irigaray, Luce. This Sex Which Is Not One.
Jarratt, Susan. Rereading the Sophists.
I. "The" Rhetorical Tradition
A. Plato. Phaedrus
B. Aristotle. Politics (book I, part IV)
C. Murphy. "Intro"
D. Irigaray "On the Index of Platos Works: Woman"
II. Writing Women into "The" Rhetorical TraditionFeminist Revisionary
A. Ballif. "Re/Dressing Histories"
B. Biesecker. "Coming to Terms"
C. Juno. "Interview with Avital Ronell" (non-reactionary feminism)
D. Jarratt. Intro and Chs 1-3 (humanist, faith in language)
E. Vitanza. "A Feminist Sophistic?" (non-humanist, no faith in
III. Other De/Con/Structions of "The" Rhetorical Tradition
A. Gorgias. Helen and On Nature (non-humanistno faith in language)
B. Lanham. "The Q-Question" (questions faith in language, reason,
C. Fausto-Sterling. "The Five Sexes" (questions biological
D. Foucault. "Nietzsche Freud Marx" (wild language)
E. Lyotard. "The Economy of This Writing" (language as red
F. Derrida. "Structure, Sign, and Play" (post-structuralist
G. Deleuze and Guattari. "Introduction: Rhizome" (arborescence vs.
IV. Writing [Woman] Other/Wise:
A. The Call to Steal and Fly:
1. Jardine. "Preliminaries" and Ch. 1, 3, 5
2. Braidotti. Introduction
3. Irigaray. Ch. 1-2
4. Butler. Preface and Ch. 1
5. Davis. "Breaking Up"
6. Cixous. "Castration or Decapitation?"
7. Cixous and Clement. The Newly Born Woman.
B. Beyond the Phathers and the Pheminine:
1. Jardine. Ch. 8-10
2. Irigaray. Ch. 3-5
3. Butler. Ch. 2
4. Braidotti. Ch. 1 and 4-6
C. Some Ecriture Feminine
1. Jardine. Ch. 6
2. Irigaray. Ch. 6, 7, 11
3. Butler Ch. 3 and conclusion
4. Braidotti. Ch. 8 and 15
5. Cixous. Three Steps
V. "EleKcriture"Ecriture feminine meets the Electric Text
A. Haraway. "Manifesto"
B. Haynes. On-line interview on her term: eleKcriture
C. Marsden. "Virtual Sexes."
1. A description of the cultural artifact you have chosen for the
semester, posted to the list and @pasted into your "MOO papers"
This artifact can be anything you choose; however, you'll be wise
to choose something fairly complex. Novels, philosophical works,
works of art/architecture, etc., are fine if they're complex
enough to handle several interpretations and if you already feel
fairly comfortable with them. Here are a few examples that I've
seen work well:
+ Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow
+ Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being
+ Bataille's Guilty
+ Irigaray's Marine Lover
+ Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil
+ Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus
+ Baudrillard's seduction theory
+ Lacan's/Freud's lack theories
+ [whoever's] theories of excess
+ Kristeva's Powers of Horror
+ Foucault's Order of Things
+ Derrida's Dissemination
+ Grimm's Fairy Tales
We'll spend some time discussing possibilities in class.
2. Five one-page, single spaced, terribly insightful papers, to be
@pasted into your "MOO papers" folder and read aloud in class. The
MOO folder will serve as a public archive for your work. The first
half of each paper should be a thorough summary of the original
text. The second half should be your reading of that work "across"
your cultural artifact--or a reading of your artifact "across" the
Please don't be fooled; these one-pagers are a whole lot harder to
produce than a ten-pager. Until you're used to the process, expect
to rewrite, maybe several times.
3. Weekly reading notes on one of the assigned essays/books about
which you do not write a one-page paper. All reading notes will be
sent out to the listserv for comment by the other members of the
class. They will also be @pasted into another virtual folder on
the MOO, and at the end, they will be graded as a portfolio (the
grade will count twice). These notes should concisely and yet
thoroughly cover the work you're discussing. They are due for
posting before the next class meeting. They are due for MOO
archiving a week later.
4. Participation. I suppose it needs to be said. Your grade will
suffer if you don't show up for class. Not because I have a thing
for attendance but because the class will be working together most
of the time. If you miss class, we miss what you should have been
there to offer us.
THE VIRTUAL CLASSROOM
French feminisms have been known to level the same accusation at
technology that they level at philosophy: it's rotten to the core
because its very language is phallogocentric. Inasmuch as technology
has been aligned with a relentless rationality, an arrogant drive for
"perfection," an enormous faith in (phallocratic) language, and a
perpetuation of the mind/body split, it would seem to make a strange
bedfellow with most any flavor of feminism. And technologys newest
wonder-child, Virtual Reality, is certainly not exempt from this
critique. VR is, as Avital Ronell says, "dependent on classical tropes
of representation, imagination, the sovereign subject and negated
otherness" ("Activist" 298). Theres plenty of "gender trouble" in VR;
there are plenty of racial tensions and class struggles. No doubt
about it, VR is the offspring of some fairly nasty metaphysical
cravings. But, on the other hand, and heres Ronells point, "who isnt?"
(299). What may be more important is that this technology is also
busily challenging the assumptions upon which those cravings have been
This is the reason Donna Haraway asks us to look again at modern
technologies, to notice that even as they spout the same old dreams,
they also, in spite of themselves, spawn a revolution, a revolution
that jives in many ways with the vision of futurity that both Irigaray
and Cixous promote. Being itself goes rhizomatic in the cyburbs; it
fluidifies; it splinters. In VR, the law of non-contradiction is often
blatantly ignored. Coded boundaries that support notions of (gendered)
power relations, identity politics, and human production, are
unceremoniously transgressed in cyberspace, where you can be
everywhere at once and take on any number of identities wherever you
go. Haraway notes that in cyburbia, "hierarchical dichotomies that
have ordered discourse since Aristotle" are "techno-digested"
("Manifesto" 205) by an order of microelectronic simulation that makes
interfaces (with the other) everywhere. There is little doubt, as we
will see at the end of the semester, that ecriture feminines future
will have been a wired one.
With that in mind, we will wire ourselves in the following ways:
* MOO-discussions. We will meet as often as possible in the
multimedia lab across from the English Department and log into a
text-based Virtual Reality called Lingua MOO. There, we will
discuss each other's papers and other issues, archive our work,
and hold interviews/discussions with two of the authors we'll be
reading this semester.
We will also conduct a few conferences on the MOO outside of
class. I will do my best work around your schedules.
* E-mail Listserv. We will establish our own class listserv, on
which we will post reading notes to the group, conduct general
discussions about issues, and continue conversations that begin in
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