BMCR 1997.11.04

Response: Kochin on Roberts on Kochin on McManus

Response to 1997.10.04

Response by

It is always rewarding to see one’s work come to the attention of a respected scholar, even if the attention takes the form of scathing criticism. Perhaps I made some of my points in too compressed and thus obscure language, since I do not think that Professor Roberts’ response (BMCR 97.10.4) quite meets the main issues that I intended to raise in my review (BMCR 97.9.2).

I read McManus’s Classics and Feminism: Gendering the Classics as in large part a social history of classical scholarship. Since it is social history and not intellectual history, I think it of limited interest to those who study the ancient world and are thus concerned with the content of our study of it, but are not themselves members of the social world of professional classicists nor are students of the general sociology of scholarship. Novick’s book, which as Professor Roberts mentions, has had many readers, is itself a work of intellectual history.

I stated this point so as to set out my prejudices. My own work uses and attempts to extend approaches found in feminist classical scholarship, so I agreed to review McManus’s book on the expectation that it would be an intellectual history, like Andrea Nye’s Philosophy and Feminism in the same series. My expectation was disappointed, and I thought it best to state my disappointment rather than manifest only its effects. I thought that would be fairer to the author and her book.

Although the sociology of feminist classical scholarship is not of central interest to me personally, it ought to be done well. A social history of a discipline, whatever the particular questions at issue, is an account of the network of scholarship and its development through time. This poses two problems of method: first, the network must be bounded off accurately, and second, the relevant data about the network must be gathered.

It is my opinion (not formed on the basis of a quantitative study) that in classics generally speaking European scholarship is more important to Americans than American scholarship. In American feminist classical scholarship this is true in three important ways: first, the feminism is generally heavily influenced by writers such as Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva; the classical scholarship relies more on the work of European scholars such as Nicole Loraux than on that of fellow American classicists; and, as in other areas of the human sciences at the present day, the general critical approach reflects structuralist and post-structuralist critical theory. Although feminist classical scholarship is much better developed in the US than in Europe, it remains marginal in the very important sense that it is more influenced by other bodies of scholarship than it is by its own internal development and processes. By failing to consider the impact of European scholarship on American feminist classical scholarship McManus ignores, and thus does not dispel, my suspicions. McManus simply presumes an autonomy that it is the task of the sociology of scholarship to prove or refute.

To determine whether my view of the relations between American feminist classical scholarship and other scholarly fields is more accurate than McManus’s implied claim for its independence from them, we have to consult the most relevant data, the citations in books and articles. If McManus is right, feminist articles and books will have a high proportion of citations to earlier feminist classical scholarship; if I am right, they will cite almost exclusively European classical scholarship, European feminist theory, and European critical theory.

It is not easy to gather this data in classics, because the Arts and Humanities Citations Index lists only citations in journal articles of both articles and books. 1 We can use this index to measure the impact of a book on the journals, but not the impact of an article on books or of books on books. Because of its partial coverage I stated merely that “Preliminary answers to these questions could be found either by consulting the Arts and Humanities Citation Index or by taking one’s own samples.” Given the relative weights of books versus articles in many subfields of classics the partiality of the A&HCI data may pose a serious problem, but it does provide one measure of the influence of a given piece of scholarship. A thorough examination would indeed require indexing citations in books, a procedure to which I intended to allude, though it is a procedure that requires substantial funds and great endurance. McManus devotes considerable work to counting articles influenced by feminism, but standard methods in the sociology of scholarship require one to count citations of articles and books and not just the articles themselves.

I concede to Professor Roberts that McManus makes a significant contribution by “defining the distinguishing characteristics of feminist scholarship” and then classifying articles by these characteristics. McManus’s criteria ignore, however, that scholarship can be influential not only by attracting agreement but also by attracting contradiction. Thus citation of feminist works or attention to gender issues are more comprehensive measures of the impact of feminism on classical scholarship than McManus’s classification of articles according to their feminist content. These measures also help to make the case for the importance of feminist classical scholarship without explicitly dividing scholars into friends and enemies.

McManus complains about the “theory deficit,” or, as she calls it, the “positivism” of classical scholarship, and she is certainly right that “theory” is viewed less favorably in classics than in other areas of the human sciences. Professor Roberts is correct that much interdisciplinary work goes on in classics departments. But put to one side for the moment areas such as ancient history, which I think is best seen as a subfield of the discipline of history, or classical archaeology, a subfield of the discipline of archaeology. Should Greek and Latin philologists spend more or less time than they do already on polishing their theoretical rather than their linguistic weapons? I have nothing against theoretically grounded studies of literature, and classicists have done some of the best. Yet I tend to think that classicists make their most important, and indeed, irreplaceable contribution by preserving and passing on languages that lack living native speakers.

1. Professor Roberts’ statement that the A&HCI “deals with articles, not books,” is therefore somewhat misleading.