Exploring New Shores In Language

Facing the Faculty

Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Naomi Schor is not just a feminist anymore.

"I think I'm at the end of a certain period of my work which centered on feminism and gender," she says. "It's not that I'm not still a feminist. I just don't think it's going to be as central to my work as it has been for the last 20 years."

Schor, who joined the Harvard Faculty from Duke University this fall, has put her study of feminism to rest in her most recent book, Bad Objects, a compilation of essays she wrote over the course of the last decade.

"The conclusion is very depressing. Feminism as an 'ism' has sort of gone," Schor says of the book's last chapter, which is titled "Depression in the 90s."

A specialist in 19th century French literature who is well known for her feminist perspective, Schor says she doesn't believe any major work in feminist theory has been published since Judith Butler's 1990 book Gender Trouble.


"Nothing has come out that's theoretically comparable," she says.

Schor's move away from feminism comes at an interesting time. When she received tenure last year, the French program was in the middle of an intense conflict over feminism in academia.

Last year, two major newspapers published articles attacking the department as focusing too much on feminist theory.

"Harvard's French Department is not highly regarded, because it is viewed as a hotbed of modish feminist criticism," Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam wrote in a February op-ed piece.

And at least a few professors at other universities agreed that the French section of Harvard's Romance Languages and Literatures Department emphasizes feminist theory to a greater degree than it does other literary approaches.

Schor says her future work could help relieve some of the negative press the program has received.

"This bad publicity the Harvard department has gotten will change," she says. In addition, she notes, the French department has hired two new professors whose work does not focus on feminism.

The first section of Bad Objects focuses on the future and includes an essay universalism, a topic Schor hopes to explore further when she takes a sabbatical next spring.

"I need that kind of time to get going on things," she says. "I [plan] to let it lead me where it will. It could turn out to be a long article, it might not be a book."

Schor says she will also continue to explore the relationship between France and the United States.