Chapter eight: re-figuring feminism
This chapter will overview efforts to refigure psychoanalytic feminist film theory in discursive frameworks to re-assert the specificity of 'the woman' through the materiality either of history and/or 'the body'.
It would not seem that the figure of a (lesbian) body or of a perverse (lesbian) desire is sufficient to connect the discourse of 'sexuality' with complex and conflicting narrations of patriarchal, imperialist, and capitalist orders (to name but a few). Whilst the specificities of 'identification' are to some extent addressed, the specificities of history appear to become occluded. For example, the 'democratic process' to which Butler refers her account of history is a liberal-empiricist construct mobilising tropes such as the exercise of 'free choice' through a franchise which constitutes an indivisible sovereign power by representing the rational self interest of its constituent individuals whose (morally neutral) plurality of interest produces conflict which requires rational regulation. That is, in Foucauldian terms, it belongs to — is a negotiation of — the discourse of 'alliance' through which 'the law' represents itself as a rational limit on personal freedom.
These tropes of 'individuality,' 'reason,' and 'free choice' are clearly conceptually in contradiction with a model of 'power' as effected through the discursive production of identity. Moreover, radicals (from post-structuralists to radical feminists) see 'democracy' as a fiction most productively enabling for the white, western, middle-classes. The whole concept of capitalist democracy is, in any case, in flux and would not seem to be one which can be treated as transparent. 'Micropolitics' should thus never be mapped over 'democratic pluralism.' Compounds such as 'radical pluralism' (Weeks, 1985), or a Foucauldian model of 'democratic negotiation' (Butler, 1993), are effectively contradictions in terms. If what is a stake in historicising models of subjectivity, culture, or sexuality, is to disengage the 'univocalising' effect of the idealisation of such terms, then a hypostasis of history is clearly equally counter-productive.
History, according to Foucault, is a set of narrative constructs rather than a substantive effect. That is, it is not the concretised domain of the sum of consistent and inconsistent discursively produced acts or a temporally or geographically contingent arrangement of cultural or productive forces but a set of contradictory accounts structured by (experiential) memory. Historical narratives are the objects of discursive formations and not accounts of its material effects. As with a Foucauldian model of subjectivity, 'history' does not make itself accessible to empirical assessment. However, whilst the discontinuities in the multiple 'domains' through which power manifests may render an account of history radically incoherent, or only strategically articulable, the evacuation of narratives of history from what is, ostensibly, a historicising, model should also be contested. Foucauldian discursive method is historicist even though holding that historicising narration is inherently unreliable, requiring a simultaneous critique alongside its deployment (for an overview of Foucauldian historicisms, see Hamilton, 1996: 136-175). The deployment of 'sexuality' nevertheless constitutes subjects in relations which are lived, historically.
Feminist efforts to assimilate Foucauldian discourse theory tended to collapse the formerly contradictory radical-materialist and liberal-humanist forms of feminism into one-another. But despite the revisionist rearguard action, the marginalisation — or occlusion — of a specifically feminist form of counter-identity in the field of 'sexuality' seemed to pave the way for a liberal, or libertarian, resignification of radical discourses.