Feminist Perplexities

Dinah Birch

  • Seductions: Studies in Reading and Culture by Jane Miller
    Virago, 194 pp, £14.99, September 1990, ISBN 0 86068 943 3

Not so long ago, the most prestigious intellectual work, in the arts as in the sciences, was supposed to be impersonal. The convention was that the circumstances in which such work was produced – the age, gender, class, race or education of its producer, the institutional life which fostered it – all disappeared under a cloak of learned neutrality once it was published. This was a fiction, and everyone knew it. But it was a fiction – so the argument ran – with an egalitarian point. It didn’t matter if you were poor, or black, or a woman: once you’d managed to acquire an academic voice, your views, if suitably expressed, would be given the same consideration as those of an affluent white man. This tacit contract allowed a certain amount of mobility. Under its provisions, some working-class, black or female writers were able to make themselves heard. But they had to pay for their success with their identity: for the medium was not neutral. It spoke for an ideology which was white, masculine and middle-class. In order to make good, outsiders had to assume the values of a culture which was alien to their history and to their interests.

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