In her new book Women in Dark Times, literary scholar Jacqueline Rose calls for a "scandalous" feminism that valorized uncertainty, vulnerability, and contingency. In the fall issue of Bookforum, Namara Smith reviews Rose's provocative book. Here's an excerpt:
[Rose's] new volume brings together a range of disparate subjects: Rosa Luxemburg, Marilyn Monroe, the victims of honor killings, and several artists Rose admires. The question that binds them all together and provides the momentum of the book is: “How to think of women as subjected but not—solely—the victims of their lives?”
This question is not new, but it is well timed. Over the past several years, the conflict between asserting women’s agency and recognizing their victimhood, a perennial feminist tension, has been reignited by a new wave of online activism informed by trauma theory and spread on college campuses and through social media. In response to liberal feminism’s emphasis on individual empowerment, these activists have argued for a politics of collective vulnerability, based on the idea that women are subject to specific forms of violence: on one side, Sheryl Sandberg, Hillary Clinton, Beyoncé posing as Rosie the Riveter; on the other, affirmative consent codes, trigger warnings, and safe spaces.
Rose’s book aims to complicate the terms of this debate. It begins with a call for “a scandalous feminism, one which embraces without inhibition the most painful, outrageous aspects of the human heart” and attempts to bridge the gap between images of women as perfect agents and perfect victims. Women in Dark Times is an earnest, occasionally goofy paean to “women who have taught me how to think differently.” It is full of affectionately evoked details of its subjects’ lives—Luxemburg was a passionate cyclist; Monroe once warned suspected Hollywood communists of a police raid—and words like brilliance and genius.
Image of Marilyn Monroe via The Telegraph