Of Victorian Interest

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Event: “Feminism: Archival, Communal, Critical” Lecture, University of Louisville (3/23/2017)

“Feminism: Archival, Communal, Critical”
University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
March 23, 2017, 2:30-3:30pm

Lecture by Talia Schaffer

In this talk, Schaffer explores how profoundly our feminist practices have been structured by a historical model, suggests that this model is coming under pressure in the digital era, and explores alternatives - alternatives that in fact already exist in Victorian texts. 20th-century feminism saw its mission in terms of a linear tradition. From Woolf’s claim that we “think back through our mothers” to the archival recovery work of the 80s and 90s, feminists have perceived their practice as the rescue of lost foremothers. The fantasy of archival recovery is a powerful one, and it structured both real scholarly experience (Showalter, for instance, opening sodden boxes in a garage and finding the work of Sarah Grand) and fictional fantasy (Byatt’s Possession).

But in the 21st century, as new forms of digitization alter the archival experience, we are forced to think more critically about simultaneity, access, rarity, organization, and distribution. What does it mean for feminists when the arduous recovery of rare items coexists with instantaneous googling? A temporal model may no longer provide a clear paradigm. Instead, Schaffer wants to suggest an alternative model for feminism, a synchronic instead of a diachronic one. What if, instead of organizing our feminism as a historical tradition, we model it on communal relations? She uses the theory of ethics of care to explore communities of care: voluntary, affiliative, discursive organizations, and she uses Charlotte Yonge’s The Heir of Redclyffe as a model of how to invoke other writers as mutual carers, not chronological precursors.

This is the fourth talk in a series entitled “The Materiality of Writing, Reading, and Research: On Paper, Archives, Albums, and Marginalia in the Nineteenth Century and Beyond,” sponsored by the Morton Endowment and the University of Louisville English Department. For more about the series, please visit: http://louisville.edu/english/MaterialityofWriting.

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