Chapters 2 and 3: "Rewriting Radical Women" and "From Manifesto to Modem"
Reviewed by J. A. Rice, University of Florida
Rhodes begins her discussion with second-wave feminist "history." Specifically, she strongly and unapologetically argues against the historical narrative of second-wave feminist history found in composition studies, claiming that this narrative "[reduces second-wave feminism] to a mishistoricized tale of consciousness-raising groups" (p. 10) and depicts the radical groups of the second-wave as either extreme factions or wholly unworthy of mention. Because Rhodes sees the history feminists tell themselves as theoretically and textually mediated, she lays great importance on how feminists tell that history and partly believes this historical misrepresentation stems from feminist compositionists' inability to "bring the tools of critical historicist analysis to bear on their own history" (p. 6). In order to reconstruct and gain a better sense of feminist textual production and history, Rhodes proposes a Foucauldian model of analysis that evokes a radical textual subjectivity for modern day feminists. This Foucauldian model reorients feminist composition discourse towards a different and more productive set of textual questions: "to what political movements have women contributed? What texts did they produce, for what purpose? What were the conditions of political textual action" etc., (p. 22). By switching the focus from questions that investigate the ontology of "woman" or "feminine" to questions that deal specifically with textual production and agency, Rhodes very much designates new coordinates for understanding feminist history. The point of feminist theory and composition scholarship isn't to recapitulate the story--or the "mishistoricized narrative"--feminists are already telling themselves, nor is it "to hold up the 'true' or 'original' feminists to our own pale limitations" (p. 23). Rather, the textual focus Rhodes promotes provides a much more progressive set of questions that enable us to sidestep the problems that accompany more traditional forms of theorizing feminist history and, as a consequence, permits much more critical agency when dealing with textual production.
However, while Rhodes's emphasis on the textuality of second-wave feminism is a fresh and welcomed addition to the history of feminist composition theory, at times her unquestioned faith in the Foucauldian model presents problems for an analysis of a feminist history and textual production. By solely designating textuality as a discursive space, she overlooks the epistemological overdetermination inherent in Foucauldian thinking [1.]. For example, Rhodes's analysis never defines "woman" or "feminine" in its attempt to investigate how composition studies uses these terms in the context of writing instruction (p. 10). Instead, "feminism" and "woman" are vaguely designated as pure discursive spaces through which we are able to ask questions about textuality, history, and the relation between the two. This strict text-as-discursive-space suggests a promotion of the text as the sole site of agency, meaning-production, and/or negotiation. In other words, our ability to ask the questions Rhodes poses about feminism's history and relations to power can only be articulated within a space that cannot resist its own construction and leaves too many unanswered questions about how critical agency and textual subjectivity are formed.
After challenging the theoretical and historical status of feminist composition scholarhip, Radical Feminism employs its theoretical outline in an alternative history of second-wave feminism, specifically focusing on textual production. Rhodes's dynamic interpretation of the collective agency and textuality of the manifesto is what initially stands out in this chapter. As she claims, "The manifesto and its cousins--the pamphlet and position statement--were invocations of identity, a collective and decidedly temporary subjectivity formed for the purpose of immediate and radical rhetorical action" (p. 28). This interpretation of the manifesto's function in the public sphere extends the theoretical interests presented in the first chapter. The manifesto offers a new textual and theoretical empowerment because, unlike essentialist notions of subjectivity and feminism, it acts solely as a discursive space of rhetorical/textual social action that negates identity and affirms temporal "textual subjectivity" and critical agency.
Perhaps what is most interesting here is how Rhodes argues for the similarity between the textual function of the manifesto and the website. The Internet, as Rhodes sees it, is a radical tool for an egalitarian feminist discourse that actualizes a textual performativity couched in a collaborative effort/textual agency. Because the manifesto was the prime textual space through which radical feminists acted out their "textual subjectivity," radical feminist identities and textual production of the 1960s relied on the idea of a fluid, post-conceptual ontology that was realized as a collective textual product and identity. Like the radical feminist textuality of the 1960s-1970s, the Internet offers the same temporal and liberating ontological opportunities, especially for feminist writing. Thus, by focusing on several Internet websites--Mimi Nguyen's Exoticize My Fist!, Susana L. Gallardo's Making Face, Making Soul: A Chicana Feminist Homepage and The 3rd WWWave: Feminism for a New Millennium--Rhodes suggests that these websites, much like the manifesto, are potential spaces for a collaborative textual agency not realized in linear print-based texts. For example, in her discussion of the Canadian Women Internet Association (CWIA), Rhodes points out that although the CWIA's "official" leadership abandoned the group because of ideological differences, the website is still active and continues to receive posts without any formal or hierarchical identity. The website continues to produce, recircumscribe, and shift its ideological aims/actions while maintaining a collective, networked textual identity similar to those of the radical feminist movement of the late 1960s.
It is this last idea--that websites offer spaces for collaborative textual production--that demonstrates just how complex and important Rhodes's project really is when we theorize web-based textual possibilities. Radical Feminism takes great pains to articulate an alternative conception of how radical feminists produce texts online and opens a good deal of questions, i.e., how might race, economic disposition, sexual orientation, nationality, etc. inform textual production and subjectivity? While these questions aren't directly addressed in the book, Rhodes's acute analysis of online radical feminist textual production nevertheless suggests several directions for investigating and developing critical agency for future projects.
With similarities between manifestos and websites firmly in mind, Rhodes suggests that "radical feminist textuality provides one way into an interactive, engaged performative pedagogy that values students and teachers as textual, writerly subjects" (p. 78). Building on Susan Miller's Rescuing the Subject: A Critical Introduction to Rhetoric and the Writer, Rhodes claims that students' subjectivity is a "particularly textual subjectivity mediated on a fictionalized stability in order to negotiate the power relations undergirding the writing classroom" (p. 80). If students navigate textual boundaries, identities, and power relations through possible spaces of textual production, it is no surprise that radical feminism correlates these power struggles in the writing classroom with a critical literacy. Like the radical feminist textual subjectivities of the 1960s, the critical agencies students perform through their negotiated (writing classroom) textual identities suggests the more potent implication of a "vast network of possible selves and texts, each which depends on shifting social relations and constant rewriting" (p. 86) in which each subjectivity suggests its own particular context. As a site of power negotiations, the (computer) writing classroom offers students the possibility to re-interpret, collaborate, situate, complicate, and revise their performed textual productions and the subjectivity involved therein--in short, develop a critical agency.
This emphasis on practical suggestion or application of a publicly performed textual subjectivity is a growing trend in composition scholarship. In Moving Beyond Academic Discourse: Composition Studies and the Public Sphere, Christian Weisser offers an viewpoint similar to Rhodes's when discussing public writing: "the goal of most courses in public writing is not just to facilitate students interactions with a specific sphere or issue, but to help students transform themselves into active, critical participants in democratic society" (2002, p. 39). For Weisser, the goal of the public writing course is an active engagement with the "outside" world and to employ critical agency when interacting with the larger public sphere. Weisser's account of critical agency and textual production takes into consideration the very particular social foundation(s) of the larger public sphere(s) and attempts to resist, reorient, and reconfigure the social network in which students find themselves as writers and social beings. In a similar fashion, Rhodes suggests a powerful set of ideas for identity, collaboration, and critical writing as her thesis performs the social, cultural, and epistemological theories she suggests as necessary for cultural change.
Radical Feminism, Writing, and Critical Agency: From Manifesto to Modem succeeds in taking second-wave feminist history to task and articulating a productive set of questions/theories for the composition classroom in only 94 pages of text. Considering the urgency of disciplinary reinterpretations of history and theory, in addition to the imperative to develop sites of textual production/resistance against the emerging conservative culture, this book provides a powerful set of ideas and suggestions for theoretical, historical, and pedagogical concerns.
[1.] As Joan Copjec puts it in Read My Desire: "despite the fact that [Foucault] realizes the necessity of conceiving the mode of a regime of power's institution, he cannot avail himself of the means of doing so and thus, by default, ends up limiting that regime to the relations that obtain within it" (1994, p. 7). In other words, by positing relations of power in such a way as to forego any and all transcendence, Foucault limits himself to the inverse of what he was trying to achieve. Without any mode of transcendence, we could not comprehend the very fact that we are coerced within a power relation to do such and such a thing, thereby positing authority and power as already existing and fundamentally impossible to resist. For more information, please see: Copjec, J. (1994). Read My Desire: Lacan Against the Historicists. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.
Copjec, J. (1994). Read My Desire: Lacan Against the Historicists. Cambridge, MA:
Rhodes, J. (2005). Radical Feminsim, Writing, and Critical Agency: From Manifesto to
Weisser, C. R. (2002). Moving Beyond Academic Discourse: Composition Studies and the