Claudine Hermann: Women Framed in Spaces

"Incense Burner," 2017 (pencil, gouache, and watercolor on wood panel), by Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum; "Zvakandivinga Muchadenga (Air Spirit Bird)," 2017, by the Zimbabwean artist Portia Zvavahera.

"Incense Burner," 2017 (pencil, gouache, and watercolor on wood panel), by Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum; "Zvakandivinga Muchadenga (Air Spirit Bird)," 2017, by the Zimbabwean artist Portia Zvavahera.

I believe the only English translation of French feminist, Claudine Hermann’s short essay, “Women in Space and Time” can be found in the text, New French Feminisms: An Anthology, eds Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron. Claudine Hermann’s short essay is an important node in a review of feminist literature and Space and Place.

Hermann is concerned with the “hierarchical function of space” and degrees of power and (place)ment (1980, 169). Hermann is aware of the potential violence of space and imbues that violence comes from a lived allegory or social order; an order not intended for her space, or her recline. She used images of a professor or a lawyer as separating spaces:

In length, width, and height, order is established by division, the disposition of space for man is above all an image of power, the maximum power being attained when one can dispose of the space of others[.] (1980, 169)

Hermann agrees with Walter Benjamin that violence is law and law is violence. To cite one of my other projects, at the risk of being self-referential, examining a disputed context between Walter Benjamin and Byung-Chul Ham: 

Walter Benjamin, in his essay, “Critique of Violence,” argues that laws function as violence to protect those in power, stating, “[l]awmaking is power making and, to that extent, an immediate manifestation of violence” (1986, 295). Byung-Chul Han takes to issue some of the reading of Benjamin’s marriage of law and violence in his short text, Topology of Violence. At one point Byung-Chul Han seems to dismiss Benjamin (and Giorgio Agamben) as being relics of a previous age, an age of world wars unprepared for the new world order of organized media, which he perhaps gives too much credit towards as being an indicator of contemporary mass existence. Byung-Chul Han separates law and violence, putting forward that, “[s]heer violence alone is not capable of forming spaces or creating locations. It lacks the space-building force of mediation. Thus it cannot produce a legal space. Only power, not violence, is capable of space building” (2018, 56). Both Walter Benjamin and Byung-Chul Han give consideration to (perhaps measures and degrees of) a pure (unalloyed) violence,….and law, that can be stapled free of the meditations of willful coercion. Where Benjamin sees a marriage of necessity and form, Byung-Chul Han sees an indication of uniqueness. (Tilley, 2019)

Contrary to Byung-Chul Han, Claudine Hermann indeed sees self-replication in the status of power and a dominating intruder onto the will of others. Hermann is concerned with the forced conformity that power of status brings into other people’s spaces, stating, the “space of the mind is divided according to rules governing physical space: everyone must conform or risk a social sanction ranging from social scorn to exclusion from the group, pure and simple” (1980, 169). Hermann sees an emblematic order from power into bred social strategy. She states that men enjoy a “full space” while women contend with “empty space” (1980, 169). For Hermann, maneuverability is directly tied to cognitive (re)placement with the tides of power structures built into the solemn societal squares of time. 

There are aspects of the essay that may arguably be dated among some feminist circles (this is Second Wave Feminism), citations that are dubious, at least, simplistic under contemporary interdisciplinary study charts, though Herrmann denotes the struggle of feeling forced to ‘catch up’ in her statement, “perhaps,  wisdom, would be highly desirable, just as it would be preferable, as we have seen in recent years, to establish a science based on harmony rather than domination” (1980, 173). The message of the essay is aged just enough to reflect the feelings of being subject to tassels, weights and the substandard expectations of social order upon women’s experience of time and place. I would argue for many women those feelings haven’t gone away, nor have those lived experiences. Therefore, the space that Herrmann indicates can be labeled as a legitimate realm of placement of power in masculine authority. 

Two paintings: “Incense Burner,” 2017 (pencil, gouache, and watercolor on wood panel), by Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum; “Zvakandivinga Muchadenga (Air Spirit Bird),” 2017, by the Zimbabwean artist Portia Zvavahera.