"It is an apt time to analyze the current status of feminist practices, given some recent shifts and permutattions," declares the introduction to the special "feminist issues" edition of "October" magazine (71, Winter 1995). Apt ? With the rise of the radical right and the specter of murderous abortion opponents, that's putting it mildly. But it you're familiar with "October," you know that when they drop an "apt" it's tantamount to sending out an all-points-emergency bulletin.
Founded in 1976 by Annette Michelson and Rosalinda Krauss, this MIT Press-produced quarterly is without question one of the densest, toniest, most intellectually demanding literary magazine this country has ever seen. Filled with thickly written, heavily footnoted articles inspired by the theoretical musings of Roland Barthes, Jean Beaudrillard, Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan, "October" has been the kind of publication the reading of whose table of contents alone can send chills down an average reader's spine. But you've got to come down from the ivory tower every once in awhile, and just as they did in their memorable AIDS issue (43 Winter 1987), this special issue provides food for thought even for those of us who've never heard of Hans-Magnus Eizenberger.
"I react with suspicion when a purportedly serious theorist veils her ideas with so many layers of verbiage that I feel I've achieved something quite important just by figuring out what she's trying to say," writes Adrian Piper, a conceptual artist who "teaches Kant and dreads a lot of big fat books." Ordinarily "October" would avoid such remarks but Piper, responding to a questionaire about "accessibility" and "elitism" in "feminist art practices" gets to have her say, along with 25 other artists and critics.
Deep-dish analysis does get its licks in; FOR INSTANCE, managing editor Migon Nixon holds forth on the light Melanie Klein's brand of psychoanalysis sheds on artist Louise Bourgeois' quasi-abstract sculptured images of teeth and dismemberment. But theory takes a back seat to straightforward criticism in "The Truth On Assault," in which psychoanalytic scholars Mark Cousin and Parveen Adams take antiporn feminist Catherine MacKinnon to task for claiming that sexual representations of women are equivalent to rape.
"October" saves the best--and most accessible--for last with "Daughters of the ReVolution" by the V-Girls, a performance art collective dedicated to kicking every theoretical leg "October" has ever stood on. Using the format of a panel discussion to fashion a kind of Marx Sisters act, the V's (Andrea Fraser, Jessica Chalmers, Marriane Weems, Erin Cramer and Martha Baer), being daughters of seventies-era feminists, cast a cold eye on "consciousness raising," Women's Studies, and the so-called "do me feminism" of arch-anti-feminist Camille Paglia.
"I went to visit some friends of mine who have a five-year-old daughter, Isabella," V-Girl Weems recalls at one point. "They have been determined to raise her outside of the typical boundaries of girlhood. You know, no television, providing her with nongendered toys, no dolls, no 'Suzy Q' ovens. I walked by her room one day and saw her playing with a toolbox. She had a screwdriver in one hand and a hammer in the other, and she made the screwdrive say, 'Do you want to go to dinner tonight?' And the hammer answered, 'No not tonight, I'm busy.' "