Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Beverly Dahlen
From "Other/how," a talk by Rachel Blau DuPlessis, originally given at St. Marks Poetry Project, June, 1985, as part of an evening on "The Tradition of Marginality." The talk is to be printed in its entirety in Sulfur 14.
Because of the suspicion of the center in avant-garde practice, the desire to "displace the distinction between margin and center," because of the invention of a cultural practice that "would allow us constructively to question privileged explanations even as explanations are generated," drawing on avant-garde practice seems more fruitful for me-the-woman. (8) Its idea of power and language seem more interesting: the resolute lack of synthesis, the non-organic poetics, the secular lens. (9) But there are questions which the avant-garde must answer. 1) Does it secretly lovingly to itself hold the idea of poet as priest, poem as icon, poet as unacknowledged legislator? Then turn yr. back on it. Or, not to tell you what to do, My back. 2) Is its idea of language social; or does it claim, by language practices, to avoid (transcend), arc out of the limits posed by the social to its writing practices. Dialogic reading means dialogic writing. 3) Where is/are its women: where in the poems, serving what function? where in its social matrices, with what functions? where in its ideologies? How does it create itself by positioning its women and its women writers?
Excerpt from Beverly Dahlen's response:
Re: the question of a "non-organic" poetics, I'm not sure I could take a stand just there. I know the language poets have resolutely attacked the organics of Olson/Levertov since they'd like to hew closer to the objectivist line, to see the poem as a "thing" made of language, a social artifact and not a plant or an animal grown spontaneously in "nature." Not referring to the body of breath and blood, not the transcendent metaphor, but a something which speaks from and to human history.
Now nothing is muddier in my mind than the boundary between nature and culture/history/ language. I'm not sure I want to worry that boundary, always wondering when and where it is--it's everywhere fluid and shifting. Well, what does that mean? We can't have an organic poetics in the old Black Mountain sense because that privileges the so-called natural in some romantic & undialectical way. And as feminists we want to disabuse ourselves and everybody else of the old "female is nature" ideology. So what about a dialectical-organic poetics? which would give us another term. Not just language in dialogue or dialectically in relation to other language/history, but language in relation to its other--nature (the body, the unconscious) which never speaks, which is ahistorical & immortal.
It's clear that we live in Oedipal time and must do what we can to subvert it. The question What Writes? is crucial--and the responses are dialectical-organic: body/transformation/language in relation to the wide and empty/full universe (matrix)--the language-body, deep insides, the wounding of and by language.
i was interested in jane miller's comments v. 2. no.2: particularly her comment that "feminism blocks transcendence (not to another world but in this one)." it seems to me that work like mina loy's makes particular her own position as a woman, as a woman writer/artist. in Loy's acknowledgment of her own rage in some of her writing, it becomes apparent that it isn't feminism, but a misogynist culture which "blocks transcendence." and what hasn't been lost in the second wave of feminism since the sixties is that which is particularly exciting for me, that is, feminism's double gesture: critique AND affirmation.
What we can learn from Stein is not how to be poetical, aesthetical, how to move beyond ordinary language &/or into nonsense, sublime or otherwise, but how to write analytically; how to understand grammar from underneath in the way that a mechanic lying underneath a car & moving the parts around understands its running, how it runs, better than its owner who just drives it. Mechanics can drive too, after all, & they don't grind the gears as often. A mechanic is also less likely to imagine that the internal combustion engine comprises the only possible machine for crosscountry travel.
Gertrude S., who wrote "Arthur a Grammar":
-- "I am a grammarian."
-- "I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences."
while, from Wittgenstein: "Ordinary language is all right."
Journal Entry after reading Maureen Owen's