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

  • Barbara L. Estrin


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.


Mass Grave Dead Body Final Notation Magnify Glass Proper Object 
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Copyright information

© Barbara L. Estrin 2001

Authors and Affiliations

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

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