Sunday, May 24, 2009

(Feminist) Recovery Work

These words in this post are not responses to John Hobbins' response to me. (John, hope you'll understand that you've given me a lot to think about - although I'm sincerely humbled that you'd give so much thought to our interactions, sincerely challenged by your efforts to dialog.)

This weekend my family and I stopped by the Barnes & Noble bookstore on the way back to the car after walking around downtown Fort Worth on a beautiful evening together. (It was the restroom stop for some, so I peeked at the books, of course, and saw near the men's room on display was Richard B. Hays' nearly 10-year-old work, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, in which the Christian theologian confesses to looking at the Jewish George Steiner's review of The Literary Guide to the Bible (edited by the Jewish Robert Alter and the perhaps Christian but definitely not Jewish Sir Frank Kermode); Hays, the Christian, after he's already written his book, explains, in his late-written Preface, how he is not at all happy with the view of Steiner, the Jew. Hays writes on pages ix and x: "If so erudite literary critic as Steiner labors under such distressing misapprehensions about Paul and his argument in Romans, the need for the reading of Paul offered in the following pages is perhaps greater than I realized when I began to write. 'Hatred of the Jew?'. . . . In short, although Steiner's remarks might be applied, with some justice, to the evangelists Matthew and John, they badly misrepresent Paul." Hays, of course, does not mark the positions (i.e., Christian, Jew, male) of Paul, Steiner, himself and so forth. But the male Christian theologian does wonderfully acknowledge that "Steiner labors." Just how does a Jew labor, however, when thinking about Christian thinking about Paul?

I'm telling this story just to begin to say that positions are too often unmarked. That this is dicey. That when one presumes to tell that another's position is a bad misrepresentation, that very one himself may "badly misrepresent" that other. Wow. That sounds complex.

So here's another story. When at a rhetoric conference not too long ago, a feminist scholar announced early research on the phallogocentricism of Alcoholics Anonymous. She was seeing that in the Big Book most testimonials were from men and not from women, and that of course the founders of AA are men. Mine was the first question to this line of thinking, wondering whether the collaborative and dialogic nature of "meetings" wasn't actually "laboring" to deconstruct the masculinism of addiction and whether "recovery" from the "disease" wasn't very akin to "feminist recovery work" in many other contexts. The researcher answered that my question did not address directly the male dominance of AA. But to my delight, the keynote speaker of the conference was in the room, Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, and she was much more successfully able to challenge the line of research, framed itself in a male-ish paradigm, from which feminists like Beth Daniels recover on both sides (i.e., by study of Al Anon and, unfortunately also, by necessary engagement in Al Anon). How does one critique without admitting one is affected by? What's at stake except what's personal, what's also gendered?

My favorite Greek word in the "New Testament" is this ironic imperative spoken by Joshua and by the Jewish John the Baptist: meta-noia. That's another story for another time when I have more time. But these two Jews, men who are affected by the effects of a male dominant bible-reading society on their on mothers and sisters, are calling for something personal. For re-covery work, personal and gendered.


John Radcliffe said...

I hope you'll forgive me for cluttering up your blog with a bit of useless trivia, completely off-topic I'm afraid!

Having come across Sir Frank Kermode's name a few times recently, I've wondered whether he's Manx (like me), as the surname is fairly common here on the Isle of Man, but rarely seen elsewhere. This time I followed it up, and sure enough (if Wikipedia can be believed) I find he was indeed born on the Island. Indeed, judging from his age, he was probably at school with my late uncle. I also note that he went to Liverpool University, as I did, but there I suspect any similarity ends (for example, I still await my knighthood).

It's always nice to hear of a "local boy (or girl) made good".

Straying even further off-topic, my mother recently showed me a photograph in a local newspaper of all the teachers at the secondary school she attended. The reporter who writes the local history column expressed surprise, not that all the teachers were female, but that they were all "Miss": not a single "Mrs" among them.

My mother pointed out, however, that in those days (pre-2nd World War) teaching was one profession where married women weren't permitted. This in turn meant that many parents thought having a daughter train to be a teacher was a waste of money, as they'd have to give it up as soon as they married. My mother, for example, would have loved to have gone to university or college and then into teaching, but unfortunately wasn't given the choice.

So I'm pleased to say that some things have changed for the better.

J. K. Gayle said...

forgive you? I myself would dub you knight, Sir John Radcliffe, for your comments if I could. Thanks for making them! I especially appreciate your giving such personal, interesting history and thoughts about yourself and your mother today.