Hand/Arbeit/Buch/Schrift: Approaching the Female Hand
McEwen, Kathryn Elizabeth
Hand/Arbeit/Buch/Schrift investigates the persistent absence of the female hand from representation. It suggests that the female hand embodies a pernicious blind spot in the humanist discourse, resisting representa-tion precisely because it challenges the accepted and often implicit narrative, which reads the hand as not only uniquely human, but also uniquely superior. This absence is, in fact, a constitutive gesture of the human hand as the triumphant instrument of humanity, in so far as to admit of limitations—for instance, those imposed by culturally determined, asymmetrical relations of gender—would be to concomitantly compro-mise the narrative of superiority expressed in the hand and its technical accomplishments. Against such a reading, and in contrast to previous assumptions, alternate narratives of the hand suggest that the female hand is in fact of central importance to an understanding of the human hand and, consequently, the human subject. Through a series of unlikely encounters—Hannah Höch’s early essays on embroidery alongside Sigmund Freud’s work on femininity to explore the working hand and its consequences; the psychology of the hand developed by Charlotte Wolff in dialogue with the many hands of Rainer Maria Rilke; and Rahel Levin Varnhagen and Friedrich Nietzsche meet at the question of the gender, genre, and the authority of the writing hand—this thesis unfolds a peculiar history to find evidence of the female hand in manual accomplishments excluded from most accounts. And it is by first exploring the ways in which the very familiarity of the hand and its capabilities obscure complicity in a complex of socially and historically determined conventions, which would seek to outline and define proper limits, proper actions, and, in turn, proper agents, that the variety of gendered, handed experience becomes intelligible. By offering a more nuanced consideration of the hand as a cultural object, restored to the cultural body, this project finally also suggests to a more general reconsideration of the cultural body as a space of negotiation.