Learning Performances of Dislocation, Receptivity and Hybridity in Women's Utopian Writing

Dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1998)

This thesis explores utopias as itineraries of learning at gender, national, and language borders rather than as didactic stories that recite and legitimize the center's grand narratives of rationality and progress. It is both deconstructive and revisionary, critical and performative. A postmodern journey in utopia, this project offers a deconstruction of the cultural imperialism and Eurocentrism which are built-in the utopianism of political philosophy, theories of childhood and learning, and Western representations of others in colonial travel narratives. Intricately braided with this critique is the positive reconstructionist aspect of this work, that is, an attempt to re-stage and re-invent feminist utopian metaphors for educational spaces and teacher-student relationships. Alternative philosophical notions of place---envelopes, intervals, heterotopias---inscription, intimacy and distantiation are explored in the context of marginal utopias, such as Margaret Cavendish's fantastical 'BlazingWorld', Mary Astell's educational retreat, Luce Irigaray's interval, and British colonial travelers' autobiographic narratives of transculturation during their stay in Cyprus at the end of the nineteenth century. ;The deconstructionist and revisionist gestures of this project also address the metaphysics of purity and imprintability that have been dominating educational notions of childhood. In particular, I explore two arguments: The understanding of utopian writing as the literary supplement of political philosophy fails to see how Western questions about the good life, the good society, and good education have been founded on the colonial supplement of an imaginary, natural and amorphous, place available for 'cultivation' and 'acculturation' outside the 'home', as well as on the imaginary of an impressionable child within the 'home'. Excluded from authoritative discourses in educational theory, women writers have been using the literary convention of utopian travels to re-stage feminist passages as educational passages, and, at the same time, using literary figures of transformation from science fiction and travel writing to rethink educational goals and practices, reinvent utopian conventions, and politicize and deconstruct the educational imaginary
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