Can the Imperialist read? : race and feminist literary theory
Since the mid 1980's it has been unthinkable for white feminist literary critics to neglect race in their theoretical work. Strong challenges from black feminists have been effective in placing race high on the critical agenda. No longer is the kind of exclusivity that marked early (white) feminist literary theory possible. However, despite the evident commitment to addressing the race question in their work, the black feminist challenge has been greeted with a considerable degree of anxiety by white feminist critics. I suggest that the main source of anxiety is a failure to square the pressing need to 'include' race on the feminist agenda with doubts about straying into what is perceived to be black feminist territory. In other words, white feminist critics have yet to resolve their relation to the black feminist project. This anxiety has meant that a concern over the notion of exclusion has given way to that of appropriation. This has tended to place the white feminist reader in the paralysing position where there seems little available ground between the twin poles of exclusion and appropriation. Typical questions that have arisen out of this dichotomy are: should white feminists teach black women's writing? Should white feminist critics produce critical readings of texts authored by black women? Can white women readers read black women's writings without imposing onto them their own critical agendas? Is a non-appropriative reading relation possible? How should white feminists deal with the fact of their own race privilege and what bearing does this privilege have upon the readings they, potentially, might produce? This project examines some of the ways in which white feminists have attempted to address their relation to the race question in feminist literary criticism. Over the space of six chapters I focus on a number of specific reading strategies offered as positive critical interventions. My main contention is the impossibility of a guaranteed anti-imperialist theory or reading position. I also argue for the necessity of asking the question: whether the imperialist can read, as a complement to that of whether 'the subaltern can speak'. Chapter 1 questions the white feminist ambition of arriving at the truth of the black text as a means of decolonising the text. Through an examination of the Rodney King events some of the perils of appeals to pure seeing are highlighted. Chapter 2 explores the implications of white feminist abstention from the race debates. Chapter 3 looks at the issue of identification as a basis for reading. Chapter 4 questions the identifications that inhere in applying theory to a text. Chapter 5 challenges the use of contextualisation as a source of textual limits. Chapter 6 examines the limits of self-reflexivity as an anti-imperialist method.