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"Vesuvius @ Home": Lesbian-Feminist Readings of Poetry and Life

Notes towards Day 23
Critical Feminist Studies

"Vesuvius @ Home":
Lesbian-Feminist Readings of Poetry and Life

"lesbian/feminist criticism...will ask how she came to be for-herself and
how she identified with and was able to use women's culture, a women's tradition;
and what the presence of other women meant in her life...." (Rich on Dickinson)

I. coursekeeping and announcements
--sign up for final performances; when shall we meet to view these?

--last two weeks of class we turn to genre of drama;
Tuesday's reading is Wendy Wasserstein's 1988 play, The Heidi Chronicles

--Louise Wiener '62 will be joining us then
(some correspondence w/ Melinda, perhaps also with another one of you?)

--seven alums have signed on to respond to your papers, some to more than one of you (=10?)

--Gail! (gasp!) @ it again! Feminism must have no ethnicity, gender, or age

--Marita Sturken, Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication and Co-Director of the Visual Culture Program at NYU, will speak on"Cultural Memory and the Aesthetics of Absence," about the reverberations of trauma and the constitution of cultural memory in relation to the AIDS Quilt Project and "Ground Zero" in New York City. Co-sponsored by 8th Dimension & Gender and Sexuality Studies. Fri, 11/30, 4:15 in Woodside Cottage.

--talk about what's going on with fall-off in postings? not important or...too attended to?

II. Harkening back to Hacker (whom I handled unfairly as "foil" to Stein)
kwheeler, Class Summary 11/27/07: A couple of us commented on how obvious and explicit the intent of her poems are. The poem we read in class was criticized for not using much (if any) metaphor or imagery.

Rhapsodica, My initial reaction: While Stein's descriptions are complex, seemingly coming from an almost unconscious place, Hacker's are simple, immediate, feels so... overt. Stein's poem initially frustrated me because it was so difficult to comprehend, but Hacker's frustrates me because it is so obvious.

llauher, Losing my Temper: I myself was disappointed when I learned that Hacker was a transition into the Stein piece. The Canzone we read was one that I analyzed for another English class last semester, and I was looking forward to seeing how the class would dive into it. Alas, it was not to be.

Canzone --> on the multiplicity of meaning
(and so a wonderful commentary
both on Stein's poetry and on The Book of Salt...)

kwheeler, Class Summary 11/27/07: She wanted us to read/be in the moment when we are reading her poem...we should not reject Stein's poetry just because her meaning is not immediately accessible!...seemed like a conscious attempt to instill in us some appreciation for Mark Lord’s favorite American poet.

Mark Lord: I  wouldn't read Lifting Belly with students...I'd be afraid of blushing...but I'm glad somebody is. I think the "coded" part of her work esp in this poem is a part of a game--but it's only a small part of the game. I keep coming back to the idea of different kinds of difference, the way that difference multiplies and almost-meaning unfolds in waves like...pleasure.

Anonymous, I surprisingly liked Stein: I almost enjoyed the sort of non-structure craziness of it for some reason. It made me think of the inner dialogs that we all have....

Jessy, thankyou gstein: Part of my project (part) is to break out of the academic tradition of doesn't take a person everywhere ze might want to go....I was looking to Cixous and Stryker for inspiration, and...Audre Lorde...but none of them fuck up language on purpose the way Stein does....maybe the whole thing will be capital-less punctuation-less poetry by the time I'm done with it. manohman but I'm enjoying it. There needs to be a word betwen work and play, to describe this sort of endeavor, which is pleasure, and easy...because putting things into words is a natural function of the body....

Rhapsodica, My initial reaction: As difficult as it may have been to grasp what Stein was talking about from line to line, I feel like that's... well... the whole point....No simple, pre-existing language seems to do it for Gertrude Stein.

III. BTW: Let's talk a little more about this "pre-existing language" that is biology...

from Does Biology Have Anything to Contribute to Thinking about Sex and Gender?

smigliori, Form: What Is Feminist? There are no inherent biological differences; gender does not necessarily follow from sex.....Biological sex is a spectrum....there is plenty of variation within the categories of "male" and "female"....

Anonymous (cont.): I am just so confused....I do feel like a lot of the differences between men and women are results of socialization, however, I think that it's impossible to exactly prove that women and men either are different or aren't different unless we look at not just the BIOLOGICAL differences, but the psychological and chemical and physiological differences as well.

jrizzo, Questions: do you given any credence to the idea that some...socialization has occured in response to real biological difference? is...a little naive to imagine ourselves as independent individuals that sculpt ourselves with a steady hand out of nothing...we cannot be one hundred percent original all of the time.

sarahcollins, gender/sex difference: I'm glad we're finally asking questions about this! I was confused at first too, by the objection...that gender doesn't exist...literally and physically, or in a theoretical sense....I don't think it's feasible or desirable socially or biologically to ignore all divisions of gender/sex completely....there are real biological differences between humans....I think there are fundamental, not strictly socialized reasons why the fe-/male dichotomy has been so pernicious in human history.

IV. Deep Breath, before turning to
ED, Adrienne Rich, and Sandra Cisneros...
& Poetry as Politics

jrizzo, Stein the antifeminist (cont): I do enjoy engaging with her writings in a way that allows the reader to stop "decoding"....What was more iffy for me today was when we began discussing Stein's poem as a sort of call to action...a demand for a space in which women could be free to love the way she and Alice B. Toklas loved....I don't know how much I trust this kind of feminism...a perpetual game of one-upping, the kind of intellectual sterility Sosnoski dreads, and closed to racial social change...

What narrative can you tell, from reading the poetry of these three writers?

What story can you weave, from the woman who said "Home is not where the heart is, but the house and the adjacent buildings," who made as if to lock the door, saying, "Here's freedom"; to the one who wrote, "A house all my own...Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go..." ??

YJ: In Dialgue with Rich, Cisneros, and Dickinson:
Cisneros really complicates (at least for me) how I now understand and "read" Dickinson's work. I do think there's a difference (though I couldn't say to what degree) between appropriating a marginialized status and being born into one.

What story does Adrienne Rich weave,
"not so much envisioning ED as trying to visit..."?

matos, I seem to be...: I think Rich's insistince on making a connection with Dickinson most interesting. I loved this line:"For months, for years, for most of my life, I have been hovering like an insect against the screens of an existence which inhabited Amherst, Massachusets, between 1830 and 1886"....I know I've felt this inadequacy when trying to reach back to an artist that's touched me...

--retranslate her own unorthodox, subversive, sometimes volcanic propensities into a dialect called metaphor

--inventing a language more varied, more compressed, more dense with implications, more complex of syntax, than any American poetic language to date....

--the novel...can be a construct, planned and organized to deal with human experiences on one level at a time. Poetry is too much rooted in the unconscious; it presses too close against the barriers of repression....

--The poet's relationship to her poetry has...a twofold nature. Poetic a concretization of...the forces within the self...rescued from formlessness, lucidified, and integrated....But there is a more ancient concept of the poet...endowed to speak for those who do not have the gift of langauge, or to see for those who...are less conscious of what they are living through...the risks of the poet's existence can be put to some use beyond her own survival.

--There is one poem which is the real "onlie begetter" of my thoughts here about Dickinson:

My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun -
In Corners - till a Day
The Owner passed - identified -
And carried Me away -

And now We roam in Sovereign Woods -
And now We hunt the Doe -
And every time I speak for Him -
The Mountains straight reply -

And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow -
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through -

And when at Night - Our good Day done -
I guard My Master's Head -
'Tis better than the Eider-Duck's
Deep Pillow - to have shared -

To foe of His - I'm deadly foe -
None stir the second time -
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye -
Or an emphatic Thumb -

Though I than He - may longer live
He longer must - than I -
For I have but the power to kill,
Without--the power to die--

IV. How does this poem/poems like this work as precursors to AR's 21 Love Poems?

....No one has imagined us. We want to live like trees,
sycamores blazing through the sulfuric air,
dappled with scars, still exuberantly budding,
our animal passion rooted in the city.

Your small hands, precisely equal to my own
.... such hands might carry out an unavoidable violence
with such restraint, with such a grasp
of the range and limits of violence
that violence ever after would be obsolete.

....The woman who cherished
her suffering is dead. I am her descendant.
I love the scar-tissue she handed on to me,
but I want to go on from here with you
fighting the temptation to make a career of pain.

Every peak is a crater. This is the law of volcanoes,
making them eternally and visibly female.
No height without depth, without a burning core,
though our straw soles shred on the hardened lava.
I want to travel with you to every sacred mountain
smoking within like the sibyl stooped over her tripod,
I want to reach for your hand as we scale the path,
to feel you arteries glowing in my clasp,
never failing to note the small, jewel-like flower
unfamiliar to us, nameless till we rename her,
that clings to the slowly altering rock-
that detail outside ourselves that brings us to ourselves,
was here before us, knew we would come, and sees beyond us.

Sleeping, turning in turn like planets
rotating in their midnight meadow:
a touch is enough to let us know
we're not alone in the universe, even in sleep:
the dream - ghosts of two worlds
walking their ghost-towns, almost address each other.
I've walked to your muttered words
spoken light - or dark - years away,
as if my own voice had spoken.
But we have different voices, even in sleep,
and our bodies, so alike, are yet so different
and the past echoing through our bloodstreams
is freighted with different language, different meanings -
through in any chronicle of the world we share
it could be written with new meaning
we were two lovers of one gender,
we were two women of one generation.

The rules break like a thermometer,
quicksilver spills across the charted systems,
we're out in a country that has no language
no laws, we're chasing the raven and the wren
through gorges unexplored since dawn
whatever we do together is pure invention
the maps they gave us were out of date
by years we're driving through the desert
wondering if the water will hold out
the hallucinations turn to simple villages
the music on the radio comes clear -
neither Rosenkavalier nor Gotterdammerung
but a woman's voice singing old songs
with new words, with a quiet bass, a flute
plucked and fingered by women outside the law.

[The Floating Poem, Unnumbered]
Whatever happens with us, your body
will haunt mine - tender, delicate
your lovemaking, like the half-curled frond
of the fiddlehead fern in forests
just washed by sun. Your traveled, generous thighs
between which my whole face has come and come -
the innocence and wisdom of the place my tongue has found there -
the live, insatiate dance of your nipples in my mouth -
your touch on me, firm, protective, searching
me out, your strong tongue and slender fingers
reaching where I had been waiting years for you
in my rose-wet cave - whatever happens, this is.

....this is not
...any place but the mind
casting back to where her solitude,
Shared, could be chosen without loneliness,
not easily nor without pains to stake out
the circle, the heavy shadows, the great light.
I choose to be the figure in that light,
half - blotted by darkness, something moving
across that space, the color of stone
greeting the moon, yet more than stone:
a woman. I choose to walk here. And to draw this circle.

What is the circle drawn by "Adrienne, "growing older," draws?

Shelley said that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world....What Shelley meant was...that poets...are the sense of...generating forceful visions. They express
...crucial ideas in a direct, concentrated form that precedes and makes possible their later articulation and...influence....literature...plays a vital stirring our imaginations and making us more aware of what particular choices can involve.

Mary Midgley, "The Cognitive Role of Poetry,"
Science and Poetry (Routlege, 2001), pp. 38-39

Where is Sandra Cisneros
in relation to this project?
To the circle that Adrienne Rich draws?

YJ (again) In Dialgue with Rich, Cisneros, and Dickinson: Cisneros really complicates (at least for me) how I now understand and "read" Dickinson's work. I do think there's a difference (though I couldn't say to what degree) between appropriating a marginialized status and being born into one.