08 March 2010

MCT: Patrocinio P Schweickart

Oh, those American names! I love the way she kept that P in the middle, just to avoid confusion, no doubt, with all the other Patricinio Schweickarts. The essay, "Reading ourselves; toward a feminist theory of reading" is actually easier to read than her name suggests.

She begins by saying that reader-response criticism, in either of its forms, elides questions of class, race and sex, proposing a privileged reader, who we may take to be white middle class. Incidentally, she talks of a divergence in reader-response views over the relative importance of the reader and the writer. I hadn't seen that. According to this, Stanley Fish and others see the reader as holding the controlling interest, while for Iser, Poulet and Riffaterre, it's the writer. (She quotes from Poulet, who still seems to me to be way off the mark.) Later in the essay she suggests that this language of control or domination is itself part of a patriarchal approach.

But the major part of the essay concerns two topics, which she thinks have to be separated: women's reading of male texts; and women's reading of female texts. She suggests that women can learn to read against male texts; by seeing the patriarchal assumptions they can reclaim what is more essential in them. There's a certain amount of reflection on her personal experience here. Why can she still enjoy reading D H Lawrence?

There's a lot more to discuss here. I wouldn't question the starting premise that a lot of male writing is inherently patriarchal, but in my liberal way I'd prefer to think that good writing always allows readers to read against it.

The second "chapter", as she puts it, is the story of how women read women. She develops a view that reading becomes much more a process of sharing. I suspect the arguments here are fallilble, for the same reason as Poulet's are.

What's obviously missing is any discussion of men reading women. It does happen, you know.

Some of the closing comments are about whether this is all rubbish anyway, since deconstructionism means that any view is equally valid. She seems to share my view here: if that's true, it's really boring, so let's act as if it isn't. She's happy to use a version of the interpretive community as the validation mechanism.

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