Pauline Johnson and Radical Humanism

Pauline  Johnson has sought to re-situate feminism within the humanist tradition. Arguing against the anti-humanism of contemporary feminism, Johnson’s Feminism as Radical Humanism (1994) argues that feminism must see itself as “the interpreter of the cultural ideals of modern humanism.” To this end Johnson suggests that humanism must be interpreted as the “value idea of autonomous self-constituted personality.” Radical humanism understands humanism as an historical project born of conscious value choices. It defends the ideals of modern humanism as contingent. Radical humanism, for Johnson, detects a tension between the universalizing character of modern humanist ideals and the particularist terms in which these claims (to universality) are made.

Contemporary feminism sees itself as a principled commitment to difference, plurality and to freedom from all imposed integrations. Radical humanist feminism recognizes that contemporary feminism is itself an articulation of an emancipatory social movement. This movement presumes a “turn away” from natural categories (male and female, for instance). It sees itself as a necessarily particular and inchoate reworking of the cultural ideals of modern humanism.

Johnson rejects feminism’s belief that a refusal to enter into any communicative relation with the phallocentric world/values/system amount to “heroics.” She rejects the idea of the “rebellious feminine ” which believes that the refusal to enter into any communicative relation with the phallocentric world/values/system amount to “heroics.”  Johnson argues that we need to ask question of the difference of feminine identities in humanist terms: of the value ideals of humanism such as the moral autonomy of the individual and the notion of authentic self-realization.


Categories: Feminism, Literary Criticism, Literary Theory

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