‘Grief takes time; it has taken time to write this book review’ were the opening words of Pamela Sue Anderson’s 2007 Literature and Theology review article, ‘Forever Natal: In Death as in Life’ (Vol. 21, No. 2, pp. 227–31). In reviewing Hanneke Canters and Grace M. Jantzen’s Forever Fluid (completed, on Canters’ behalf after her death, by Jantzen who was herself to die the following year), Pamela’s reading was haunted by questions of death: the lives of these two authors were both cut short by death—and we are left with Forever Fluid as a love story with an ambiguous ending: its persistent message is to resist necrophilia. The struggle for love is apparent in this book: but are we not allowed to struggle with death? (p. 228) … I guess that the disturbing question about death was not theirs for the asking. Yet the lesson is that even female subjects will have to confront death, the dying and the dead (p. 230). I have had a similar experience in producing this review of Pamela’s Re-visioning Gender in Philosophy of Religion: Reason, Love and Epistemic Locatedness, writing nearly a year after Pamela’s own death from cancer in March 2017. This is not in terms of the unacknowledged problems that Pamela identified in Jantzen’s thought: although Re-visioning Gender does not directly address the themes of death and vulnerability that were to preoccupy her later work, Pamela was never resistant to confronting and struggling with disturbing questions. Rather, the fact of Pamela’s death, and the painful peculiarity of reviewing the work of someone who has died, has led to me taking an inordinately long time to begin reading, let alone writing. Published in 2012, Re-visioning Gender in Philosophy of Religion was Pamela’s last monograph. When considering articles and reviews from the Literature and Theology archive for an online special issue in tribute to Pamela, we realised that the journal had never published a review of this important book, and we wanted to redress this. ‘Grief takes time’, and although mine is not the grief of a close friend or family member—I only met Pamela briefly, a handful of times—her work has been generative to my own, and I mourn her as a colleague who was exceptionally encouraging to younger scholars. Those of us working in feminism, culture, and religion share in a collective bereavement. My reading of Pamela’s writing on the values of truth and justice has been haunted not only by anger at the existential injustice of her dying, of questions of the futility of intellectual labour in the face of death, but also by more practical concerns of tone and voice. Writing in the present tense feels particularly strange, and I am not sure whether to refer to the author as ‘Pamela’ or ‘Anderson’ (in the end I have switched between the two). I have struggled with how to read generously and respectfully without uncritical eulogising; difficulties perhaps faced when reviewing any book, by any author, but I have felt them more keenly in approaching this one. Part of the series ‘Intensities: Contemporary Continental Philosophy of Religion’, edited by Patrice Haynes and Steven Shakespeare, Re-visioning Gender in Philosophy of Religion brings together Pamela’s significant contributions following on from her influential 1998 work A Feminist Philosophy of Religion. All but one of the chapters had earlier iterations as articles or chapters in significant volumes in the fields, such as the Routledge Companion to Theism, the Oxford Handbook to English Literature and Theology, and Explorations in Contemporary Continental Philosophy of Religion. This explains the wide focus of the book as a whole and of the individual chapters, which at times seem somewhat fragmented and disjointed. Yet this fragmentation is perhaps apt, given the book’s central image of feminist ‘re-visioning’ as conceived by the poet Adrienne Rich in the essay ‘When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-vision’, and given imaginative form in the poem ‘Diving into the Wreck’, which Anderson cites in the Preface. Here re-visioning is depicted as underwater exploration seeking ‘the damage that was done/and the treasures that prevail’. For Anderson, ‘[t]he imagery of “diving into a wreck” both focuses and opens up exploration of the remains of “the disaster”: it is as if we (still) need to discover something valuable from the past with potential knowledge of the future’ (p. x). Rich’s concept of re-vision has been highly influential and is often quoted in feminist literary criticism and theology, and thus is perhaps more familiar to the readership of Literature and Theology than to philosophers of religion, this book’s primary intended audience. Fittingly, as a scholar who has worked on metaphor, Pamela reignites the significance of the metaphor of ‘re-visioning’ by maintaining the dash (‘-’) between ‘re’ and ‘vision’, when it has become more common, following Alicia Ostriker, to collapse the two as ‘revisioning’. In emphasising re-visioning as ‘seeing anew’, Anderson has enabled me to see anew this key concept in feminist scholarship and my own work. While Rich’s focus for re-vision was myth and literature, Anderson seeks to ‘see anew’ the philosophical imaginary: ‘I have sought to see “with fresh eyes”, as if I am “entering an old text [of traditional theism]”, one which I have taught and studied for more than thirty years, but now “from a new critical direction” informed by women-philosophers and not only by men in the field’ (p. ix). Here, following on from Michèle Le Doeuff’s work in The Philosophical Imaginary in exploring the past, Anderson’s aim is to ‘learn to see differently and to name new terms for a less patriarchal way into the future’ (p. x), thus ‘not merely to revise the subject matter of the philosophy of religion, but to re-vision it’ (p. xi). The themes of the first chapter, ‘Re-visioning Gender and the Myths of Patriarchy’ flow on from the preface, as a re-visioning of women as philosophers of religion amidst patriarchal history. In her engagements with Le Doeuff and Virginia Woolf—by way of Julian of Norwich, Aphra Benn, Catherine Cockburn, Mary Wollstonecraft, and others—Anderson carefully attends to ‘the ebb and flow of the imagery and political ideas of each woman writer’ within ‘a feminist writing tradition … shaped around the collective history of a movement’ (p. 17, emphasis added). The imagery illuminated by Anderson’s ‘seeing anew’ includes the ‘waves’ of the feminist movement as another helpfully re-enlivened metaphor: ‘the different forms return like waves, mixing and disappearing with earlier or later waves only to reappear sometimes up and other times down … one form may take precedent over another depending upon the location and the period of time’ (p. 9). Inspired by Woolf’s lament in A Room of One’s Own, that ‘a lack of an accessible tradition of women writers puts a brake on a woman’s imagination’ (p. 13), Anderson posits another ‘paradigmatic figure’ (p. 25), ‘[a]n older and wiser figure than the Victorian “Angel in the House” … a dissenting angel who … encourages each individual woman to write; to create her own anecdotes of life with a feminist wit that enables hope for change in the collective historical experiences of women’ (p. 12). The second chapter narrows the focus to the specific disciplinary field of philosophy of religion and its relation with feminism. Anderson calls to philosophy of religion in the analytic tradition to ‘recognize the relevant and reciprocally related aspects of its material and social locatedness’ (p. 30), and ‘to reflect on the value-laden nature of doing philosophy’ (p. 31). She also points out the failure of feminist philosophy to adequately engage with philosophy of religion. For me the most crucial insight of this chapter is Anderson’s application of traditional philosophical commitments—‘the epistemic duties of truth (including self-reflexivity), as well as the fundamental value assigned to rational authority and credibility’ (p. 44)—to religious feminist thought. In particular, she cautions against the ‘self-deception’ of a ‘feminist religious symbolic which sees reality as life-enhancing only … while excluding those whose lives fail to fit the desired ideal’ (p. 47). Here Anderson’s critique is focused on Jantzen, and this constructive dialogue is continued in their open correspondence of which Chapter 7 consists, as well as the third chapter, ‘Gendering Theism and Feminism’, a helpful critical survey of the philosophical approaches to theism of Jantzen as well as Luce Irigaray, Mary Daly, Daphne Hampson, and Sarah Coakley. Anderson reiterates the emphasis of her own earlier work, in responding to Coakley’s critique, of eschewing a theism that ‘reinforce[s] the problem of a self-annihilating mysticism within patriarchal societies’ (p. 62), thus risking ‘the real physical and ethical dangers in being a kind of nothingness’ (p. 61). These issues are carried into the fifth chapter, on gender and love, in which the importance of Immanuel Kant to Anderson’s thought becomes apparent. She argues that ‘Kantian feminist’ should not be a contradiction in terms, and that ‘Kant’s reconciliation of reason and emotion … found in his moralizing of love’ (p. 101) is of value for feminism in facing ‘morally contentious matters in everyday experience’ (p. 102). In reclaiming reason for feminism in this and subsequent chapters, Anderson envisions reason not as the abstract ideal of masculinist philosophy but as ‘yearning to make sense of things’, fruitfully reflecting on the work of bell hooks in terms of socially situated truth, trust, and shared humanity. Chapter 8 draws on Simone Weil and Iris Murdoch, as well as Kant and hooks, in exploring questions of gender justice, beauty, and unselfish attention. The following chapter discusses the theological theme of divine embodiment in relation to Christian theism, but also incarnation and intersubjectivity in philosophical texts. The tenth and final chapter, on the theme of religious diversity, has the most contemporary focus, and its closing paragraphs summarise Pamela’s attitude to feminist philosophy of religion and questions of death: Too often religions have implicitly or explicitly justified the inordinate suffering of women due to sexist violence in this life with the hope for salvation in the next life… a feminist perspective more often than not allows for religiously diverse solutions… in order to expose obstacles to truth in this life. (p. 222). The ‘reason, love, and epistemic locatedness’ of the book’s subtitle may read rather awkwardly, but they represent the concerns that repeatedly ebb and flow throughout this book. They also demonstrate three core bodies of scholarship to which Pamela’s work belongs: analytic philosophy’s emphasis on reason, the preoccupation with love of continental philosophy (particularly in its ‘French feminist’ guise), and the epistemic locatedness (‘what we see depends on where we stand’) of Anglo-American feminist theory. This indicates the great contribution of this book—and Pamela’s scholarship as a whole—in crossing that most formidable of disciplinary borders, between the analytic and continental traditions (considered in Chapter 4), traversing these territories with grace and incisiveness. This is without presenting an idealised picture of Pamela and her work—as she says of Woolf, ‘[f]eminism does not need moral saints’ (p. 18). One disappointment I had with this book is that Anderson’s re-visioning of gender does not attend to non-binary identities, a lack which is emphasised by her repeated use of the dyad ‘women and men’. Yet evident throughout the book is Pamela’s ‘passion for justice and truth’, which she names as that which ‘motivated and sustained’ her as she knew herself to be ‘walking on ice’ (p. xiii). On reading Re-visioning Gender in Philosophy of Religion, I have begun to regard Pamela as one of the dissenting angels she posits in the first chapter, ‘messengers of hope for a world freed from oppressive material and social relations’ (p. 26). © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press 2018; all rights reserved. For permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Literature and Theology – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 14, 2018
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