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Time’s exception: Response to Hilary Thompson

ByPAMELA CAUGHIE

Elliott continues, “feminist theory has a profound investment in timeliness” (2006: 1700): “For feminist theory, the timely and the important are even more deeply implicated than they are in modernity at large, and thus we tend to assume that theory that is no longer novel is no longer useful” (Elliott 2006: 1701). Thus, Elliott asks what it might mean “to produce feminist theory outside its ‘appropriate’ moment, to risk the genuinely untimely” (2006: 1701). This risk is one assumed by Hilary Thompson in her essay in this volume, and a risk I will run in turn in my response. We have “to interrupt the contemporary moment,” writes Elliott, and “such interruptions need not appear historically new,” she says, citing as an example the many recent returns to Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (Elliott 2006: 1701), to which we can now add Thompson’s essay. When we assume familiar approaches no longer serve “to dislodge the present,” we show how much we are implicated in “the modern logic” that equates the new with the politically effective (Elliott 2006: 1701). “In so doing, we sidestep the difficult realization that while intellectual work should be exciting, political work may be dull, that things may stay true longer than they stay interesting” (Elliott 2006: 1701). Staying within “the modern logic,” I have argued elsewhere, has prevented

critics from grasping the implications of contemporary theory for reading modernist literature. The “temporalization of knowledge” requires not just the study of theory as “having a history,” as the essays in this collection do so well, but also the adoption of a different set of assumptions about history and narrative than those that have informed much modernist criticism. One way of effecting such a shift in attitude is to risk the untimely, to write outside the “appropriate” moment by embracing Thompson’s challenge to “interhistoricize” (p. 98). In addition to the interhistoricizing Thompson and I both engage in by reading the modernist writer with the contemporary theorist, I want to interhistoricize Thompson’s and my readings as well, brushing them against the grain of history.2