Document Type


Author Biography

Leah Claire Allen is assistant professor of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies (GWSS) and English at Grinnell College. Her current book project “Evisceration as Feminist Method” is a critical history of feminism’s abiding commitment to obliterating its objects through scathing critique.


Kate Millett has not been adequately located in the history of literary criticism. Although her 1970 text Sexual Politics was part of the breakdown of New Criticism’s hegemony in US English departments, Millett’s early readers primarily understood it as a work of social criticism linked to the emerging second-wave feminist movement. When critics did attend to Millett’s use of literature, many found it scarcely literary criticism at all because it defied every tenet of then-dominant New Criticism. Others judged Millett’s de-aestheticizing method as “bad” literary criticism for its attention to politics over artistic construction, especially as New Criticism’s influence waned and her resistance to New Criticism became less obvious at the text’s central struggle. As such, we have not fully appreciated Millett’s anticipation of cultural studies, nor her influence on contemporary modes of reading. Feminist literary criticism appears as a political intervention into an ongoing enterprise rather than as a foundational driver of changes in modes of interpretation. Here, I contextualize Millett’s method in the transitional moment when New Criticism lost its grip on US literary studies and reassess feminist literary criticism’s influence on how we read in the present. This reconsideration matters now more than ever as we witness the resurgence of de-aestheticizing methods within yet another transitional moment in the history of criticism.