The Feminism of Uncertainty: I
Utopia, Activism, Uncertainty
To my initial surprise, I have been able to make a short list of preoccupa-
tions that have marked the thirty- five years of writing gathered here. First,
as I reread these essays, now clustered together to form new patterns, every-
where I find the belief in the importance of imagining a better world call
it utopian yearning. But also everywhere here, this hopefulness collapses
into utopia’s common twin, ironic skepticism. This combination is wonder-
fully recorded in a typical remark of my parents’ generation: “A new world is
coming” their dream of socialism—words followed over the years with
ever- darkening laughter: “We should live so long.” Next, running through-
out, I find the assumption that, for me, feminist activism is necessary. (No
doubt this is a choice, but it hasn’t felt like one.) Finally, also all through, I
hear a thrumming, inescapable, and sometimes much valued tone of uncer-
tainty, an acceptance of the blundering in the dark that is part of all activism.
Everyone who engages in the tragicomedy of activism will negotiate the
stretch between speculative desire and the shortfall of action in her or his
own way. Happy endings require that one set sail toward a near enough hori-
zon and keep one’s eyes off the inevitable: failure, confusion, and the falling
out of comrades. There is no right way to balance these things, and this book
is not meant to be exemplary. What it does offer is a variety of descriptions
of how one person has tried to locate feminism in her life in situations
that keep changing.
I have acted (and written) with passionate conviction while constantly
wondering where such actions lie in larger schemes of things. Like Doris
Lessing, a novelist whom I have treasured in all her phases, I am subject to
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