postcards


 

Reading Hannah Weiner's book yesterday. What I like is its being squarely in the chaos. Not that I like chaos but it's there and she reports it very clearly. So much of what goes on swirls around in the head and I'm glad to find I'm not the only one with that kind of mixed-up consciousness that could be called crazy if it weren't that so many people share it.

- Genevieve Duboscq, San Francisco

Editor's Note: Hannah Weiner's books include: Clairvoyant Journal, Angel Hair, 1978; Little Books/ Indians, Roof Books, 1980; Nijole's House, Potes and Poets Press, 1981; Code Poems, Open Book, 1982; and Sixteen, Awede Press, 1983.

Dear Kathleen,
 
I'm most grateful for the lengthy response/introduction /greetings & the issues of HOW(ever)--which I've found exceptionally absorbing and powerhouses beyond their modest physical size--and I'm going to take you at your word, responding quickly, maybe inadequately, on the spur, without letting it build up in mind, written there & ultimately there erased.

It makes me think of myself as kind of sneaky, or nasty, to confess that the low remark about feminist neglect was intended to arouse, from I knew not where, just such a little bibliography as you responded with. Why didn't I just ask somebody? I do have an enthusiasm for rhetoric & polemic, though, & in fact think the charge not entirely without merit, based on my sense (correct me if you think I'm wrong) that feminist critics have gone MUCH harder after the 19th century novelists, and even as heavily on minor figures, as they have after the women treated in my "Renaissance." Also, I think you sidestepped the issue some by citing all those pieces on Marianne Moore, a figure I deliberately left out of my essay (both because she's not one of the big ones for me, and because she always has had critical attention). When you get down to it, only Rachel Blau DuPlessis & Susan Friedman have been consistently writing on the primary women writers. So I do disagree with your diagnosis of "a rather solid indication of scholarly interest and labor," and persist in thinking of it as a solidly marginal apparition of interest, backed by real and caring labor.

I did cite the Barbara Guest H.D. biography, by the way. But not knowing Carolyn Burke, couldn't have cited her Loy researches--though thanks for letting me & other readers know! Mary Butts still is in total eclipse, and even Dorothy Richardson, much more published and known, goes almost unmentioned.

I would like to incite you to consider, further, my proposition via anecdote that there is a demonstrable feminist neglect of the great modernist women who have been tainted by their association with the generation of modernist men, and who are "men's poets." (I don't quite get, by the way, what Beverly Dahlen's point about that was.)

I think your bringing up the spectre of the power of editors and anthologists is right to the point--and by now, as you've clearly seen, to the point of the Emperor's New Clothes essay in Sulfur. It is important to keep the basic terms of the apparition straight, even though our personal & interpersonal involvements in / & discussion of these writers might lead us, or any of the interested, off on another track. And part of what I still want to account for, is a basic subservience--on the part of critics & teachers in general, male & female--to the marketed product, & the attendant lack of research. Is it really as simple as this, that the latest generation of English profs was never taught how to use a library? Gads, what a spectacle!

--Jed Rasula

Dear Jed,

Those lines of mine may seem willfully obscure, and so I think they are. My willfulness grew out of my anger at your use of the metonym, the unnamed female colleague of somebody, this ghost of a ghost who must be the scapegoat, and upon whom we are meant to heap our scorn for the shortcomings of women professors and feminist critics. Her statement, as you report it, provides no context. We can't be sure what she means in her dismissal of H.D., though your present letter seems to interpret the remark as a judgment that H.D. 's work is tainted by her association with men, or male poets. I don't know if that is what was meant. But I was angered at your having set up this straw woman.

I did not say this in so many words in my published response, though I called attention, in what must have seemed an oblique way, to the absence of this woman, and to what she was, in her absence, made to stand for. Then, like many another absent figure, she began to exert a certain power, and I found myself wanting to address her over your head, so to speak.

By now she'd become my figure of speech, too--as far away as those dim lands of peace Pound complained of--a sort of Everywoman. In such a situation what follows must needs be rhetorical. And so it is.

My text, from Norman O. Brown, needs a context (heavy parody here, I'm afraid, except that Brown is published and can be looked up)--I'll provide it. Brown is discussing the ways in which male initiates in various cultures renounce their mothers and accede to the cultural institutions (alma mater) which replace them. These institutions become the "real" (i.e., spiritual) mothers for the men. I read more here into Brown's "it is a political question" than he intended. Because Love's Body is hardly a feminist tract. But I can't resist the irony.

The point is that men, for ages and ages, in whatever culture they may have found themselves, have been perfectly accustomed to enter their traditions in this way, while the women, for the most part, became the literal mothers. What happens when women begin to participate in large numbers in those traditions? One thing that happens, I am convinced, is that they find out pretty quickly that the tradition is male, and that they'll succeed insofar as they identify with the male tradition. Women learn very early to identify with the universal he. This psychological strategy has been the subject of a great deal of debate in feminist circles, but it's far from resolved. One of the outcomes would be the necessity that some of us feel to work out the specifically female line of descent in our tradition, that line which has been, by all accounts, so obscured. To ask: "Who is my real mother?" is a political question of a very different order for a woman than it is for a man. It is my belief that she cannot simply enter the tradition, identifying with it as if she were male; she is, I think, in grave risk to do so. But what other identity is there? Surely, to ask that is to bring us to the heart of the matter: woman as absence and the consequent risks involved in the invention of our own traditions.

So I return to the shadowy female colleague. I can't guess what's at work in her rejection of H.D. She may feel she's between some such rock and hard place as I've described. At any rate, she became for me the very figure of absence, an absence not necessarily of her own choosing. All I've tried to do is call her out of that limbo in which you've placed her.

--Beverly Dahlen


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