By MaryKate Schwerdt
When Miller quotes Tompkins as saying the personal is the category that intrigues and satisfies woman, my inner voice immediately said …well, duh. The reaction didn’t come from a place of snobbery but one of confusion of how anyone could think otherwise. After an entire recorded history, and surely prehistory as well, of exclusion, denial, marginalization, subversion, and a bunch of other nasty verbs, how could women exist freely anywhere but inside the mind of their own person? With miniscule involvement in public politics, economics, art, religion, or the academics to even learn about them, is it really any wonder that women naturally respond to what tries to connect with and stimulate most private part of them? This isn’t Orwellian world of thought police (yet) so the mind and imagination were the only domains safe from institutionalized male agenda for women.
Miller quotes Sedgwick saying, “every mind has a body.” This brought me back towards the beginning of the semester to the Anzaldua and Cixous pieces we read. Every living woman has a mind and a body that cannot NOT experience through its senses; the experience and reaction were denied exodus into any public realm, so they remained private. The theory we have read concerns implications of that very implosion of experience. Although the bondage of women has somewhat loosened in recent years, it is just as tight for most and the conditioning for private existence is still there for the rest. Miller illustrates this perfectly when references Mary Russo’s recollection of nameless female voices saying, “She’s making a spectacle of herself,” to any woman entering the public sphere by attracting the attention of others.
Whether personal experience belongs in a critique is tough to answer. I’ve practically been indoctrinated to say “no” and have any claims I make and the evidence to prove them be independent of me. The more I think about what’s appropriate, the more I side with the personal. In my humble opinion, language is an art that can never be truly objective, and the purpose of art is to evoke feeling. In the high academia of universities where this debate is taking place, the type of writing that is being critiqued is written to be read. I don’t mean to taint or dismiss the intentions of the writer, but theory sets out to prove something and convince the reader of it. I think it’s a little hypocritical to exclusively expect objectivity in a critique when the piece itself is attempting to change the person/mind concerning things as fluid literature and human behavior. In a literary theoretical context, the personal is acceptable if it has been provoked by the author of what is being critiqued. A critique is meant to evaluate and respond, so the inclusion of genuine responses doesn’t seem so sacrilege. However, I must join Miller in her fear of the personal becoming trendy and resulting in a complete loss of objectivity and a “chummy” world of professors who in the worst case scenario incorporate re-tellings of their wild nights in college (I kid).