Critical Perspectives handout

Rebecka Rutledge (English, Miami University of Ohio)


Feminist Theorist


Cognate Concepts/Theorists


Julia Kristeva


Lacan’s Symbolic

conscious, masculine, authoritarian, patriarchal, repression, control, logic, order, normalcy, prosaic (prose).



Lacan’s Imaginary

displacement, slippage, randomness, condensation, maternal, poetic .



Freud’s latent dream content

Includes semiotic processes, but also premonitions of the symbolic (Norton Intro. to Theory, 2176); includes drives and their division of the body; is the site of the future splitting of the subject as the subject gains access to language (2177); it is a process; it underlies language



Freud’s manifest dream content

Includes semantic and categorical fields of meaning (in language and in social order); it is a structure; it is split and divided; it obeys the rules of language


Thetic: Rupture/Boundary

Hegel’s dialectic: thesis-antithesis-synthesis

Positionality; thesis; “All enunciation … is thetic” (2175); separation of self and other; identification and recognition; signification (2176)




That which was once part of the self (original) but has come to be rejected, expelled, “Othered”

Barbara Smith



(Alice Walker)

Sexual politics in writing; lesbianism as both overt sexuality between women, and as subtle female relations; argues for a more vigorous lesbian literary criticism

Close readings

Black Aesthetic; formalism

Insistence upon close reading of the text

Political positioning

Du Bois

Consideration of social and political contexts; valuation of women’s writing; valuation of lesbian selfhood

Judith Butler



Gender as “metaphoric”; configurations of power in the construction of gender; instability of the concepts of gender and sex; gender as “truth effect” (2497)



Gender as a performative act (2489); gender as a “corporeal style” (2499); “performative” suggests dramatic and contingent construction of meaning: (2500)

Body as border/boundary


“the body is figured as surface and the scene of a cultural inscription” (2491); the body is “imprinted by history” (recall Jameson’s idea of history); civilization “destroys” the body, b/c civilization demands that nature be placed under control; body as “medium” (2492); body as “permeable” (2493); body as margin; body as dangerous and as a site of potential contamination.

Abject Bodies


The homosexual body as repulsive, abject, “shit” (2495)

DuBosian Critical Perspective
as connected to other critical / philosophical perspectives

DuBoisian Concepts/Rhetorical Strategies

Cognate or Similar Philosophical/Theoretical Concepts

Challenges Posed by Du Bois

Discussion questions

Juxtaposition of poetry and lines of music


European poetry juxtaposed against bars of music

What is the rhetorical effect of this juxtaposition?

Race as a “problem”

Butler’s “ gender trouble ”

Why is blackness a problem?


Concept of the veil

Biblical concept of the veil; Hegelian dialectic

Permeability of the veil; veil as “second sight” veil attenuates self-consciousness.

How does the veil permit “second sight”? What sort of folklore is DB using here?

Kingdom of Culture

Kantian and Arnoldian (Norton Intro. to Theory 802) concepts of beauty, culture, and perfection

Redefining of culture and knowledge

In relation to his later writing in “Criteria,” how does DB use “beauty” here (Modern Library's 1996 edition [New York] of The Souls of Black Folk 7)?


Hegelian process of recognition

The “two-ness” that issues from questions of race and national belonging

Does race trump nation in Du Bois’s formula?

Ideal democracy


American Negroes as the “pure human spirit of the Declaration of Independence” (Souls 13).

Du Bois’s declaration in this passage is revolutionary. Why?

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