All entries for Wednesday 05 July 2006

July 05, 2006

Rilke on Love

From Letters to a Young Poet, Chapter 7. (Rome, May 14th, 1904)

We are only now just beginning to look upon the relation of one individual person to a second individual objectively and without prejudice, and our attempts to live such associations have no model before them. And yet in the changes brought about by time there is already a good deal that would help our timorous novitiate.

The girl and the woman, in their new, their own unfolding, will but in passing be imitators of masculine ways, good and bad, and repeaters of masculine professions. After the uncertainty of such transitions it will become apparent that women were only going through the profusion and the vicissitude of those (often ridiculous) disguises in order to cleanse their own most characteristic nature of the distorting influences of the other sex. Women, in whom life lingers and dwells more immediately, more fruitfully and confidently, must have become fundamentally riper people, more human people, than easygoing man, who is not pulled down below the surface of life by the weight of any fruit of his body, and who, presumptuous and hasty, undervalues what he thinks he loves. This humanity of woman, borne its full time in suffering and humiliation, will come to light when she will have stripped off the conventions of mere femininity in the mutations of her outward status, and those men who do not yet feel it approaching today will be surprised and struck by it. Some day (and for this, particularly in the northern countries, reliable signs are already speaking and shining), some day there will be girls and women whose name will no longer signify merely an opposite of the masculine, but something in itself, something that makes one think, not of any complement and limit, but only of life and existence: the feminine human being.

This advance will (at first much against the will of the outstripped men) change the love–experience, which is now full of error, will alter it from the ground up, reshape it into a relation that is meant to be of one human being to another, no longer of man and woman. And this more human love (that will fulfill itself, infinitely considerate and gentle, and kind and clear in binding and releasing) will resemble that which we are preparing with struggle and toil, the love that consists of this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute each other.

[This seems to me to be very much like Deryn Rees–Jones' idea of love in Quiver .]

Bertram on Poetic Language

Bertram, Vicki. Gendering Poetry: Contemporary Women and Men Poets. London, Sydney and Chicago: Pandora, 2005.

Poetry and the ‘ Poetic’ (p. 35-37)

Bertram notes the link between poststructuralist thought and the poetic and she suggests names like Barthes, Kristeva, Cixous and Irigaray. She notes the assumption ‘that poetic language is more radical and subversive than prose’ with ‘the potential to escape the Symbolic Order’ (34). She cites Jane Gallop who describes poetry as a kind of riddle that confronts otherness. She then quotes Elizabeth Hirsch who describes Irigaray as linking a female genre and the poetic, a mode of speaking that addresses its subject rather than speaking about it like prose. Yet Bertram notes that one can read ‘poetic prose and cites Spivak who believes that the such a text has the power of indeterminacy. For Bertram, the poetic is equal to ‘non–literal, imaginative, metaphoric writing – invariably carrying connotation of freer, more radical insight’ as well as ‘fluidity, plurality, dialogue, heterogeneity, openness, difference’ (36).

At this point Bertram refers back to Kristeva’s The Power in Poetic Language and refers to her theorising of the semiotic and the symbolic. Poetic or semiotic language is ‘freer from the rules and repressions of the symbolic order’ (36).

To counter this idea, Bertram wonders why women, the working class, multi–ethnic communities, gays and lesbians etc. have not been better represented in UK poetry. Bertram states that although many of these marginals do write poetry as a means of expressing their marginal status, ‘this work tends to be highly conventional, and derivative.’ (36).

‘To suggest that amateur poets are subverting the Symbolic Order and giving vent to the repressed semiotic in their poetry seems somewhat far–fetched. But poetry might provide those who rarely feel themselves to have access to a public voice with a temporary sense of their agaency.’ (Bertram, 36)

Bertram quotes Helen Carr who suggests that women are able to use the genre of poetry because it is associated with the personal. Bertram suggests that the socialist materialist traditions of British scholarship sits uncomfortable with Kristeva’s work. She cites Sarah Mills who uses Kristeva’s theorising to analyse Gertrude Stein, yet by the end of her study, Mills concludes that Kristeva ignores social and material contexts. She forgoes the experimental formalist destabilizing of poetry for a more political mode of writing that is consciousness changing. Bertram concludes that the idea of poetry as a liberatory genre creates ‘a false separation between the text and its creator and readers’ and that it ignores social and political contexts.

A Note on Medbh McGuckian

Writing about web page

Interestingly, Medbh McGuckian dislikes the term 'woman poet' and prefers to be decribed as a 'female' poet or a 'poetess'. When asked about feminine ecriture she states: 'I do believe women have their own way of writing as they experience things differently, but I am not for dividing us from men.'

I am reading a book of essays on John Clare and no mention of women in it much. I feel poetry is very traditionally blind to us. I would write about Clare very differently, not referring to what other men thought of him. I also read a book about women in Ireland and how they were treated as beasts of burden. Two people walking one the man has shoes. A woman photographed carrying a child breastfeeding leading a donkey with a cart and another child she is well off! I do not sufficiently appreciate how close we are to that illiteracy and degradation. Then to be always associated with sex and reproduction when we are thinking creatures. I just feel poetry is very primitive about its attitude to us. But it is our fault or mine for not explaining myself further. I feel my poems are beyond women but won't always be.

Abstract for Conference in Stirling

The purpose of this paper is to explore the feminist politics at work in late twentieth century poetry and to discover if a new twenty–first century poetics can emerge from the political machinations of warring factions. With criticism by Showalter and Segal as my basis, I embark on an analysis of feminism’s increasingly separate projects: gynocritics or difference feminism and feminist critique or equality feminism. I focus first on gynocritics citing Hélène Cixous and Michéle Roberts and the prime example is the poet, Medbh McGuckian. A close analysis of McGuckian’s poems, ‘From the Weather Woman’ and ‘Killing the Muse’, is conducted in relation to difference feminism’s claims for a female language and the drawbacks of such essentialism. In relation to feminist critique, I argue for the importance of conveying a political message. Here I use the example of Carol Ann Duffy with analysis of ‘Girl Talking’ and ‘Mrs Darwin’ as polemical texts. The poems are analysed in relation to their political efficacy, didacticism and the problem of portraying a vulnerable subject. Finally, I argue that although the feminist projects outlined here are admirable, there is a need for a new movement. The demands of some feminist politics can create a restrictive poetics, yet not all feminisms conform to this type. Julia Kristeva’s suggestion that semiotic or poetic language can be revolutionary is a useful feminist dictum and not least because Kristeva writes that ‘every difference is significant’ signalling that feminist poetry’s horizons need to broaden and develop rather than isolating women’s poetry in a category of its own.

Julia Kristeva on Mayakovsky

Kristeva, Julia. Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art. Ed. Leon S. Roudiez. Trans. Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine and Leon S. Roudiez. Oxford: Blackwell, 1981.

The Ethics of Linguistics (22 – 35)

From Mayakovsky: ‘When the fundamentals are already there, one has a sudden sensation that the rhythm is strained: there’s some syllable or sound missing. You begin to shape all the words anew, and the work drives you to distraction. It’s like having a tooth crowned. A hundred time (or so it seems) the dentist tries a crown on the tooth, and it’s the wrong size; but at last after a hundred attempts, he presses down one and it fits.’ (Vladimir Mayakovsky, How are Verses Made? , trans. G.M. Hyde (London: J. Cape, 1970), 36–37.)

Kristeva’s Reaction: ‘On the one hand, then, we have rhythm; this repetitive sonority; this thrusting tooth pushing upward before being capped with the crown of language; this struggle between word and force gushing with the pain and relief of a desperate delirium; the repetition of this growth, of this gushing forth around the crown–word, like the earth completing its revolution around the sun.’ (28)

Kristeva suggests that in conflict with this is the ego ‘situated within the space of language, crown, system’ (29)Trotsky’s definition of a ‘mayakomorphism’ is used – the erection of a poetic ‘I’. Kristeva sees in the poetry of Mayakovsky and others a struggle against the sun, ‘the “crown” of the rhythmic thrust, limiting structure, paternal law abrading rhythm’ (29). The poetic ‘I’ is bound to the sun.

Kristeva notes Jakobsen’s comments on Mayakovsky and how ‘the crime was concretely the murder of poetic language’ (31). Yet Kristeva rejects the idea that a stable society must exclude poetic language because it performs certain tasks such as ‘the struggle against death’ (31).

‘The poet is put to death because he wants to turn rhythm into a dominant element; because he wants to make language perceive what it doesn’t want to say, provide it with its matter independently of the sign, and free it from denotation. For it is this eminently parodic gesture that changes the system.’ (Kristeva, 31)

On Futurism: ‘The poem’s time frame is some “future anterior” that will never take place, never come about as such, but only as an upheaval of present place and meaning. Now, by thus suspending the present moment, be straddling rhythmic, meaningless, anterior memory with meaning intended for later or forever, poetic language structures itself as the very nucleus of monumental historicity’ (Kristeva, 32).

Kristeva suggests that poetic discourse sets rhythm against meaning and so it is an appropriate historical discourse.

Leon S. Roudiez on Julia Kristeva

Kristeva, Julia. Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art . Ed. Leon S. Roudiez. Trans. Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine and Leon S. Roudiez. Oxford: Blackwell, 1981.

Introduction by Leon S. Roudiez (1–20)

‘Poetic language is distinct from language as used for ordinary communication – but not because it may involve a so–called departure from the norm; it is almost an otherness of language. It is the language of materiality as opposed to transparency (where the word is forgotten for the sake of the object or concept designated), a language in which the writer’s effort is less to deal rationally with those objects or concepts words seem to encase than to work, consciously or not, whith [sic] the sounds and rhythms of words in transrational fashion’ (5)

‘The speaking subject is engendered as belonging to both the semiotic chora and the symbolic device, and that accounts for its eventual split nature.’ (7)


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