I was surprised to hear this last week, and not only because the new feminist literary critic, Marjorie Liu, wrote a great post last week.
Liu’s article, titled “Why is feminist literature dead?” is a great read, but I find the discussion a little bit disheartening.
If you’re not familiar with Liu’s work, the essay focuses on a number of issues related to the practice of literary criticism in contemporary culture.
Liu begins by saying that feminist criticism is in fact dead, in part because the practice itself has not changed: “We are living in a time when literary criticism has become more political and more concerned with identity politics than it has been in the past.
We are a movement in our own right, and that’s what I think has been missing from the way we’ve done things over the last 20 or 30 years.””
The way that I see it, that’s the way it’s always been.
We are a movement in our own right, and that’s what I think has been missing from the way we’ve done things over the last 20 or 30 years.”
What Liu is trying to say is that the feminist literary critique movement is dead, and we’re left with the question of how to get back to it.
And what she suggests is that if we want to get the movement back to its former glory, we need to do something about the way the academy treats criticism.
I think the first step would be to acknowledge the existence of the feminist criticism movement and to get some kind of definition of what a “feminist literary critic” is, how the term was defined in the first place, and what kind of work feminist critics do.
The second step would, of course, be to figure out how to revive the practice that helped create the feminist theory of literary critique and its subsequent impact on the canon, the academy, and culture as a whole.
I think it’s possible to get a broad sense of what the movement is all about by reading Liu’s piece, but her idea that the only way to revive this movement would be for it to be defined in some way other than as a movement that works to reclaim literary criticism is an oversimplification of the real issue.
Liu doesn’t explicitly address the question about whether the literary criticism movement has really been dead for a very long time.
It’s possible that Liu is just attempting to give a sense of how the feminist literature critic movement can be revived, and the first steps she takes to do so, especially with respect to defining the feminist critic as a writer, would be interesting.
And I think that we can still find some common ground here.
There’s certainly a common ground to be had in the belief that the literary critique of contemporary culture needs to be revived and that the academy should recognize the important work that feminist literary critics do, but we need a much more broad-based discussion about what that means.
For example, what does the term “feminism” actually mean?
Is it a pejorative term that can be applied to virtually any group of people or a general description of a political or social agenda?
Or does it really mean something different?
I don’t think we should define the term as a generic term for all groups, nor should we be afraid to define our own identities and our own political agendas as well.
What Liu is suggesting, however, is that a broader definition of the term would be helpful.
In other words, the problem is not that we don’t have a clear definition of a “critical movement,” but that the definition itself is problematic.
As a first step, we should be able to agree on what the definition of “critical” really means.
And it’s also important to acknowledge that we do have a very specific set of goals and a very clear set of values in order to achieve those goals.
Ultimately, it’s not clear how much any of this will mean in practice, because, for all of the good that feminism and the literary critic movement do, there’s still a lot we can do to make sure that they are seen as effective tools that help us tackle some of the biggest problems in the arts and society today.
This article originally appeared on Polygon.