On 'the problem of speaking for others': Feminist Theories, Literary Practices
Taking our cue and the inspiration for this course’s title from feminist philosopher Linda Alcoff’s influential essay, “The Problem of Speaking for Others,” participants in this course will consider some of the concerns that arise when one attempts to speak, write, or create films for or about others and their experiences. We will begin by closely examining various responses to this and related questions by several prominent twentieth-century feminist and postcolonial scholars. More specifically, we will contemplate what difference social location or positionality make in practices of representation as well as what it might mean to produce or voice an account of one’s own or to take an(other) seriously in or on their own terms. From there, this course will introduce a range of literary and filmic representations from different time periods and geographic and linguistic traditions, including Claire de Duras’ 1823 novel, Ourika, Rigoberta Menchú’s controversial testimonio, I Rigoberta, Trinh Minh-ha’s formally complex film, Surname Viet, Given Name Nam, Véronique Tadjo’s re-imagined travel narrative, The Shadown of Imana: Travels in the Heart of Rwanda, and Sam Feder’s documentary, Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screeen. Thinking and writing at the intersections of creative production, ethics, and politics, participants in this course will reflect on and beyond questions such as: When or how should or can one speak, act, write, or create on behalf of others? When does one step back, and what differentiates remaining silent from remaining complicit? Should one limit oneself to one’s own experiences, and what would doing so entail?
This class fulfills the university’s requirement for Reading and Composition. As such, this is a writing-intensive course that will focus on developing an essential skill: the argumentative academic essay. Assignments will emphasize not only close reading and literary analysis, but also the research process and how to effectively engage relevant secondary literature while positioning your own thoughts. Throughout the semester we will practice constructing persuasive and complex written arguments via frequent drafting, peer review, and revision.