FROM IMMANENT TO EMINENT DOMAIN?
First an oversight: Anglo-American (and to some extent French) feminist thought has tended to support a women's literature of expressive voice and depictive visual metaphor. This has been promoted as the only way to explore the domain of women's silence—of what can and cannot be spoken or heard in a male-dominated world. Linguistic as/like snapshots are meant to reveal the truth of women's condition through the startling disclosures of poetic images. The project is to record our present experience and expose undeveloped images from our
The picture theory of female liberation proceeds on the Enlightenment belief that bringing things to light is ipso facto therapeutic. Visibility is also construed as a political force that progressively reconfigures consciousness, making it possible to act out of the immanent power of our endurance. Self-projected images of our disenfranchisement should, given the promise of Enlightenment-based psychotherapies, generate the emotional power to claim our rightful domain. The only way out of invisible and mute oppression is to turn up the lights and shatter the silence with voices that have earned the right to name the particulars of the oppression, to envision the conditions of empowerment.
The major problem with this picture may be that it's just that—a picture theory depending on a kind of verisimilitude that draws images from life to present them as (like) replicas in the text. The poetries whose energies come largely from pointing to the state of the world outside the text enact only limited life principles within the language itself. The desire to be immediately and easily understood dictates reverent uses of the very constructions that contain the injustice. To depict may be to trigger an image in the mind's eye/I, but does it reconfigure the grounds for major conceptual change?
[Working Note: It's been assumed in a culture that ties knowledge and freedom to self-empowerment that the power of women, like that of everyone else, lies conceptually in the right to self-definition, politically in the right to self-determination. Add the two together, divide by "I," and you get self-expression, yes/no? It's been part of the chronic dis-ease of women in our society that self-definition was for so long understood as a private matter. Thus, women who daily played the role of domestic or office servant or otherwise diminutive person (often with little-girl body language and undescended voices) seized on first-person forms—diaries, journals, confessional poetry, autobiographies, and autobiographical novels—all genres where the scope doesn't have to exceed firsthand and/or self-knowledge. This is the field for self-definition as self-expression.
Suppose we think of self-determination in art as invention, where the power lies in creating not just a self but language games and forms of life that draw on public knowledge and exploration of otherness, thereby reforming
Proposal for a healthy politics of identity: to demand the right to work on one's subject position rather than to live out its destiny.]