Backward glances: Feminism, nostalgia and Joan Braderman’s The Heretics

Feminist Theory 18 (3):343-356 (2017)
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Although nostalgia is a much-maligned orientation to the world, feminist scholars including Heather Hillsburg and Kate Eichhorn have argued that it might be recuperated for feminist ends. This article mobilises the call to rethink nostalgia through an analysis of the feminist stories and storytelling in Joan Braderman’s 2009 film, The Heretics. A documentary about a feminist collective founded in New York City in the 1970s, The Heretics sets up a way of thinking about feminism’s past that is steeped in nostalgia. Throughout the film, Braderman maintains that the 1970s were ‘a time when everything seemed possible’. By contrast, she assesses the moment in which she makes the film as a time in which ‘fear corrodes even the young’. As feminist viewers of the film who did not experience feminism in the 1970s, we initially read the nostalgic narrative of loss framing the film with suspicion. By drawing on feminist scholarship on nostalgia and feminist storytelling, however, we argue that nostalgia can function in what Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick would call a reparative mode that enriches the relationships that feminist scholars, activists and cultural workers bear to feminisms’ pasts.



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