Backlash, Repetition, Untimeliness: The Temporal Dynamics of Feminist Politics

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Abstract

Susan Faludi's Backlash, first published in 1991, offers a compelling account of feminism being forced to repeat itself in an era hostile to its transformative potentials and ambitions. Twenty years on, this paper offers a philosophical reading of Faludi's text, unpacking the model of social and historical change that underlies the “backlash” thesis. It focuses specifically on the tension between Faludi's ideal model of social change as a movement of linear, step-by-step, continuous progress, and her depiction of feminist history in terms of endless repetition. If we uphold a linear, teleological ideal of social change, I argue, repetition can only be thought of in negative terms—as a step backwards or a waste of time—which in turn has a negative and demoralizing impact within feminism itself. To explore an alternative model of historical time and change, I turn to the work of feminist philosopher Christine Battersby, who rethinks repetition through the Kierkegaardian mode of “recollecting forwards,” and the Nietzschean notion of “untimeliness.” I suggest that Battersby's philosophical reconceptualization of historical repetition, as a potentially creative, productive phenomenon, can be of great utility to feminists as we enact and negotiate the dynamics of backlash politics.

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