Dancing Through the Minefield:
Some Observations on the Theory, practice, and Politics of a Feminist Literary Criticism
Kolodny’s theoretical perspective is on the differences between male and female
ways of reading the codes of literature and life.
* Kolodny thinks that ” male presence among canonical authors was only an
accident of history – and never intentionally sexist”.
* Kolodny suggests that there are three crucial propositions to which feminist literary theory give rise:
1. Literary history (and with that, the historicity of literature) is a fiction.
* Kolodny’s points:
. If we are going to establish canon functions as a model, we have to forget our own
making. In other words, our history.
“An established canon functions as a model …that model we tend to forget, however, is of our own making”. P.1390
. Kolodney goes against the idea of ideology which declares that “ literary change is dependent upon societal development and thereby determined by upheavals in the social and economic organization of the culture at large”. P.1390
. Our sense and understanding of what we call it “history’, and our belief in a historical canon are not a result of our full understanding of the past.
“Our sense of a “literary history”, and by extension, our confidence in a “historical” canon, is rooted not so much in any definitive understanding of the past”. p.1390
. What we need to understand in any literary history, we have to learn from the past in order to understand the present.
“It is our need to call up and utilize the past on behalf of a better understanding of the present”. P.1390
. Our observation and evaluation of any work of art should depend on how we create or reshape our sense of the past.
“ Feminist literary theorists implicitly introduce the observation that our choices and evaluation of current literature have the effect either of solidifying or of reshaping our sense of the past”. p.1390
. Fine literature by women writers, is a result of their researching of the past.
“The larger critical community to begin to seriously attend to the recent outpouring of fine literature by women, this would surely be accompanied by a concomitant researching of the past, by literary historians, in order to account for the present phenomenon”. P 1390
. Works of 18th &19th century which are written by women, have many inflences upon the male writers of the present ,therefore, this will lead them to change their ideas about women.
“The choices we make in the present inevitably alter our sense of the past that led to them’. P.1390
. We do not read classics in order to recreate the past.
“Related to this is the feminist challenge to that patently mendacious critical fallacy that we read the “classics” in order to reconstruct the past”. P. 1391
. Because we did not live the authors’ time, and because of the differences between our and their systems of knowledge, believes, and points of view, we will fail in understanding or get the message of their works.
“ Critics more acute than I have already pointed out the possibility of grounding a reading in the imputation of authorial intention because the further removed the author is from us, so too must be her or his systems of knowledge and belief, points of view, and structures of vision”. P.1391
. Literary history is a fiction which we recreate daily when we read it and our feminists’ desire alter and extend what we read.
“ Literary history is a fiction which we daily recreate as we read it”. P.1391
“What distinguishes feminists in this regard is their desire to alter and extend what we take as a historically relevant from out of that vast storehouse of our literary inheritance”. P.1391
2. Insofar as we are taught how to read , what we engage are not texts but paradigms.
* Kolodny’s points:
. Our understanding of the meaning of any text is a result of our needs and desires as well as our predisposition.
“ The conclusion that we need (or desire) or, in other words, according to the critical assumptions or predispositions (conscious or not) that we bring to it”. P. 1391
. Because of our changed assumption, circumstances, and requirements, we get different meanings and different interpretations even if we read the same text different times.
“We appropriate different meanings, or report different gleanings, at different times- even from the same text- according to our changed assumption, circumstances and requirements”. P. 1391
. What makes a text exciting is when it gives us the ability to relearn and refined it.
“What makes it so exciting , of course, is that it can be constantly relearned and refined”. P. 1391
. Our reading habits become fixed when we read a particular work of art which stylize our expectations to the others work which follow the first one.
“ Each successive reading experience functions, in effect, normatively, with one particular kind of novel stylizing our expectations of those to follow”. P.1391
. Learning how to interpret (such as interpretive paradigms or reading techniques) a certain text lead us to better understanding of the text, therefore, this will move us to pleasure.
“ The delight we learn to take in the mastery of these interpretive strategies is then often mistakenly construed as our delight in reading specific text”. P.1392
. If the reader (male reader) is not familiar with the women’s world and tradition, this will lead him to misunderstand the fictions which is written by women.
“The reader coming upon such fiction , with knowledge of neither its informing literary traditions nor its real –world contexts, will thereby find himself hard-pressed, though he may recognize the words on the page, to competently decipher its intended meaning”. P.1392
. Male writers whom are away from women’s world could not get the messages or codices of any feminist work of art.
“ The (usually male) reader who, both by experience and by reading , has never made acquaintance with those contexts … will necessarily lack the capacity to fully interpret the dialogue or action embedded therein”. P. 1393
“ Male ignorant of women’s “values” or conceptions of the world will necessarily , thereby , be poor readers of works that in any sense recapitulate their codes”. P. 1393
3. Since the grounds upon which we assign aesthetic value to texts are never infallible, unchangeable, or universal, we must reexamine not only our aesthetics but , as well, the inherent biases and assumptions informing the critical methods which (in part) shape our aesthetic responses.
* Kolodny’s points:
. Male writers will be better readers if they read works written by women. In other words switch traditional roles.
“ Men will be better readers, or appreciators, of women’s books when they have read more of them (as women have always been taught to become astute readers of men’s texts). P. 1394
. We have to change our judgment of any text from aesthetic evaluation and look for the interpretive paradigm of male/female works of art.
“The emphasis of my remarks shifts the act of critical judgment from assigning aesthetic valuations to texts and directs it , instead, to ascertaining the adequacy of any interpretive paradigm to a full reading of both female and male writing”. P. 1394
. We have to establish new norms of evaluation of our works of art by developing our critical methods of evaluation which we used before.
“ Recurrent tendency in criticism to establish norms for the evaluation of literary works when we might better serve the cause of literature by developing standards for evaluating the adequacy of our critical methods”. P. 1394
“ The choice is between having some awareness of what constitutes (at least in part) the bases of our aesthetic responses and going without such an awareness”. P. 1394
. What kolodny wants to insists is that “ feminist literary critics are essentially seeking to discover how aesthetic value is assigned in the first place, where it resides (in the text or in the reader), and most importantly aesthetic “judgments””. P. 1394
* Definitions: ( Cambridge Learner’s Dictionary)
Minefield: a situation with many complicated problems.
Canon: a Christian priest who works in a cathedral.
Utilize: to use something in an effective way.
Mendacious: not telling the truth.
Paradigm: a typical example or model of something.
Assumption: something that you think is true without having any proof.
Aesthetics: the study of beauty, especially in art.
The whole theory of Annette Kolodny is based on the differences between male and female ways of reading the codes of literature.
. Kolodny in her essay Dancing through the minefield: some observations on the theory, practice, and politics of a feminist literary criticism, that there are three crucial propositions which will open the door to the feminist literary to take a part and participate. These three propositions are:
1. Literary history is a fiction.
. Kolodny suggests that if we are going to establish canon functions, first of all we have to forget our own making. In other words, we have to forger our history.
. Kolodny goes beyond the idea of the ideology that what happened to our
literature because of many changes, is not a result of any social or economic ideologies.
. Kolodny points that our sense and understanding of our history and our believes in the historical canon does not reflect our full understanding of the past. if we want to understand the past or any literary history, we have to learn
from the past in order to understand the present as well as the future.
. Kolodny suggests that our evaluation and observation of any literary work should depend on how we create and reshape our sense of the past. And if we
want to get fine literature, we have to researching the past.
. Kolodny argues that women’s literary works of 18th &19th century have many
influences on our life today specially on male writers. Therefore, many of their
ideas about women have been changed.
. Reading classics of famous male writers does not let us to be close to them. In other words, reading classics sometimes lead us to misunderstand the text and get the message right. This misunderstanding also depend on the differences between us such as knowledge, believes, points of view, as well as the difference between times.
. When we read any text, our desires as a female readers enable us to alter and extend what we read. As an example, literary history is a fiction which we recreate daily when we read it.
2. Insofar as we are taught how to read, what we engage are texts but paradigms.
. Kolodny suggests that our understanding of the meaning of any text depend on our needs and desires as well as our predispositions.
. Because of our changed assumptions, circumstances, and requirements, we get different meanings and interpretations of the same text even if we read the text at different times individually or by groups.
. What makes any text exciting is when the text gives us the ability to relearn and refine it. Sometimes, because of our reading habits, our reading become fixed which means that our expectations later on will be the same specially when we read works which follow the work which we read it first.
. When we learn how to interpret or read any certain text by learning interpretive paradigms and reading techniques, we will understand the text and what the author wants to represent. Therefore, this will move us to pleasure.
. If the reader (male reader) is not familiar with women’s world and her position in tradition, the reader will misunderstand the message of any literary work written by women, moreover, he will have different meanings. ( The Yellow Wall Paper).
3. Since the grounds upon which we assign aesthetic value to texts are never infallible, unchangeable, or universal, we must reexamine not only our aesthetics but, as well, the inherent biases and assumptions informing the critical methods which (in part) shape our aesthetic responses.
. Kolodny suggests that male writers will be good readers if they tried to read works written by women. In other words, now is the time to switch our traditional roles. That women always used to read males’ works.
. Kolodny suggests that we have to create new ways of judging our literary works that we have to find other ways and methods. We have to go beyond the aesthetics evaluations and look for interpretive paradigms and develop our critical method of evaluation.