]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]     REPORT FROM A PHALLOCRAT       [[[[[[[[[[[[[[[
                           by Jeffrey Hart                (2/24/1989)
                 (From NATIONAL REVIEW, 2/24/1989)

     You're just no going to believe what follows, but I assure you
it's true.  If your son or daughter is at college and has anything to
do with literature, the chances are good that that student will run
smack into the radical feminist critical movement.  Feminists are the
most energetic school of literary exegetes on college faculties today.
In fact, they constitute a kind of faculty within the faculty.  They
are powerful in a myriad of professional organizations such as the
MLA, which bends to their wishes.
     What unites all segments of the feminist school is the assumption
that women are oppressed and need to be "liberated."  They debate
among themselves, of course, the nature of the oppression and the 
shape of liberation, and these debates can be cruel to individuals who 
get read out of the movement as backsliders or worse.  Jobs are 
     The best recent survey of the feminist material is an essay by 
Peter Shaw of Columbia in the autumn 1988 American Scholar.  I am 
indebted to it as well as to my own observations at another Ivy League 
     In an earlier phase, during the Seventies, feminists debated such 
questions as whether literature ought to show women being oppressed 
or, alternatively, whether it ought to seek out or invent role models
that would encourage women to be liberated.
     There is a terrible problem with putting the issue that way, 
which gives political mission primacy over aesthetic value.  And, in 
fact, good writing has been completely defeated and explicitly 
disavowed by today's radical feminist critics.  When you do this, of 
course, you open the door to works of low literary value that might be 
though politically useful.
     Annette Kolodny tells us how to go about the current mode of 
post-Stalinist deviation hunting.  The question is put: "What ends do 
these judgments serve and what conceptions of the world or ideological 
stances do they (even if unwittingly) help to perpetuate?"
     I treasure that "even if unwittingly"--it's worthy of Madame 
Defarge.  But marvelously, another critic, Toril Moi, has discovered 
Annette Kolodny herself aiding the enemy by her positive use of 
adjectives like "vigorous" and "rigorous," which Miss Moi finds 
suspiciously masculine.  Commissar Moi also convicts Patricia Beer of 
"traditionalism," a hanging offense.  Miss Beer argues for value-free 
scholarship--that is, not bending the facts to support a liberation 
     Then there is the problem of the French critic Jacques Lacan, who 
has raised the vexing literary question of the penis.  Lacan is 
basically a Freudian, though he takes time out for Marxism.  The great
beauty of being a French critic like Lacan is that you can use 
Freudian themes without bothering to ask whether they are true or not.  
You just posit a theory, and spin on from there.  The evidence?  
Phhht!  Lacan, anyway, has argued influentially that the phallus is 
the "primary signifier."  He means that the phallus is the primary 
seat of cultural and artistic energy, and the pen is the writer's 
symbolic equivalent of a penis.  What Lacan makes of the word 
processor I dare not ask.
     Lacan's baseless penis = pen idea poses deep problems for Sandra 
Gilbert, Susan Gubar, and the rest.  After all they complain that we 
are living in a patriarchal "phallocracy," and they like to make up
puns like "phallacy."  "Manglish" is to be replaced by "sispeak," and 
on and on along the road to "gynocracy."
     But what do they do with Lacan and that penis?  Forget about it?  
Not a chance.  The answer is, the vagina needs to be "valorized"--made 
a feminist alternative to the phallus.
     Helen Cixous, Peter Shaw informs us, has made a Klenian analysis 
of the mother's nipple, but for her trouble is now excoriated by the 
feminist commissars for permitting a superficial reconciliation 
between penis and nipple.
     Still, if the female genitalia are to be "valorized"--well, which 
part?  Here our mob of scribbling feminist nuts splits into factions.
Luce Irigaray, perhaps speaking for the "mainstream" of this kind of 
criticism, champions the vulva.  But this view has been attacked from 
the feminist Left as covertly masculine--that is, males have 
"devalorized" the clitoris.  The vagina itself, independently of vulva 
and clitoris, has its own faction.  Which side are you on, Trotsky?
     This kind of criticism is an utter waste of time.  Jane Austen, 
the Brontes, George Eliot did not write as Women, but proudly as 
authors, seeking universality as much as Dickens or Tolstoy did.  
Indeed, our academic grievance-mongers fundamentally misconceive the 
nature of art, which works to transcend differences of race and 
gender.  "Good night, sweet prince.  May flights of angels sing thee
to thy rest."  We do not attend a performance of Hamlet as whites or
blacks, men or women, but as human beings; and all great art, to the
extent that it is great, possesses this capacity of transcendence.
     Annette Kolodny, Toril Moi, and the rest of the sispeaking
gynocrats should be teaching at the Academy in Lagado.

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