Presentation Abstract

Wired Women Writing: Towards a Feminist Theorization of Hypertext

Wired Women Writing: Towards a Feminist Theorization of Hypertext Laura L. Sullivan / The University of Florida

In this paper, I draw upon experience teaching women's studies and composition courses in the electronic classroom and my own experiences as a creator of hypertexts in order to articulate the way that feminist media theory can be applied to electronic pedagogy. I argue that the electronic classroom provides a space with which to examine the central debates of contemporary feminism, particularly through the application of feminist ideas to a theorization of hypertext and the creation of what I call feminist activist hypertexts. Some of the debates of feminism which can be engaged by such a pedagogical project include: *the role of the "male gaze" *the panoptical effect of these representations (internalized self-surveillance) *the potential and nature of the "lesbian gaze" *modernist (e.g., realism) vs. postmodernist (e.g., deconstruction) strategies of textual production *the relationship of formal techniques--e.g., editing, montage, collage--to ideological messages *the issue of "agency" for subjects in late capitalism *essentialism vs. constructivism *epistemological questions concerning the possibility of "women's knowledge" *materialist vs. discursive views of media representations (recognizing the two are not mutually exclusive) *conditions of production and conditions of consumption (reception) *the relationship between other oppressions, such as racism, and sexism *the radical potential of feminist activist art I do not attempt to cover these debates in any exhaustive fashion, but throughout my discussion of a feminist approach to hypertext, I address the ways that this pedagogical perspective points to new solutions and approaches to these central dilemmas of contemporary feminist theory. As we undertake the creation of our hypertexts, we recognize the sexist history of the production of knowledge in the western world, where women have been excluded from the institutions of cultural production. We also heed the cautions of feminist philosophers, such as Linda Alcoff, who criticize the extreme position that subjectivity is entirely socially and discursively constructed and thus provide us with a caveat to the relativism of the extreme postmodern position that because there is no foundational "Truth," there is no possibility of social critique. Thus, we acknowledge the validity of personal experience as a source of knowledge and include an autobiographical dimension to our hypertexts. And following Janet Wolff, we avoid essentialist positions and remember that the experiential is located in the social relations in which the experience is gained (77). In an electronic classroom which attempts to create hypertexts informed by radical feminist theory, we are looking for a way to bridge feminist theorizations of the social constructedness of subjectivity, and especially the mass media's role in such construction, with materialist feminist critiques of the social structure of late capitalism and its oppressive institutions. We use feminist activist art as a model and take advantage of the way hypertext enables us to combine the best of both modern and postmodern progressive strategies of textual production. Such strategies include: employing a multiplicity of perspectives; collage (single-screen juxtapositions of text and image); montage (juxtaposition through linking); the juxtaposition of autobiography with social critique and with a critique of dominant media representations; the re-appropriation of mass mediated images and the recontextualization of dominant ideological signs; the articulation of the voices and experiences of previously silenced female subjects; and the combination of conceptual, experiential, and emotional forms of knowledge, including knowledge from the unconscious, the site where much oppressive ideology lies internalized and often repressed. Examples from my own and students' hypertexts are used illustratively throughout the paper.

Works Cited: Alcoff, Linda (all work). Wolff, Janet (1990) Feminine Sentences: Essays on Women & Culture. Cambridge, UK: Polity P.

Author: Laura L. Sullivan


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