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2 - Agency and Volition

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 August 2019

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Summary

AGENCY AND VOLITION are crucial concerns for feminist theory, and they underlie all of the chapters that follow. Ahmed's notion of willfulness offers a powerful way of conceiving female agency today. In this chapter, I begin by returning to the question of “becoming” raised in the introduction. I link the idea of becoming to Ahmed's willfulness, as well as to the matters of negativity, failure, and anger—this following J. Halberstam and Elizabeth A. Wilson. I then turn to an exploration of a number of literary texts that depict and manifest a range of “willful” female responses to the postfeminist, neoliberal condition. Literary texts allow for ambiguity and contradictoriness and so complement and extend feminist nonfiction and theory. Literary texts also counter the individualism and rationalism that one finds in much nonfiction, involving as they do affectivity. The encounter between reader and text itself involves a becoming that challenges instrumentalizing and individualizing discourses. The willfulness of the texts is potentially contagious.

Becoming, Willing, Failing, Refusing

I have already described “becoming” as involving a challenge to “identity.” In Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming, Rosi Braidotti also opposes notions of subjectivity as fixed and unified, and argues, following Deleuze, that the subject is “an affective, positive and dynamic structure.” She defines the “becomings” the subject undergoes as involving “empathic proximity and intensive interconnectedness,” thereby also critiquing individualism, and by implication neoliberalism (M, 8; cf. M, 3). I have elsewhere highlighted the importance of Braidotti's “nomadic” conception of subjectivity for an understanding of ethics and suggested that it is particularly pertinent to the contemporary era. Braidotti refers, notably, to “the fictional unity of a grammatical ‘I’” (M, 22).

In Becoming Undone, Grosz similarly investigates the questions of individuation and individuality. She suggests: “The individual is a solution or response to the problem posed by intense yet incompatible forces struggling with each other.” This questioning of (individual) “identities” constitutes a challenge to certain feminist theories. Grosz stresses instead becoming, which she links to the question of “difference.” Difference, for Grosz, is not only a matter of distinctions between entities; rather, it is the driving force of things themselves. This thinking ties in with Jasbir K. Puar's ideas of affirmative becomings and of assemblages, and it means rethinking the idea of intersectionality.

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Willful Girls
Gender and Agency in Contemporary Anglo-American and German Fiction
, pp. 34 - 64
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2018

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