Advertisement

Re-Versing the Past: Adrienne Rich’s Outrage against Order

  • Barbara L. Estrin

Abstract

Citing the consistent failure of any symbolic system to represent women, Judith Butler asks: “If the representations that do exist are normative phantasms, then how are we to reverse or contest the force of those representations?”2 As a woman and as a writer in An Atlas of the Difficult World, Adrienne Rich anticipates Butler’s unease and performs precisely the contestation Butler seeks. More self-consciously than Stevens or Lowell, Rich is cognizant of her ambivalent position as representer. In her most recent work, she challenges that position by contesting her own representations, widening the Petrarchan revisionism she began in the 1978 “Twenty-One Love Poems” of The Dream of a Common Language to voice both the questions the imagined other, replaced in the poem, might raise and the answers the repressed self, silenced by the poem, might give. Rich enacts the revisionist linguistics Butler proposes by “considering the limits of representation and representability as open to signficant rearticulations and transformations” (“Against Proper Objects,” 20). It is the openings Rich seeks even as she recognizes that, “like the dyer’s hand,” [she] is suffused by what [she] works in.”3 To forge such openings, Rich begins by admitting that poetry is part of the problem. She follows though by recognizing her responsibility not only to identify the expropriations as they occur but to restrategize the forms so that they might flesh out the traditionally muted other.

Keywords

Mass Grave Dead Body Final Notation Magnify Glass Proper Object 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    “The Survivor,” tr. Robert Harvey and Mark S. Roberts, Toward the Post-Modern, ed. Robert Harvey and Mark S. Roberts (Atlantic highlands, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1995), p. 162.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    “Inscriptions,” Dark Fields of the Republic (New York: Norton, 1995), p. 71.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Jane Hedley, “‘Old Songs with New Words’: The Achievement of Rich’s ‘Twenty-One Love Poems.’” Genre 23 (1990): 351. Refer to Alice Templeton, “The Dream and the Dialogue: Rich’s Feminist Poems and Gadamer’s hermeneutics,” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 7 (1988): 295. Hedley and Templeton anticipate Kevin McQuirk in “Philoctetes Radicalized:’ Twenty-one Love Poems’ and the Lyric Career of Adrienne Rich,” Contemporary Literature 34 (1993): 61–87 as well as Thomas Byers, “Adrienne Rich: Vision as Rewriting,” World, Self, Poem, ed. Leonard Trawick (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1990), pp. 144–52 and Lorrie Smith, “Dialogue and the Political Imagination in Denise Levertov and Adrienne Rich,” World, Self, Poem, pp. 155–62.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    For a summary of the poetic dismissals, see Craig Werner, Adrienne Rich: The Poet and her Critics (Chicago and London: American Library Association, 1988), pp. 37–41. Gayle Rubin and Judith Butler object to Rich’s theory but see it only in terms of where Rich was at an earlier stage in her career. “Sexual Traffic,” differences 6.2 & 3 (1994): 74–76.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    The Dream of a Common Language (New York: Norton, 1978), p. 36.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Sandra Runzio writes that “Although the word ‘choice’ does not appear until Poem XV, ‘choice’ as a premise lingers in virtually all of the poems [of ‘Twenty-One Love Poems’].” See “Intimacy, Complicity, and the Imagination: Adrienne Rich’s ‘Twenty-One Love Poems,’” Genders, 16 (1993): 71.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    See Rich’s interview with David Montenegro, Points of Departure: International Writers on Writing and Politics (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991), p. 7.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 242.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    “Defy the Space that Separates,” The Nation 263.10 (1996): 34.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    For a discussion of the pivotal connections between Rich and “The Idea of Order at Key West” that cites What is Found There, see Jane Hedley, “Reforming the Cradle: Adrienne Rich’s ‘Transcendental Etude,’” Genre 28.3 (1995): 348–350. On other connections between Rich and Stevens, refer to Jacqueline Brogan “‘I can’t be still’: Or Adrienne Rich and the Refusal to Gild the Fields of Guilt,” Women’s Studies 27.4 (1998): 311–30 as well as “Wrestling with Those ‘Rotted Names’: Wallace Stevens’ and Adrienne Rich’s ‘Revolutionary Poetics,’” The Wallace Stevens Journal 25.1 (2001): 19–39.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    Slavoj Žižek, Tarrying with the Negative (Durham: Duke University Press, 1994), p. 44.Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    Andrew Marvell, Poems and Letters, Third Edition, ed. H. M. Marguliouth, rev. Pierre Leguois, and E. E. Duncan Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 48.Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    Blood, Bread and Poetry (New York: Norton, 1986), p. 225.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    “Three Academic Pieces,” The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination (New York: Knopf, 1951), p. 79.Google Scholar
  15. 16.
    Bill Readings, Introducing Lyotard (London: Routledge, 1991), p. xxx.Google Scholar
  16. 18.
    The Elegies and Songs and Sonnets, ed. Helen Gardner (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965), p. 36.Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    hamlet, ed. Harold Jenkins (New York: Routledge, 1982), p. 278.Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    Nadine Gordimer, Burgher’s Daughter (New York, 1979), p. 356.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Barbara L. Estrin 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barbara L. Estrin
    • 1
  1. 1.Stonehill CollegeUSA

Personalised recommendations