In: KulturPoetik 2007, Heft 1


Robert Gillett


No future? The (so-called) crisis in gender studies and how (not) to overcome it
Sabine Lucia Müller/Sabine Schülting (Hg.), Geschlechter-Revisionen. Zur Zukunft von Feminismus und Gender Studies in den Kultur- und Geisteswissenschaften. Königstein: Ulrike Helmer Verlag 2006. 269 S.




How does one set about predicting the future? Is anyone doing feminist literary criticism any more? Did they ever? Might they again? Is the shift from feminism to gender studies comparable to, or even congruent with, the shift from literary criticism to cultural studies? How might one map the relationship between post-structuralism, postmodernism, post-feminism, post-colonialism and post-humanism? Does critical theory have any place at all in discussions about the location of culture? How could a preoccupation with texts possibly constitute a politics? And what are we to make of the presence of women and their studies in the Academy?

Such questions are raised by this volume, which we are told derives from two events held at the Free University of Berlin: a lecture series on the future of feminism and gender studies in the humanities, and a conference concerned with gender in the (post-)human. The book contains 10 essays in all, arranged into three sections, and the proportion between lectures and conference papers would seem to be about three to one. Equally, three of the authors appear to be men; the rest don’t. As befits a book concerned with stocktaking and prediction, the academics concerned range from those just embarking on doctorates to established and even retired professors. But overall the volume’s complicated constellations have a relatively familiar feel to them.

In the first essay, by Elfi Bettinger on The Hours, the paradigmatic woman of women’s studies is Virginia Woolf, whose appropriation by a man is discussed without any reference to gender, but whose abiding spirit still informs possible options for the future of feminism. In the second, Ina Schabert’s Gender Studies: Die Wissenschaft der zwei Geschwindigkeiten, the solution proposed for the perceived aporias of millennial feminism is gender conscious literary history. In the third, Sabine Schülting’s Zu Problemen und Perspektiven der kulturhistorischen Gender Studies, the language of new historicism and translation theory is applied to gender issues in early modern texts. In the fourth, Walter Erhart’s Männlichkeitsforschung und das neue Unbehagen der Gender Studies, Jonathan Franzen and René Descartes are improbably yoked together before the bandwagon of virility trouble. In the fifth, Renate Hof’s Geschlechter(in)differenz: Einige Bemerkungen zur sozialen Konstruktion der »Geschlechtervielfalt«, scepticism is extended to gender studies generally and their attendant pluralities in particular. In the sixth, Franziska Rauchut’s Wie queer ist queer? Folgen der Fixierung eines notwendig unbestimmten Begriffs, a jaundiced view is taken of attempts to appropriate American queer theory to a German context. The seventh, Ralph J. Poole’s account of Deviante Raumordnungen und populäre Wissenschaft, revisits the arena of the tearoom with a good deal of sympathy and exemplary culture critical panache. In the eighth, ›Sociable Robots‹ und das Posthumane by Jeffrey Wallen, translated by Philipp Hinz and Sabine Lucia Müller, an oddly positive (and positivist) view is taken of a construct called Kismet, whose arrival supplants or displaces questions about gender in the post-human rather than helping to address them. The ninth, by Tanja Nusser, offers under the title »I got you under my skin!« NeoPlug-Ins und aliene Gene. Codierungen von Geschlecht im Medium Film – Einige Überlegungen zum Sci-Fi, a rather convoluted account of The Matrix and Alien Resurrection in which the possible constructedness of gender is questioned but the cultural facticity of the films discussed is not. And finally, Claudia Reiche’s Zur »digitalen Szene« des Posthumanen – Eine antihumane Lesart am Beispiel von Schlachtfeldsimulation und Medientheorie, which in its discussion of images neatly closes the bracket opened by the introduction, gives us a terrifyingly concrete vision of the post-human, antihuman future as a fantasy of unbridled patriarchal power and so definitively puts paid to the neo-liberal myth of the demise of gender and the redundancy of gender studies.

In the light of this last essay, much of the rest of the book frankly gives the impression of fiddling while Rome burns. In this respect it is noticeable that Ralph Poole’s contribution impressive though it is in many ways, deliberately sidelines those issues which were of central concern to his predecessor Lee Edelman: arrests and the victimization they imply, and AIDS.(1) Comparable gestures of gaze-aversion are to be found in other contributions too. Symptomatically, at one point the co-editor Sabine Schülting changes course with the words: »Ich möchte diese postkoloniale Kritik nicht weiterverfolgen« (p. 63). As a result, the burning issues of race and class, of religion, integration, poverty, globalization and late capitalism are hinted at but never discussed. In the same vein, Jeffrey Wallen, having raised the question of the relationship between gender and reproduction which lies at the heart of certain conceptions of the post-human, then blithely signals his intention to discuss something quite different – namely sociable robots (p. 177). Even Elfi Bettinger, who uses the notion of »changing subjects« as a powerful and polyvalent wake-up call for a revitalized feminism, allows herself to be distracted by the mundane details of filmic adaptation. Accordingly, Franziska Rauchut rightly laments the loss of the political dimension in the German debate about queer theory. Walter Erhart, on the other hand, by giving inordinate space to the professional difficulties of Franzen’s intellectual, does nothing to counter the impression that critique as a practice is out of place in rosy post-modern America.

In the light of this, it is scarcely surprising to find that most of the essays in the book subscribe to or proceed from a negative view of gender studies and their place in the curriculum. In their introduction the editors use a medical term that picks up and, despite their disclaimer, endorses Susan Gubar’s view of the subject as sick: »Gleichwohl diagnostizieren verschiedene Beiträge ein gewisses ›Unbehagen‹ mit den theoretischen Prämissen, den methodischen Verfahren und den Begrifflichkeiten der Gender Studies« (p. 15). Erhart’s citational subtitle »›It’s just Bullshit every week‹« (p. 77) is a particularly crass and dangerous, but by no means isolated example. Ina Schabert invokes the metaphor of speed, implying that the discipline has taken on too much theoretical fuel and is out of control (p. 44). Franziska Rauchut’s essay is likewise peppered with words like »Lapsus«, »Manko«, »unangemessen« and »verspielt«; and she even goes so far as to accuse the academics involved of undisguised opportunism (p. 130). And Renate Hof bluntly insists: »So sind die Gender Studies an der Verwirrung und Verunsicherung, die dieses Forschungsgebiet derzeit kennzeichnen, selbst nicht ganz unschuldig« (p. 113).

Hof’s particular bugbear is deconstruction. At one point, in a peremptory aside suggestive of truism, she suddenly asserts »dass man ›Geschlecht‹ nicht dekonstruieren kann« (p. 113). For those of us who have spent all our working lives insisting that the only thing one can decently do with gender is to deconstruct it, this comes as a considerable shock. Particularly disturbing is the fact that, rather than offering a sustained critique of deconstruction as an academic or political practice, many authors simply take it for granted that deconstruction is unfashionable and therefore bad. Thus the only support Hof feels she need adduce for her assertion is a quotation from a certain Joan Copjec, who says the same thing, with the same gesture, in the language of structuralism. Rauchut indeed ascribes the poor reception of queer in Germany to precisely this tendency: »Für die letzten Jahrzehnte kann durchaus von einer Abwehr dekonstruktivistischer Konzepte in den hiesigen Sozial- und Geisteswissenschaften gesprochen werden« (p. 130). Tanja Nusser couches this anti-deconstructionist position in notably uncertain (not to say contradictory) terms: »Somit wird Geschlechterdifferenz als eine Codierung markiert, die nicht mehr als kulturelle, sondern als ein ›Bauplan‹ im Inneren des Menschen interpretiert werden kann«. And Walter Erhart, for his part, disingenuously echoes the vocabulary of the introduction: 

Die Geschlechterdifferenz zu einem aufzulösenden Restbestand patriarchaler Epochen zu erklären, scheint gegenwärtig ähnlich unproduktiv geworden zu sein, wie sie zu biologisieren. Ein ähnliches Unbehagen freilich könnte heute auch dann entstehen, wenn die Differenz der Geschlechter in ein jedem und jeder zur Verfügung stehendes Spiel verwandelt wird, das beliebig zu beginnen oder auszusetzen wäre. (p. 96).

If gender studies still feel it necessary to tilt at the windmills of a bastardized Butler in this way, then they really are sick to death. Similarly, when Renate Hof, apparently without irony, remarks: »in allen uns bekannten Gesellschaften wird die Unterscheidung von Mann und Frau getroffen« (p. 112), it is hard not to accuse these »Revisionen« of simple recidivism. This may not be entirely fair, since other and different voices do make themselves heard in the book. In the introduction, for instance, the editors are careful to defend Butler against Gubar (p. 14). Here and there too productive and provocative answers are suggested to the questions listed at the outset. Bettinger’s account of the shift from women’s studies to gender studies is laced both with insight and with timely warnings. Schülting’s stress on the social dimension of identity offers an important corrective to contemporary solipsisms. And Reiche’s contribution is in many respects exemplary. There are incidental pleasures to be had along the way as well. The contributions of Schabert and Schülting help to illuminate unfamiliar corners of English literature and its historiography. For those interested in cultural studies Poole’s essay in particular has a great deal to offer. And those who, like me, are as yet insufficiently familiar with sociable robots, gendered computers and the sinister machinations of the American military, can learn a lot from the contributions of Wallen and Reiche. Ultimately, though, the book fails to make good any one of its rather grand claims. Its accounts of the past are often unreliable, its views of the present tendentious and its predictions correspondingly not to be trusted. Whatever the future may hold for feminism and gender studies in cultural studies and literary criticism, it is largely by showing us where not to go that this book can be said to be of help in foretelling it.

Dr. Robert Gillett, Department of German, Queen Mary, University of London, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS; E-Mail:


(1) See Lee Edelman, Tearooms and Sympathy, or, The Epistemology of the Water Closet. In: Henry Abelove/Michèle Aina Barale/David M. Halperin (eds.), The Gay and Lesbian Studies Reader. New York, London 1993, p. 553-574. [zurück]