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IN MEMORIAM : Andrea Dworkin or The passion for justice

30 avril 2005

par Christine Delphy, sociologue féministe, NQF

Andrea Dworkin died in her sleep on April 9, 2005. She was 59. We have just lost an immense feminist, one of the most important of our times. And one of the most complete : militant and theorist, author of essays and novels, as well as co-writer with Catharine A. MacKinnon of the famous proposal for a law against pornography. And first and foremost, the bravest of us all .

From her first book of theory, Woman Hating (1974), Andrea Dworkin was acclaimed by her forerunners - Kate Millett, Audre Lorde, Phyllis Chesler among others - who admired her acuity, her "purity", and her exceptional ability to express and arouse anger. For Dworkin had both the style of a polemicist and the rigor of a theorist. Her writing, always carefully crafted, remains unique. She can and ought to be seen as one of the great prose stylists writing in English over the past 30 years. Her determination to ’tell it like it is’, without the slightest trace of euphemism, earned her a reputation for bad taste and exaggeration. As we know, when a feminist is accused of exaggerating, it is because she is on the right track : feminists throughout the world invited her to speak. When Dworkin got up to speak, she never introduced her topic, but rather began with the most precise and detailed description of an image, which conveyed the full horror of
pornography. This extraordinary ability to tell it straight was at the core of her immense eloquence, in her speeches and in her considerable corpus of work - 13 books - and roused huge admiration and passionate hatred in about equal measure.

She was afraid of nothing or noone. Despite the criticisms and the boycotts - especially that of the entire U.S. publishing world which forced her to publish in England - Dworkin went on, year after year, unravelling the violence of pornography, of rape, of "ordinary" sex ; the abjection of eroticizing dominance and submission ; she showed how the co-existence of sadism and desire on the one hand, and of masochism and desire on the other turned scenes of humiliation into "love" scenarios. Dworkin was not a cheerful woman : how can you be when you are imbued with the sadness of seeing all of our culture - including and perhaps especially the so-called "affective" domain - fundamentally perverted ? And when you have taken on the mission of shouting this from the rooftops, of rousing women and men of good will, to change it ? Devoted to her struggle, Dworkin showed nevertheless an immense capacity for listening and empathy : political above all, she could talk about the staging of La Reine Margot or Charlie Parker standards. She was painted as a dragon ; I discovered a gentle woman, a woman whose profound kindness shone through in her smile. If she submerged herself beneath the murky waters of pornography, despite loving beauty above all else, it was not by inclination but out of moral duty ; it was not only in opposition to women’s exploitation but against all attacks on human dignity that she felt compelled to rise ; the principle of her calling was compassion with human beings, in the etymological sense, rather than hatred, as her detractors argued.

As a young Jewish girl, she broke into her piggy bank every month to have trees planted in Israel ; she imagined this country as the exact reverse of New-Jersey, a "land of trees and equality of the sexes". Overwhelmed when she discovered, at 40, the way women and Arabs were treated (NQF, 1993, no 2), she tried to reconcile her love of Israel with her disappointment by exploring, in Scapegoat, the paradox of the oppressed turned oppressor. But when her actual country, the USA, occupied, destroyed, tortured and killed in Iraq once more, it was too much for Dworkin. Exhausted by her previous fights and by the media’s hostility, far from protecting herself, she went into battle again, this time against American nationalism. In Writing America, a book that would never be published, she wanted to show how, in American writers, gender is completely enmeshed with national identity ; how the American nationalism that fueled the Iraq war issues from the same logic of domination and submission as that of gender. "One thing is definite, she wrote. The iron has entered my soul. Since my god of tolerance has forsaken me, I am ready for anything to overthrow Anglo-Saxon supremacy, however desperate. I have become what I never wished to be, a good hater. I no longer even value my life if by losing it, I can do something to destroy this Anglo-Saxon monstrosity." Dworkin or the passion for justice pushed to the limit of hatred for injustice. Bravery pushed to the limit of self-sacrifice.

In a next issue of Nouvelles Questions Féministes, we shall publish a fuller tribute to Andrea Dworkin and her full bibliography. (Christine Delphy)

Translation : Ailbhe Smyth et Martin Dufresne

On Sisyphe, April 30, 2005

Christine Delphy, sociologue féministe, NQF

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