19 June 2012

St Catherine

As someone who is not a fan of either Catherine MacKinnon or Andrea Dworkin I was interested to read 'Three Snapshots of Scholarly Engagement: Catharine MacKinnon’s Ethical Entrenchment, Transformative Politics, and Personal Commitment' by Adrienne Davis.

Davis states that
 Those who know me know that very little awes me. Those who know me very well know that one thing that does awe me is Catharine MacKinnon and her work. As I always tell my own students for props, I was a student in Professor MacKinnon's class during her year-long challenge to the Yale Law School curriculum and hiring process for faculty. In fact, I have three sets of photographs in my office: several of my family, one of Billie Holiday, and one snapped at the Yale Law Journal Centennial Banquet in 1991 that shows Professors MacKinnon and Derrick Bell, another senior intellectual icon in legal academia who transformed how we think about law and justice and who, not un-coincidentally, was on strike from Harvard Law School while Professor MacKinnon was visiting at Yale. When visitors to my office ask about that photo, I tell them that these two scholars are my intellectual forebears, academic and activist heroes who have inspired my scholarship and career. Like Derrick Bell - as a teacher, as a writer, as an activist, and a lawyer - Professor MacKinnon has embodied the subject of this essay: the engaged scholar. 
One of Catharine MacKinnon's germinal works calls attention to the political effects of modifiers. So, I was intrigued by the modifier of the conference panel that sparked this essay, the "engaged" scholar. I was struck by the quite distinct connotations invoked by this modifier. Of course there is the use I believe was envisioned by the plenary organizers as characterizing Professor MacKinnon's stunning body of legal work: engaged as in connected to something, seriously paying attention to consequences, rigorous and sustained involvement with a subject. Yet there are other connotations of engaged that I think are also helpful in understanding the scholar, modified, and hence the import of Professor MacKinnon's work for sex equality and jurisprudence more generally. There is also engaged, as in to have ceased negotiations and begun actual fighting, to have stopped hand-wringing and undertaken serious offensive and defensive measures. Finally, there is the meaning least invoked among scholars, yet the most commonly associated with the modifier: engaged, as the liminal status between single and married. That a public proclamation of connection and intention sustained not by institutionally imposed obligation but by personal commitment. In this sense, it is a connection characterized typically by confidence in past efforts and faith in the future. 
Davis continues -
This short essay offers three snapshots of Catharine MacKinnon's work, exemplifying each of these common connotations of engagement or the scholar modified. The first snapshot comes from several pieces that proved germinal for legal theory, feminist and not. 'Feminism, Marxism, Method and the State: An Agenda for Theory' and 'Feminism, Marxism, Method and the State: Toward Feminist Jurisprudence', both published in the influential feminist journal Signs, and MacKinnon's essays on difference and dominance published in her second book, Feminism Unmodified, each portray that first, probably most anticipated connotation of engagement. Again, that is to take something seriously; to treat it rigorously rigorously and with sustained reflection; involvement; connection; paying attention to what is going on.